Tucked amongst several small stores on 8th Street, this quaint coffee shop offers an array of french pastries, organic coffee, and several delicious breakfast sandwiches. The smell of freshly baked goods permeates the shop, only to be topped by the aroma of the medium roast La Colombe coffee. The small space creates an intimate experience, as only a few customers can sit at the bench that surrounds the shop. The naked bulbs next to the entrance, the tiled walls, and the pillows with images of Paris all add to the friendly, artistic culture of this little french cafe. The owners of the shop moved from the Basque region in the south of France to New York in 2014 and named the business after their daughter, Lena. In 2017, they opened a new shop in the Lower East Side.
For Mimi Lau, her work is an exercise in sharing a bit of herself with her customer. “When you buy food, you’re not just paying for the food; you’re paying to learn where that food came from. It’s a culture. Even this mochi, it’s so clear that it’s from a different generation. It’s not your really traditional mochi because there’s something inside. It reflects my generation, and that’s my culture. I put Oreos and Froot Loops in there, goddammit! ”Brooklyn-native Mimi Lau opened Mochii, an adorable artisanal dessert shop on East 7th Street, in April 2018 at the ripe old age of twenty-five. Like the desserts served there, the shop is sweet, small, and soft: bean bag chairs line the walls and each mint green cup is decorated withMochii’s bunny logo. The highlight, though, are the treats themselves. Mimi’s mochi are works of art, entirely hand-crafted from the delicate rice wrapper to the varied fillings. A batch of ice cream mochi alone can take up to nine hours to make, but for Mimi the effort is entirely worth it. “Working with this type of dough for so long and making this type of sweet, it’s just something that should be made by hand. It’s so delicate. ” Every aspect of the mochi is thought through, down to the way they are consumed. Mimi recommends eating by hand, so the heat from one’s fingers warms and softens the outside of the mochi - and the mess is, of course, part of the fun. The mochi come in a wide assortment of flavors, and each one holds a special treat inside - anything from a slice of fruit to the aforementioned Oreo. “Like me, they each have a little bit of happiness inside, ” Mimi sweetly stated. A smile lights up her face as she describes her customers’ reactions to seeing the mochi sliced open and the treat inside revealed. “It’s really joyful. It makes me feel like a kid again. ”Sweets have always been a passion of Mimi’s, but she noticed that the market, especially in New York, was trending towards ever more sugary, over-the-top desserts. In a world of jumbo shakes and cronuts, mochi stand out for their small size, subdued sweetness, and relative simplicity - a sustainable dessert, if you will. As for the shop itself, Mimi knew from a young age that she wanted to have her own store. She worked for several years managing two restaurants to gain experience before taking the plunge herself. “I pretty much gave up everything to do what I wanted, ” she admitted. “It was really hard to leave, but if not now, then when? ”
Crepe Master opened in November 2017. After a trip to Japan, owner Fumi wanted to bring the uniqueness of the country's crepes to Harlem. Unlike French crepes, the Japanese version is traditionally served in a cone — and a classic street food dish in populous cities throughout the country. Top recommendations include Chocobana, a sweet crepe comprised of banana, crushed chocolates, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, custard cream and almonds, the Suzette, a simple butter, sugar, lemon crepe, or any savory crepe with tofu.
