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Levain Bakery Opens in Harlem

By Jeff Mays | March 1, 2011 3:15pm

By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — It had only been 20 minutes since Coanne Wilshire walked out of Levain Bakery's just-opened store at West 117th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard with a giant oatmeal raisin cookie, and she was back again.

"Already, this is a problem," the publicist said to cashier and barista Kara Mikula about her potential addiction. "This is not starting off well."

But for Connie McDonald and Pamela Weekes, co-owners of the famous bakery that started on the Upper West Side, it was going quite well. Just a few hours after opening their 3,200-square-foot headquarters in Harlem Tuesday, customers were popping in an out at a brisk pace, excited that the bakery some say makes the best cookie in all of Gotham had finally arrived uptown.

"I've been waiting for this for six months," said Dennis Quinn, 36, who left with a blueberry muffin. "I've been here 10 years and couldn't get a bagel for a long time. We are now getting what other neighborhoods already have."

That's especially true along the Frederick Douglass Boulevard corridor, which has seen an explosion of co-ops and condos that is now being followed by the nightlife, restaurants, bars and bakeries that many believe have been lacking in the area.

Both McDonald and Weekes, who live in the neighborhood, say they are excited to be a part of the area. They first eyed the space, the former Tribal Spears Gallery & Café, in July 2009. They say they fell in love with the amount of light and square feet for the asking price, as well as the people of the area.

They will also operate a mail order business out of the Harlem store.

"This is just such an awesome neighborhood. I love the Upper West Side but up here there is so much light and the people have been so welcoming," said McDonald.

The Upper West Side store will remain open at West 74th Street.

"I wasn't sure what to expect," said Weekes, in between mixing up giant batches of cookie dough. "It has been so much busier than I expected."

People have been calling the original West 74th Street store for a few months now asking when the Harlem location was going to open. That's because the product is good, says Weekes. There are no preservatives and all products are baked fresh every day. Those left over at closing time are donated to charity.

"We don't make anything we don't love," Weekes said, reciting her favorite items, which include the banana chocolate chip bread and the baked jelly donuts.

Meanwhile, Wilshire was busy plotting ways to stay away from the bakery, a difficult task since she lives above the store.

"I'm not coming back for the rest of the day," Wilshire told Mikula as she headed out with her second cookie. "At least I can take comfort that it's here when I need a treat."