The cookies at Levain Bakery are massive. The company, which has a cult following in New York City, portions them out at a palm-size 6 ounces. Each chocolate chip walnut or oatmeal raisin cookie is practically a meal in itself, making them the perfect size for sharing. When customers try the cookies at Levain’s first D.C. location, which opened this morning in Georgetown, they’ll find all the surface area on each one creates all kinds of textures.
“We tried different sizes, but we settled on this particular size because we liked the attributes it created,” says Pam Weekes, who founded the bakery with Connie McDonald 25 years ago. “The crispiness on the outside, more cookie dough-like in the middle, it satisfies everybody’s craving. A little bit of crispiness, a little bit of gooey-ness.”
Those giant $4 cookies will drive sales at Levain’s first bakery outside of New York. Located within the former Johnny Rockets space (3131 M Street NW) near Wisconsin Avenue NW, the D.C. outpost will also bake bread, pastries, and loaf cakes. There are coffee and espresso drinks to go with chocolate chip brioche, raisin or walnut sticky buns, and sour cream coffee cake. The bakery is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Weekes expects the shop to got through a lot of cookies right away.
“Chances are, you’re going to get a warm cookie no matter when you come in,” she says, explaining that Levain always has a batch of cookies in the oven, because it sells so many. She says visitors in the tourist-heavy neighborhood can expect a freshly baked cookie smell to waft down M Street throughout the day. “I know in New York, we start baking at 5 or 6 a.m. If you’re a few blocks away, I can always tell what we’re baking,” she says.
Over more than two decades, fitness enthusiasts Weekes and McDonald went from owning one small shop that started with fresh bread to a cookie empire with seven locations across NYC and the Hamptons. When it was time to look at expanding outside the state, the duo decided that D.C. felt like a natural fit. Georgetown specifically reminded them of their original location on West 74th Street in the Upper West Side.
“The energy level there was kind of exactly how we feel as though the bakery is, it’s fun, active, [the neighbors] love food,” McDonald said. “I hadn’t been to D.C. in decades, and when we got to Georgetown, it was kind of those ‘aha’ moments: ‘Oh, this is it.’”
Weekes and McDonald say since Washingtonians and New Yorkers often visit each others’ cities, much of D.C. is already familiar with the brand. The founders think there’s potential to open more Levain locations in other parts of the District, but exploring other cities isn’t necessarily a given for the company.
“We don’t have any plans to right now. I would never say never,” says Weekes.
“We are really careful not to over-expose, though,” McDonald adds. “We think that the brand is really precious. I think scarcity is a component of that.”
The COVID-19 pandemic complicated the bakery’s D.C. opening, but the setup at the shop lends itself to grab-and-go purchases. For now, there will be contactless service and a limit on the number of visitors who can come in the store at a time. Delivery will be available soon through Caviar and DoorDash. The selection will be very similar to what Levain sells at its New York bakeries.
“We don’t have a giant collection, we’ve tried to make a few things that we really love,” Weekes says.
There is one item that can only be found in Washington. Levain linked up with Paola Velez, the executive pastry chef at Maydan and Compass Rose, to collaborate on a limited-edition “Café Con Leche” cookie. Velez, who was a finalist for a 2020 James Beard Award and one of the founding organizers for Bakers Against Racism, drew inspiration from her memories of visiting her grandmother in the Dominican Republic to produce an espresso and cinnamon-infused treat with cashew-studded dark chocolate dough.
Velez’s Levain cookie will be available for one month, with all proceeds going toward Horton’s Kids, an organization geared toward empowering D.C. students in Ward 8. Opening day sales will also go toward Horton’s Kids, and Levain Bakery will be passing out free swag today to celebrate its Washington debut.
- NYC Bakery Levain Will Sell Its Gigantic Cookies in Georgetown [EDC]
- Levain Bakery Georgetown [Official Site]