During the pandemic, food brought me a lot of joy. Particularly food that was cooked by someone other than, well, me. And more so, food that contained a lot of butter. And sugar. I found all of these elements came together quite nicely in a dessert Craig brought home one night called Pie Crust Cookies. Yes, these are as good as they sound, especially if your favorite part of pie is the buttery flaky place where the filling meets the road. The Pie Crust Cookies are the creation of Janie’s Life Changing Baked Goods, which just opened its second location last week at 2118 Second Avenue in East Harlem.
Now, if you haven't tried her signature Pie Crust Cookies, which are baked in crusts from apple, pecan, chocolate and triple berry pies, you simply must. Forget the pie for Thanksgiving people, this is the dessert you need.
But beyond the butter, it’s back story of this bakery that’s quite inspiring; It’s owned by Janie Deegan, who is a recovered addict and was formerly unhoused.
Janie who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her upbringing was in some ways typical. She shared a room with her brother. Her parents were theater designers who loved to cook and bake. But early in high school she began suffering early on from anxiety and depression; to cope she turned to drugs and alcohol. By 19 she was completely “out of control” as she puts it, blacking out nightly. In her 20s she became unhoused, and spent three years trying to get sober while navigating the life of an addict living on the streets.
When she was 24 she finally hit rock bottom; and found someone who she felt heard her and saw her and helped her start over and get sober. While she battled addiction, she realized had no life skills, no college degree and no idea how to support herself. But she liked to bake. And so she began making pies, cakes and cookies out of her apartment. A friend asked her to make a cake for a birthday party and from there, word of mouth grew of Janie’s baked goods. By 2015, she was baking and selling out of her apartment, and in 2021 opened a small storefront a few blocks away from her childhood home.
Her business boomed during COVID (apparently many people (not just me!) liked to eat pie crust cookies while locked inside). And she has now opened a gorgeous new space, a huge culinary production center with a retail shop in East Harlem.
One other thing to mention about Janie: she employs with an eye toward second chances. She hires her staff with no formal training or prior experience required—all she wants to see is passion and drive. She seeks out people who are looking for another shot; so this means she hires formerly incarcerated, addicts, alcoholics, and those who have been unhoused. She is a mentor to them as much as their boss.
She hopes that Janie’s Life Changing Baked Goods will help others get another shot at a different life. “There are a lot of people out there who just feel like they have nothing to offer," she told me; "But I want them to know this: you can’t let shame bury you; there is a better life out there.”
Shop online for Janie’s Pie Crust Cookies or visit her stores IRL!