Andrew Terry's wife, Lissa, walked into their Westhampton Beach kitchen one evening in 2010 to find her husband wearing an apron, wrist-deep in cookie dough and covered in flour.
This was the same husband who wore a suit and tie and managed investments and estates of multimillion-dollar clients as a financial adviser for Smith Barney.
"My wife always made cookies," said Terry, 40, recalling the look of bewilderment that washed across his wife's face when she found him. "She made them, I ate them."
But that was a different time.
After the stock market crashed in 2008, the financial industry changed, Terry said. Profit, not the client, was the bottom line, he said, and that mindset eventually started to wear on his morals. In March 2009 he quit what he thought would be the last job he would have and left behind a six-figure salary, his family's sole income.
With five children and mounting bills, the family was burning through Terry's retirement fund and most of their savings within months. Their car broke down, and they couldn't afford to fix it. Their utilities were shut off, and they couldn't pay the bills. The family regularly ate bagels donated from a store that would have thrown them out otherwise.
Friends came to their rescue. Patrick Goodwin, a mechanic from Center Moriches, fixed their car for free on many occasions. His wife, Mary, stopped by with groceries from time to time. Scott Schneider, a lawyer who lives in Middle Island, helped them recover money owed from a previous employer. And once, the collection basket at their church -- Lamb's Chapel in Center Moriches -- was for them. Terry wanted to say thank you, but for so long, he said, he didn't know how.
Then his wife found him in the kitchen. "What are you doing?" Lissa Terry, 40, recalled asking. To her knowledge, her husband did not know how to bake. "I have to do something for the Schneiders, I have to do something for the Goodwins," he said. "I have to do something."
They still didn't have money to repay those who had helped them. But who doesn't like cookies? "If that will make you feel better, make the cookies," his wife said.
Sweet way to say 'thanks'
When Terry quit his job, he and his wife had agreed it was for the best. Terry had experienced the full cycle of the financial market and wanted to use that experience to write a book about personal investments.
In August 2009, Missouri-based Anomalos Publishing released "A Guide to Taking Control of Your Investments," priced at $12.95, but it wasn't enough to support his family. " It's really tough to make money from a book," he said.
Terry, who grew up in Westhampton Beach, said his relatives and the church congregation were his lifeline. If he was going to say thank you with a cookie, it had to be special.
He started with an old German cookie recipe from his grandmother, but "it was terrible," he said. He continued to experiment, adding sugar and butter and making the cookie much larger than his grandmother's version, until he finally produced a chocolate-chip cookie -- the signature "Thank You cookie" -- he was proud of.
He started to pass them around. The Goodwins and the Schneiders, surprised to learn their friend could bake, were some of the first recipients.
Schneider, 53, said helping friends requires no thanks. At the time, he said, he didn't realize what the cookies were about. "I don't remember exactly when we got the cookies or why we got the cookies," he said. "But there was a time when we got a lot of cookies."
Different kind of dough
But it was a batch that went to Terry's aunt in April 2010 that changed things. She liked the cookies so much she offered to pay her nephew to make 100 of them to serve at a party.
The Terrys got to work, baking in their kitchen until the early morning hours on the day of the party to finish on time. The cookies were a success. After that, small orders started rolling in.
By September 2010, "Sweet Andy's Cookies," a name thought up by Lissa Terry and approved by the couple's children, were doing so well the Terrys moved their operation to a shop on Riverhead Road in Westhampton Beach. The shop has three other workers and is open every day during the summer. Last Memorial Day, they expanded the business -- which also includes online sales -- to include coffee, pastries and ice cream in the summer.
Now that they are back on their feet, Terry said his family is better than ever. As devout Christians, the Terrys said the experience taught the family a lot about faith and resilience.
"It was a super faith-building time for us," he said. "You start thinking, 'I know God's got a plan, but this can't be it.' "
He said the family now has more time for church mission trips and is more aware of the hunger problem on Long Island.
"We struggled, so we know that other people are struggling too," Terry said. "But our community came together for us, and that makes you see that money doesn't matter as much as you think it does."