Let's just get this right out of the way: Northridge-based Lenny & Larry's makes the best pre-packaged vegan cookie on the market.

That's a bold statement, but the numbers — and taste buds — don't lie. Last year, Inc. Magazine ranked the company at No. 1,314 on its list of fastest-growing private businesses in the country, which is pretty impressive for a 12-person operation from the Valley.

Even more impressive is the fact that the six varieties of Lenny & Larry's “Complete Cookie” — chocolate chip, double chocolate, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, pumpkin and lemon poppyseed — aren't as bad for you as you'd expect. With 15 grams of protein and five grams of fiber in each “Complete Cookie,” the oh-so-tasty treat makes for a pretty great meal replacement, a hearty snack or a quick way to get protein before or after a workout.

The idea that a cookie could somehow be part of a well-balanced diet and exercise routine is, well, kind of crazy, but that crazy idea was the impetus for starting Lenny & Larry's, co-founder Barry Turner says. In 1993, Turner — a former cast member on American Gladiators nicknamed “Cyclone” — teamed with his friend Benny Graham in Venice to add protein to foods that otherwise weren't associated with protein. (Graham left the company in 2001; Don Croutch currently serves as president.)

Neither knew anything about making food on a professional level, but with a background in bodybuilding and athletics, Turner and his partner set out to change the way people looked at both sweets and healthy snacks.

“People were protein deficient,” Turner says, “and we knew that people didn't want to eat chicken breast and eggs all day, so we thought about how else they could get it. We were big snackers, so we asked, 'Why not put protein in a cookie, brownie or muffin?'”

The pair met with a former Entenmann's baker with the intent of creating a cookie that included whey, but soon discovered their creation tasted better with soy protein. So, quite by accident, a vegan protein cookie was born. Accident or not, Turner says he's proud of his vegan product because of its wide range of appeal.

“We tap into three markets,” Turner says. “We get the natural, the vegans and the people who are looking for protein. We never want to pigeonhole ourselves into catering to a certain demographic. We joke and say our demographic is 7-year-olds to 83-year-olds.”

“Pre-packaged” is often a bad term when discussing food, but the “Complete Cookie” is made in Pacoima in the morning and is ready to be shipped from the Lenny & Larry's headquarters by noon. For Southern Californians, this means the products we buy at select Whole Foods, Lindberg Nutrition, Smart & Final and GNC locations have the potential of being less than 24-hours-old.

Beginning in early March, the “Complete Cookie” will also be available at all 24 Hour Fitness locations in the nation, which means we can chow down on a healthy snack before hitting the bench press. This, Turner says, is vital to anyone looking to put on muscle, but particularly vegans, who often have a difficult time gaining the right kind of weight.

“Most people are programmed to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Turner says, “and that's just not necessarily true. We should be snackers. We should be eating all the time, but smaller portions. Our bodies are like coal trains — they stoked them with coal little by little so the train was more efficient.”

And in other vegan news:

Is There a Place for Vegan Cooks on The Taste?

Adventures in Veganism: The Vegan Joint

Adventures in Veganism: No Udder Desserts

Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

LA Weekly