By Carol Tannenhauser
On Saturday, November 6th at 8 a.m., the aroma of freshly baked cookies and other goodies will fill the air on Amsterdam Avenue and West 74th Street, when the original Levain Bakery reopens its doors after being closed by COVID for 19 months.
Levain is a local legend started in 1995 by friends Pam Weekes and Connie McDonald, who were training for a triathalon together and created their signature chocolate chip walnut cookie as a high-energy treat. From their 400-square-foot flagship shop they grew into a national business, acquired by a private equity firm in 2018. They now have eight locations, including one on Amsterdam between 76th and 77th Streets, only blocks from the original. The hope was that the second store would cut down on the infamous Levain lines. Here’s what it looked liked on Saturday.
Did these people know they could have stayed home and popped some frozen Levain cookies into their ovens? “The New York City bakery is the latest cult-favorite to get into retail,” Forbes announced in April, 2021, when Levain “started rolling out a ready-to-bake version of its iconic colossal cookie….” Now, they’re available in grocery stores nationwide.
These days, the focus is on making sure the flagship shop is shipshape. WSR emailed Weekes and McDonald to ask how things are going. They answered jointly.
WSR: Why reopen 74th Street when the other store is doing so well?
W&M: It’s connected to our heritage. It’s the bakery where it all began. We knew we wanted to reopen it as soon as we were able.
WSR: Anything new?
W&M: We took the opportunity while we were temporarily closed to update the bakery — something we had wanted to do for a long time. We updated some of our equipment, and added some cosmetic updates to the retail/ customer area. We started these updates over the summer and we’re finally ready to open.
WSR: Why November 6th?
W&M: Because the NYC marathon — an iconic NYC event, which also had to skip a year during COVID — will be run on November 7th. The energy around this citywide race is infectious. We created our original cookie while we were training for a triathlon, so athletic competitions, like the marathon, are meaningful to us and very much linked to our founding story. It’s also just a great weekend to celebrate NYC.
WSR: How does it feel to go from being a neighborhood bakery to a national business?
W&M: We’re incredibly proud of the growth we’ve experienced over the past few years. But, at the end of the day, all our bakeries are still very much connected to their respective neighborhoods. When you see our cookies in grocery stores around the country, our story is right there on the back of the box. It was all born from this UWS storefront. We started Levain because we loved to bake and fell in love with this tiny space and the neighborhood. We’ve made so many good friends along the way and we’re just so excited to welcome them all back next month.
The owners, who will be “working the counter” on opening day, also announced that “the first 200 Marathon runners to bring their bibs in [to the 74th Street store] will receive a complimentary Levain cookie of their choice. And they will be greeted by a new, hand-painted cityscape” — which may be what’s hiding behind the inviting blue bench and current sign.
Local pickup and delivery are available, as is nationwide shipping. For an explanation of how the cookies are kept fresh when shipped, click here.