Food & Drink

Beloved NYC Bakery Levain Brings Cookie Empire to DC

This is no ordinary cookie.

Levain cookies
Brian Oh

There are a few things New Yorkers aren’t willing to compromise on: a slice of pizza, an everything bagel, and cookies from Levain Bakery. Since 1995, people have beelined it to this Upper West Side bakery to stand in line (or, on line, as New Yorkers like to say) for a giant cookie baked and served warm and choc-full of sweet flavors.

This is no ordinary cookie. It weighs a whopping six ounces and is a splurge-worthy $4 treat that comes in several flavors, indulging chocolate chip walnut, dark chocolate peanut butter chip, and oatmeal raisin. For the uninitiated, Levain is probably best-known for its size, each cookie is formed from a softball-sized-mound of dough, and as you eat, there are plenty of crumbs. Good luck hiding the evidence from friends and family.

After establishing a New York empire, this week co-founders Pam Weekes and Connie McDonald added their eighth storefront in Washington DC’s Georgetown neighborhood -- a place known as a cupcake capital, made famous by Georgetown Cupcakes and Baked and Wired. That’s part of the reason why Levain opened up shop here -- its first location outside New York.

“We think Georgetown is a bakery-appreciating community,” McDonald says. “Perfect for the cupcake crazed and the cookie lovers, who might be one and the same.”

levain bakery
Inside Levain‘s new Georgetown location. | Brian Oh

The new shop opened Wednesday to a decidedly “cookie lover” crowd, which formed a line down the street (of course, COVID-19 spacing restrictions added to the length). A unique cookie flavor ingrains the shop even more deeply into the DC community, and it’s available for a limited time only at the Georgetown location.

The Café Con Leche cookie is made by Maydan pastry chef Paola Velez and sales from the cookie support DC nonprofit Horton’s Kids. It’s an irresistibly sweet treat, made from dark chocolate cookie dough with cashews added in. The cookie is also flavored with espresso, cinnamon, and a touch of sea salt and pulls inspiration from Velez’s trips to see her grandmother in the Dominican Republic.

“We were excited to launch our first cookie collaboration with Paola,” McDonald says. “She was there for part of the [opening] day. After working on the cookie and planning for so many months, it was really special to celebrate with her in person.”

Levain cookies
Paola Velez with her Café Con Leche cookie creation. | Brian Oh

This was also a cookie collaboration that stemmed from activism. McDonald and Weekes partnered with Velez, who earlier this year helped form the grassroots movement Bakers Against Racism.

“This gig, this friendship, this moment in all of 2020 history was born from the Bakers Against Racism activation,” Velez says. “Pam and Connie expanded the circle of people who inspire me. Their heart and passion for the industry are unwavering.”

Together what they’ve made is a gooey sought after cookie that, as Velez says, “is baking the change we want to see in the world.”

Besides one-off collaborations at the DC location, expect the full roster of Levain Bakery’s legendary cookies, plus pastries, loaf cakes, bread and rolls, and decadent sticky buns, as well as tea, coffee and espresso beverages.

“We’ve fallen in love with Georgetown as we have snacked and explored our way around it,” McDonald says. “We’re eager to share cookie joy with our new neighbors.”

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Tim Ebner is a food and travel writer from Washington DC, who was once a young and hungry New York college student that waited “on line” for a Levain cookie. Follow him on Twitter @TimEbner.