Just off of Ninth Avenue is a small cookie shop called Schmackary's, and wow, what a crowd it continues to attract at almost any hour or day of the week. Stepping inside feels like being transported into a Norman Rockwell painting – familiarly and authentically American. The shop is neatly decorated with baby blue pinstripes and a wall of colored glass that separates the kitchen from the eating area. The vibe is calm, warm, and welcoming, just as owner Zachary Schmall intended it to be when he opened his first brick-and-mortar in 2012. Zach came to the city as an aspiring Broadway actor but began his career in marketing. In order to de-stress, Zach would come home to his apartment and bake cookies, often experimenting with different flavor combinations. His friends would try his creations and after a while, they began encouraging him to sell them. Zach took a risk, and eventually, what he had seen as a modest pipe dream became his livelihood. Hailing from the Midwest, when it came time to start his own business, Zach made sure that customers were his top priority. While I was chatting with him, he told me that his approach was first and foremost based on providing the customer with warm and personable service. On a daily basis, he makes certain that his staff is not "anonymous and apathetic, but rather people who others strolling in might want to have as friends. " Since his success stems from word of mouth and social media, Zach has shown that prioritizing the customer pays off. Zach credits part of Schmackary's reputation as a "hidden gem in the heart of Broadway" to the store's location a couple of steps away from the main drag. He loves his 45th Street address, especially because of his strong connection to the theater community, and wants to keep that same side street feeling as he makes plans to expand. He further explained, "Being slightly removed from the avenue bustle gives Schmackary's a more intimate vibe, whereas a main street location would feel more exposed and less familial. "Schmackary's, called "the unofficial cookie of Broadway, " offers a rotating menu of 45 different flavors of cookies. On one visit, I bit into the moist, but crunchy around the edges, Caramel Apple Crisp and was hooked. A coffee-crazy friend of mine, who had tagged along with me that day, said their coffee was top-notch – yet another reason to come back to visit Schmackary's. On a subsequent visit with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, they sampled several other amazing cookies, including The Monster filled with peanut butter, M& Ms, and raisins. And on yet another day when we were stopping by to take photos, it happened to be when Broadway Bakes was taking place - the annual fundraiser that Schmackary's holds for Broadway Cares, the nation's top AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. During this week, some of the theater district's biggest stars volunteer their time to stand behind the counter and serve customers. When we showed up, the line was down the block. Little did we know that everyone was waiting to have their picture taken with Audra McDonald in exchange for a donation. A serendipitous moment as Zach brought us to the front of the line to meet her. Needless to say, everyone was quite pleased that I had taken them to this sweet oasis. Learn about Schmackary's vision to franchise throughout the US in the W42ST article, “After 11 Tasty Years in Hell’s Kitchen, Schmackary’s Broadway Bakery Sets Stage for Nationwide Expansion. ”
The folks at Spot Dessert Bar are mavericks of dessert. With desserts specially created by the Iron Chef of Thailand, Ian Kittichai, and Mark Lee, the managing partner, the eatery offers each of its customers an astounding tour of taste. The dessert tapas themselves are a blend of eastern and western flavors inspired by Chef Kittichai’s travels around the world. While speaking with Mark, we learned that the little desserts are called “tapas, ” not because of the size, but because the idea is to order a few and share. Along with dessert tapas, Spot serves cupcakes, macarons, cookies, and bubble tea. They truly have something for everyone especially with the addition of new dairy-free and gluten-free options. The desserts change based on the seasons and we were lucky to be able to try the new fall menu as well as their signature dishes, and each one was a delightful surprise. Their two best sellers are the Golden Toast, with honey butter, condensed milk ice cream, and strawberries, and the Chocolate Green Tea Lava Cake, a soft dark chocolate cake with green tea ganache and green tea ice cream. The Golden Toast was warm with a flaky, soft interior, while the Chocolate Lava Cake was one of the best the Manhattan Sideways team had ever tasted, perfectly heated and well paired with the strong matcha flavor. Mark told us that it is also one of the top 10 most Instagrammed foods in NYC, which we did not find surprising, since each dish is a piece of art. The fall desserts were all equally tasty and creative—The gluten-free matcha cremeux with its toasted rice ice cream was unexpected and simply delicious. The vegan Coconut Monkey bread was light, fluffy, and topped with coconut ice cream with basil seeds. The real stand out was the Black Truffle savory dessert. None of the Manhattan Sideways team had ever had anything like it. It consists of black truffle, hazelnut dacquoise, and apricot sauce, and was the clear winner, especially for those without a strong sweet tooth. We drifted between different desserts as Mark told us more about Spot’s future plans and his experience with the company. Mark started as a server at Spot, which opened five years ago, and now is part-owner. He originally worked in magazine design and now puts his aesthetic eye to good use on the culinary design of Spot. He is inspired by everything—restaurant uniforms, menus, interior décor, and other aspects. Mark informed us that Spot is planning on expanding a few stores down. At first, the company used the space as a take-out café, but wanted to stay true to the dine-in nature of the original. Mark wants “customers to feel cozy when they come to Spot, ” and so will decorate the addition in a very similar way. We agreed that the wood-panelling and warm interior is very homey, creating a perfect atmosphere in which to fill up on dessert.
