From the start, Pam and Connie baked their gigantic, gooey, six-ounce cookies fresh on-site each day and donated the day’s leftovers to charity, actions that remain in place over 25 years later. Levain Bakery now has nine locations (with a 10th coming to Boston this winter), e-commerce gift boxes, and most recently made its debut in grocery stores with the launch of Levain Bakery frozen cookies. We chatted with the founders to learn more about their passion for baking and giving back to their community.
You two met in quite an interesting way. Can you share with our community how you crossed paths and how that led you to eventually co-found Levain Bakery?
We met swimming with friends at a YWCA on 53rd & Lexington in NYC. We were both training for a triathlon at the time, but working in jobs outside the food world (Pam in Fashion and Connie in Finance). We became fast friends while training and during our long bike rides, we’d chat about the future and realized we both had a passion for baking and entrepreneurship. We dreamed of one day opening a bakery. Fast forward almost 10 years, when our original bakery opened on the Upper West Side, we were thrilled. Dreams do come true.
Congrats on expanding into Whole Foods and opening your first two stores in the DC area! You've mentioned that your roots in fitness training prepared you to work through the challenges that come with scaling a business together - can you share a bit about how that's helped strengthen your partnership?
We didn’t know this at the time but in a coincidental way, our triathlon training set us up for success in the food world. Grueling hours, physically demanding work and a won’t- stop attitude was really helpful, especially in the early days when it was the two of us doing everything. Between running the bakery and training, we kept quite busy. Beyond that, we’re best friends – plain and simple. We may disagree on some things here and there but there’s a mutual respect and true partnership that weathers any storm. So many businesses fail because partners don’t see eye to eye. We consider ourselves so lucky we get to work with our best friend every single day.
Since you opened your first bakery in 1995 you've been dedicated to baking everything fresh on-site daily and donating the leftovers each night. What inspired you to incorporate this thoughtful practice into your business?
We started Levain as a neighborhood bakery and it’s still a neighborhood bakery. This means serving our neighbors, but also taking care of our community and neighbors, whether they frequent our bakery or not. Donating leftover food was obvious to us from the start. It’s heartening to see the impact this has had.
You've blazed paths as female founders. It's incredible that your website was one of the first ever bakery websites, launching in 2000, and look where we are with the internet today! Way ahead of the times there! What made you interested in exploring e-commerce at such an early stage?
My experience in Fashion was helpful. Having worked with Norma Kamali, I learned a lot on this front. Norma was always ahead of the curve when it came to online shopping/ e-commerce. We knew we had an opportunity as well. So many people wanted to share our cookies with their friends and family – it wasn’t a matter of if... it was just a matter of how.
Something that Goody and Levain have in common is that our products are grounded in bringing joy to people. Can you tell us about the experience that you're curating at Levain?
There’s inherent joy in a cookie, but where Levain is different is in our approach and the care and love that goes into every step of the process. When you come to our bakeries, you’re greeted with a smile and the warmth of our team is obvious. We want that to come through in every way and in every cookie, so even though people may be ordering from hundreds of miles away, we want that joy to be part of the process at every step.
We've heard you have some creative ways to enjoy Levain cookies! We'd love to hear your favorite methods and are also curious about your favorite cookies to gift?
The assorted box is our go-to. There’s something in there for everyone. As for creative ways to enjoy our cookies, we have lots! One of the best ways to enjoy our cookies is with ice cream. Yes, we know it’s getting colder but we’re fans of ice cream year-round! Here’s what to do:
Hand your friends a bowl and selection of ice cream and sorbet and a variety of toppings and have them go to town. Here are our favorite flavor combinations:
- Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip with Mint Ice Cream or Mocha Chip
- Chocolate Chip Walnut with Rhubarb or Strawberry Sorbet
- Oatmeal Raisin with Cinnamon Ice Cream
- Classic Chocolate Chip Walnut with Classic Vanilla Bean