An unlikely neighbor has joined the block of Third Avenue between 83rd and 84th Streets, home to health-oriented businesses including SoulCycle, Juice Press and Juice Generation. Levain Bakery — an Upper West Side-based company renowned for its decadent cookies that weigh six ounces each — opened its first Upper East Side location on the block on Monday.
Activities on the day of the grand opening included a cookie giveaway to the store’s first 100 customers followed by the unveiling of a limited edition ice cream sandwich exclusive to the UES store in the afternoon (which garnered a line around the block). The bakery will donate all proceeds from the UES store’s first day of business to Wellness In The Schools, a nonprofit committed to ending childhood obesity, a press release from the bakery stated.
Before sunrise, Bonnie Smith, 72, was waiting outside the storefront to claim a free cookie. She read the New York Post to pass the time. Smith, who lives on East 81st Street, was the bakery’s first UES patron. “It seemed like a fun idea. I love the city, these are the kind of things that make it fun to live here,” she said. Smith, who said she had never actually tried a Levain Bakery product before, selected the bakery’s signature chocolate-chip walnut cookie and said she would heat it up at home and have it with coffee for breakfast.
Over 20 other people lined the block on Third Avenue waiting for the bakery to open at 6 a.m. Dressed in workout garb, many said they were either coming from or going to a workout. Behind Smith on line was Rhiannon Aguilar, a resident of East 71st Street who said she had run to the bakery with her friend. “It’s a little justification for eating cookies at six in the morning,” she explained.
Levain Bakery cookies and working out may seem like an odd pairing, but exercise is practically baked into the Levain experiment. The bakery’s co-founders, Connie McDonald and Pam Weekes, met training for an Ironman and created the monstrous cookie due in part to their large appetites. “I think that it’s amazing how many people love to workout and love to eat,” McDonald said. Weekes asserted that their products are “not unhealthy. It’s not a necessity but it’s all made with really good ingredients,” she said.
Though the bakery may look like an outlier nestled within the fitness hub of the UES — SoulCycle, Rumble, Exceed, Just Salad, Sweetgreen, Juice Press, and Juice Generation are all within one block — McDonald and Weekes are not worried that the preponderance of health-oriented businesses in the area will hinder cookie sales. In fact, Weekes said that the ethos of the block was part of their “strategy.” “The energy on this block is really great,” McDonald said. “Our customer is everyone,” she added.
The UES opening of Levain Bakery marks the company’s plan to take their cookies national. Currently, in addition to the UES store, the bakery has two Upper West Side locations, a store in Harlem and one in the Hamptons. That will change this fall, when it opens a Noho branch, followed by store openings in select cities throughout the Northeast in 2020, New York Magazine’s food blog reported.
McDonald and Weekes said that they will be careful to maintain their business’s character as a “cozy neighborhood bakery” — as its website describes itself — when it emerges onto the national cookie scene. “No matter where we are, [we] still want to be that neighborhood’s bakery,” McDonald said. “Knowing the people in your neighborhood is what makes having a business fun for everybody — for everybody who works here [and] for the people who come in,” Weekes said.