Company blends recipes, memories to create custom keepsake cookbooks


By Jonathan Devin .  Special to The Commercial Appeal - December 8, 2008


Doug McNeill has never been stumped by the question, "What's for dinner?"

McNeill, 50, vice president of Wimmer Cookbooks, spends his workdays in a library-like office surrounded by a few decades' worth of recipes.

"You don't throw a cookbook away," said McNeill, now in his 32nd year with Wimmer Cookbooks. "It might wind up in a yard sale, but it's never thrown away, not until the paper disintegrates."

The family operation of Wimmer Printing started in the 1940s before dedicating itself completely to cookbooks in the 1970s. In 1996, it became a division of Mercury Printing, which was bought by Consolidated Graphics a few years later.

McNeill, who was 17 years old when the Wimmer brothers -- Jack and Joe -- hired him, has been with the company through every transition. Now the company focuses on helping individuals, churches and nonprofit organizations publish custom cookbooks for fundraisers.

The key to creating a cookbook that sells, McNeill said, is blending in a group's unique personality, much of which is derived from memories associated with food.

"Nowadays people read cookbooks to read about food memories," McNeill explained. "You can remember when your mother was baking an apple pie -- how old you were, what you were doing, the aroma. Picture all that and put it next to the recipe, and that's a food memory."

In 2006, Glenda Daigle of Assumption Parish in southern Louisiana, and her friends, who call themselves The Pink Team, contacted McNeill about creating a cookbook to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The group of about 100 women has a mission of philanthropy.

"One of the things that sold me on Wimmer was that they do in-house printing, and many other companies job out the printing or print overseas," said Daigle. "I wanted the book printed in the U.S.A."

Proceeds from The Pink Team's butterfly-clad cookbook contributed significantly to the group's overall contributions to St. Jude, which surpassed $100,000 last year. The group is preparing for a third printing.

"Now we are working with St. Jude to launch the book on a national level," Daigle said.

"Square Table," another Wimmer creation published by the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council in Oxford, Miss., was awarded second place in the prestigious National Tabasco Community Cookbook Awards for 2006.

Wimmer Cookbooks works with about 50 nonprofits nationwide, particularly during the holiday season.

According to McNeill, business has grown 35 percent in the last five years, and he expects another 10 to 15 percent growth over the next two years. Wimmer Cookbooks represents about 12 percent of Mercury Printing's overall sales.

Recently, Wimmer won a two-year competitive bid to publish a cookbook for the Junior League of Denver. They plan to print 75,000 copies in their first run.

McNeill said that in addition to cookbooks as fundraisers, his company also publishes cookbooks for individuals who need extra coaching on format and style.

One such cookbook is "Crazy Sista Cooking: Cuisine and Conversation with Lucy Anne Buffet." The sister of singer Jimmy Buffet, Lucy Anne owns a Gulf Shores restaurant called LuLu's.

"I visited the Wimmer folks for a simple meet-and-greet and a more in-depth look at how to publish my own book," Buffet said. "I was so impressed with their history, facility and staff that I never considered shopping for another printer."

The first printing of "Crazy Sista" in December 2007 ran 20,000 copies. Since then 55,000 more copies have been printed.

"Later, when I did a little research, I discovered that many of my favorite cookbooks that I had learned to cook from and enjoyed over the years had been printed by Wimmer," Buffet continued.

Wimmer Cookbooks

Vice president: Doug McNeill

Employees: 20

Location: 4650 Shelby Air Drive, Memphis

Phone: 362-8900

More information:

Doug McNeill, Tech '76, is the son of
Mary Nell Parks McNeill, Tech '52