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Angelenos love their doughnuts and smashburgers just as much as their Erewhon smoothies and grain bowls. As for giant cookies? NYC’s Levain Bakery is betting they’ll love those, too. Levain went bicoastal when they opened in L.A.’s Larchmont neighborhood last June, an event that was met with hours-long lines and general hysteria. Rightfully so, if you've ever tasted one of their world-famous cookies.
Co-founders Connie McDonald and Pam Weekes met as competitive swimmers in the mid ’90s and bonded over a mutual love of baking. Together, they opened a small, unassuming bread shop on the Upper West Side in 1995. The signature oversized chocolate-walnut creation came later, originally formulated to fuel them as they trained for a triathlon. Eat one and you can feel the carbo loading: They are rich, calorie-dense, and enormous.
The signature six-ounce Levain chocolate chip-walnut cookie, with its crispy exterior and gooey-soft center, became a word-of-mouth viral hit — back before social media even existed. In more recent years, after being mobbed by tourists, they made their cookies available to a more national audience by expanding to other cities like Washington D.C., Chicago, and Boston. But expanding to L.A. is a real milestone for the pair.
“We’ve been dreaming of coming to Los Angeles for 26 years, almost since we opened the first store on 74th Street,” Weekes says. “Though we’ve grown and expanded over the past 20-plus years, that neighborhood orientation is still very much a part of our DNA, and that is what drew us to Larchmont.” Much like the Upper West Side of NYC, Larchmont is eminently walkable, lined with dozens of small businesses like Levain. It has a small-town vibe in a city often dominated by mega malls and drive-thrus.
This past summer, the Larchmont location was met with an overwhelming reception. Massive lines snaked down the block as both loyal fans and curious first timers lined up for a taste. Many mega-fans even camped out in their cars the night before to be first in line. “Our dream for Levain in Los Angeles was right outside. A dream come true,” McDonald says, recalling opening day. As part of Levain’s neighborhood-centric ethos, all proceeds went to Alexandria House, a local charity that helps women and children escaping domestic violence. “From day one, this is a bakery that has served the neighborhood,” Weekes says.
The Larchmont outpost sells all six of the brand's signature cookies: the original, dark chocolate peanut butter chip, dark chocolate chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, two-chip chocolate chip, and coconut caramel chocolate chip, the newest flavor. Another recent entry to its menu is vegan and gluten-free chocolate chip walnut, a cookie that feels right at home in Los Angeles. The bakery also sells sleeper hits like the sour crumb coffee cake, brioche with cinnamon butter, and a truly excellent baguette. On the coffee front, they turned to popular local roastery Canyon Coffee.
Where their original Upper West Side bakery was diminutive, with room for just a handful of people (and no seating), the new location is spacious and airy, with high ceilings and plenty of natural light. Passersby can peer through the large street-facing windows and directly into the prep area to see the cookies being baked up fresh all day long. The Brooklyn-based Sarah Carpenter & Studio designed the space with rich-toned wood for coziness and handmade tiles in the brand’s signature deep blue.
You’ll spot that same shade of blue in a big, splashy mural as you walk down busy Larchmont Boulevard. Local artist Janice Chang depicted Larchmont’s sites, its clock tower and street signs. McDonald and Weekes commissioned the hyperlocal mural —it’s just one more way they’re giving back to their new, already beloved community.