From inauspicious beginnings as a cake wholesaler in 2001 has arisen a giant of the dessert world. The wholesale business, directed toward restaurants and hotels, expanded rapidly, necessitating a move to a larger space and eventually begetting a boutique cake shop on the Upper East Side in 2004. After opening a second location in the Plaza Food Hall in 2012, Lady M opened this shop in 2013, and has seen business continue to boom. The Japanese chain now spans international borders to Singapore, in a demonstration of the power of a quality product. The specialties here are the Lady M Mille Crepes, cakes made by stacking alternating layers of ultra-thin crepes and sweet light pastry cream. The vanilla Mille-Feuille is a classic; the green tea rendition demonstrates the signature blending of French and Japanese styles. But the roster goes deeper than its star player: the cheesecake won New York Magazine's best cheesecake award in 2006, the coronne du chocolat was featured as one of the chicest chocolate cakes in the city by Vogue Magazine. It is a treasure trove for the sweet-toothed. The simple, airy, elegant architecture of the space, with only a few tables to sit at, perfectly enhances the experience.
Originally, an offshoot of David Chang’s award-winning restaurant group Momofuku, 13th is one of the fortunate streets to have one of his well-loved milk bars open. Today, acclaimed pastry chef Christina Tosi takes the combination of baked goods and milk to a whole new level at each of her locations – yes, I have had many a treat. Soft serve “cereal milk” or jugs of this tasty milk to go, the infamous crack pie, cornflake or compost cookies... and then there are the packages of cake truffles – these are slices of cake that are condensed into supremely dense balls of sugary goodness. Definitely worth a bite or two... or three. Milk Bar also donates a portion of every dairy sale to various independent and family dairy farmers in need. All in all, Milk Bar is a dessert lover’s heaven.
After visiting Lady M’s location at Bryant Park, I was excited to stop by the original on the Upper East Side. I saw many of the same breathtakingly vibrant cakes and tarts lined up behind refrigerated glass, but the 78th Street spot also offers a selection of croissants, salads, and sandwiches. We heard from Ken Romaniszyn, the founder, that the savory lunch items work best at the founding store because regulars do not think of Lady M as a high end cake shop, but rather as a neighborhood café that has been around for years. “When we started, this was just a quiet little bakery, ” he said. “In 2015, it’s very different. ” Lady M now has multiple locations around the world. They just opened in Hong Kong and are looking forward to a new store in Boston. Ken brings an extraordinary expertise to Lady M, as he is a graduate of Harvard Business School, but also attended the French Culinary Institute. "I like numbers, " he stated simply, but he also appreciates beautiful desserts. Since opening his first retail shop in 2004 - named after Emi Wada, a family friend and baker in Japan - he has continued to expand into the Plaza and Rockefeller Center. He is also hoping to have a space in the new World Trade Center. Ken is proud to say that he might be the only business to exist in all three places. When I inquired about their kitchen, Ken told me that all of the New York baking is done in a 14, 000 square foot space in Long Island City, Lady M currently has forty-five to fifty cakes on its roster. Of those, there are five or six signature cakes that are always in stock. The others on display change with the seasons. When we were visiting in December, many of the cakes featured chestnuts for the holidays, having just taken the place of the pumpkin flavors. Ken's favorite, however, the strawberry shortcake, seems to be available throughout the year. Ken admitted that it makes him nostalgic for summers spent in Japan as a child. Lady M is probably best known for its mille crepes cakes in which paper-thin crepes are piled high to create a creamy confection. Lady M can even make wedding cakes out of their signature mille crepes – in fact, this is what Ken recently chose for his own wedding cake. When I commented on how beautifully and consistently constructed every cake is, Ken smiled and stated, “This is what we do, so we do it well” - adding that since every cake is handmade, if it is not perfect, it is discarded. It was also a delight to meet Sarah Altemeyer, Lady M’s brand new marketing director, who was eager to share a bit more about Lady M’s projects and plans for the future. She said that she is hoping to introduce bite-size cake samples, so that people can try more than one flavor during a visit. She also informed me of Ken’s plans to decrease waste: for example, the kitchen often has a lot of leftover egg whites, so they have started making Asian-flavored macarons (green tea, red bean, yuzu, etc. ). Though they are not available for purchase, yet, there is a possibility that they might be in the not too distant future. Lady M also recently introduced its own tea brand and, finally, Lady M is bringing WiFi into each of its locations. While speaking with Ken and Sarah, I was struck by how upbeat they are about the cake business. Smiling, Ken said, “We’re in the happy business. " He gets to brighten people’s day with delicious food and help them out when they are most inclined to be in a good mood. Ken feels very fortunate and is quite confident in his industry's longevity: “This is not a craze, ” he told me. “It’s forever. Cake is consistent – it’s nostalgia. ”
