Janie Deegan’s Pie Crust Cookies, in case you’ve never scored one or a dozen at Queens Night Market over the past few years, are a truly ingenious creation. Small but mighty three-bite beauties with a firm, flaky pie crust as the base, a sweet filling in the middle, and buttery, crumbly streusel on top. They come in classic pie varieties like the tart Strawberry Rhubarb, the spectacular Pecan, the robust Chocolate, and the lovely Peach, and they are all insanely delicious.
But the best news is this: over the weekend Deegan finally opened her own brick-and-mortar bakery on the Upper West Side, so now we can get these and other sweet delights all day every day. In addition to the half dozen or so Pie Crust Cookies, Deegan also makes regular-looking cookies, including an excellent Half Baked Chocolate Chip and an even better Coffee Toffee Buttercrunch. And if you’re looking for something that really packs a wallop, get the outrageously rich and sticky Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie, which is guaranteed to delight.
The shop, and her company as whole, is called Janie’s Life Changing Baked Goods, and she means that literally. In her early 20s, Deegan was homeless, an active drug addict and alcoholic, in and out rehab, with no hope and no thought of a future beyond scoring enough to get her through the day. At 25, she got clean and sober but, as anyone in recovery will tell you, that initial act of willingness to quit, however miraculous, is only the first step in a long, difficult journey.
“I was a shell of a person when I got sober and couldn’t even look people in the eye,” Deegan told Gothamist on a stoop next door to her shop last weekend. “I really had no life skills and no resume. I felt so insecure. I was 25 and felt so shitty about myself. But then I started to bake. My life was out of control, but baking is so controlled… it was this nice meditative act of self care. Plus it’s a super people-pleasing thing, bringing baked goods to different people and seeing their whole demeanor change. It just started to fill me with self-esteem, and enabled me to reconnect with people.”
Janie’s, the bakery, may seem small–the public space is basically just an ordering counter, with room for only a couple of customers at a time–but in the back there’s a kitchen large enough to supply both the front pastry case with freshly baked goodies, and for Deegan to chase her entrepreneurial dreams of bringing Pie Crust Cookies to the widest possible audience.
“New York City is an amazing place to build a business because there’s such a giving community of restaurant- and hospitality-industry people willing to help you,” said Deegan. “And during all of the mentorship I received I kept hearing this word ‘scalable.’ I didn’t know what that meant at first, but it’s like: Pie Crust Cookies are scalable, and making Dora the Explorer cakes for local birthday parties is not. So I spent the last three or four years figuring out how to scale the business with Pie Crust Cookies as the foundation.”
Opening a shop was much harder than she expected, however. “There were whole categories of expenses I didn’t even know existed! And COVID has been nutty with supply chain issues–trying to find plastic cups for our cold brew… our coffee maker still hasn’t arrived so it was like, do we open without hot coffee? I signed the lease in April. My contractor was great, and the buildout was done in three weeks, but then the oven took two months to get here.”
None of these behind-the-scenes stressors were apparent on Saturday when I visited Janie’s for a glorious cookie feast on a nearby stoop. The pastry case trays were loaded to bursting, there was plenty of cold brew available for caffeine-seekers, a steady stream of locals trundled down the stairs to the subterranean space, and the pair of amiable counter workers were seemingly as excited as Deegan to be serving the neighborhood, and making people happy.
“I grew up on the Upper West Side, and I live here now, so moving into this space felt like coming home. On Thursday night I had a bunch of people here helping set up and training the staff and after everyone left at like 11 at night I put on some music and was like ‘that’s my oven, I paid for that,’ and ‘this is my mop that I’m mopping the floor.’ It’s a long way from being a homeless junkie. As we say in recovery, definitely a ‘beyond my wildest dreams’ moment.”
Janie’s is located at 212 West 80th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam, and is currently open on Sunday through Thursday from 10a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (@janiedbakes)