If one were to walk into the original See’s Candies in Los Angeles in the 1920s, one would see something very similar to the brick and mortar storefront in the West Village. Indeed, the black and white tiles and decades-old employee uniform design remain the same. The recipes remain true to the originals, created with top-notch ingredients and designed to be eaten fresh. Even the cascading art deco light fixtures, which are, in fact, the originals, found in an old warehouse in California, will transport customers back to the era of swing. However, it is the spirit of the place that is most remarkable, which Bill Rhodes - who partnered with See’s to open the first New York location in the fall of 2016 - labors carefully to keep alive. As I looked through the rows of rich chocolates behind the glass shield, I listened in as a customer shared with Bill how ecstatic she had been when she heard that See’s Candies was coming to her neighborhood. “I grew up on these, ” she said, “This is like a dream. ” After she made her purchases, Bill invited the Manhattan Sideways team behind the counter, where rows and rows of neat little drawers lined the shelves beneath the displays. Bill took us through the boxes, pulling out one after another, and described each one with rapture, from the heavier cherry cordials to the brown sugar butter creams, which consist of “firm brown sugar enrobed in a rich milk chocolate. ” He then demonstrated how each chocolate was carefully placed into brown paper cups and displayed. The shop, Bill told us, was meant to be a hidden gem. Mary See’s son, Charles, built the original store on the West Coast as a tribute to his mother’s kitchen, replicating her black and white tiled floors and art deco design. Bill revealed that if this store had been opened in New York along with the original in the 1920s, it would have been opened on a side street just like 8th street. The small shops and shaded sidewalks of the West Village embody the small business, community oriented spirit of the store that Charles See envisioned back in the day. “It only took us ninety-six years, ” Bill said, “but we’re finally here! ”
When asked what cake means to her, Lisa Mansour did not hesitate for a second: “Cake is happiness! ” she exclaimed. An award-winning cake decorator and owner of NY Cake, Lisa has had a hand in shaping the baking industry, from judging competitions to creating new and innovative product lines. In addition, Lisa has been inducted into The Wilton Method Instructor Hall of Fame and has won several awards from the Societé Culinaire Philanthropique. Besides her own hard work and determination, Lisa attributes her many accomplishments to a long family tradition of dessert-loving. Her grandmother was a chocolatier and her mother, Joan, a cake decorator, who opened The Chocolate Gallery in the ’80s. In 1989, Lisa and Joan grew The Chocolate Gallery into a store and school that focused purely on cake decorating. Then, in 1992, the duo opened NY Cake & Baking Supply on West 22nd Street. The business boomed, and, in October 2018, moved into a new, larger space just down the street from their old location. NY Cake is a baker’s paradise. The new location includes a commercial kitchen, a café where customers can purchase baked goods and coffee, and an expanded school. And, of course, there is the sprawling retail section that first put NY Cake on the map. Here, one can buy every baking supply imaginable and then some: cake and pie pans in multiple shapes and sizes, cupcake wrappers, chocolate molds, cookie cutters, food coloring, rolling pins, and hundreds and hundreds of other items. It is overwhelming in the best sense, stacked ceiling high with everything needed to create that special dessert. The idea, according to Lisa, was to provide something for every sweet tooth. “If you like to bake yourself, you can get your supplies in the back. If you wanna learn how to do it, you can come and take a class. Or, if you have no desire to bake, you can just come in, sit, have a coffee and have a treat. ”The expansion has been stressful, to be sure (“I’ve never worked so hard, ” Lisa confessed), but the challenge is what makes it so exciting for her. With the extra space, they have been able to grow the NY Cake line of specialty baking products–designed to help bakers execute intricate cake designs, such as a Chanle-esque quilted bag–and have started selling a series of blinged-out cake stands that are sure to jazz up any dessert table. The larger school can accommodate twice as many students, and the industrial kitchen has allowed them to actually sell cakes, rather than just helping people make them. “It’s so fulfilling for me to teach, to take an order, ” Lisa said, “It makes me happy. ”In addition to professional customers from bakeries, wholesalers, and restaurants, NY Cake has carved out a market among amateur baking enthusiasts and counts many Chelsea and Flatiron locals among its regulars. That sense of community loyalty goes both ways: From baking competitions and events to the cake-pop class Lisa volunteered to teach at a center for the blind on 23rd Street, NY Cake is a true neighbor. This might stem in part from the fact that the store is as much family as business. Three generations of Mansours work at NY Cake (I met Lisa’s nephew, sister and mother during our interview), and even those who are not blood-related are part of their big, happy “cake family. ”