I come to you bearing a miracle of life. At least, that’s what I believed I encountered when I met the delight that is By the Way Bakery, a bakery on the Upper West Side with a subtle, simple name that gets you wondering – what’s actually up?
By The Way – BTW to those who know it – is a bakery I’ve been looking for ever since I was given the news by my doctor that gluten was a big no for me, and I couldn’t reconcile what that would mean for my sweet tooth. I go there to remember that we don’t need to compromise taste to enjoy the treats that work for some of us.
The memo is this: They give you baked goods that almost guarantee no crumb will be left behind and, oh, by the way – everything is gluten and dairy free.
That last part is important. It’s what keeps us going back. It’s a subtle note that encompasses the essence of the experience – you could never tell the difference. Somehow, BTW can still be a favorite place to fulfil everything your sweet tooth desires, regardless of whether or not you have “dietary restrictions.”
When I visit, I leave with a tasting menu — a bite of the award-winning almond cookie, a bite of a whoopie pie, and perhaps a cinnamon chocolate chip muffin with a brown sugar-based crumb top. The latter is the kind of combination that you usually only experience when you make muffins at home and can’t decide which flavor you want, so you mix them and then wonder why bakeries don’t do more of that. I also grab a cream puff and a chocolate chip cookie.
For the chaser, and to savor, I keep Mo Mix, the bakery’s genius adult after-school-snack, for last. Grabbing one of each flavor – coconut almond, chocolate hazelnut, and pecan chai – I leave it for last because for my husband and I, it’s been impossible to not finish the entire bag in one sitting.
The anti-FOMO dessert experience you get doesn’t come from the lack of the traditional ingredients used at most bakeries. It’s the love and intentionality that started this business and continues to go into it. It’s a group effort – and you can feel it. While we were in the pandemic trenches, the bakery found ways to keep every single employee on the team.
With no formal training, the owner Helene Godin quit her successful 22-year career as a workaholic media attorney to open a bakery, and to bring her business to life. She tells me that her goal was to connect with her neighbors and bring more people to the table – literally – and that people were hungry for an authentic experience, something local and handmade.
She also says that the challenge was to create treats that were, without exception, worth a special trip. She refused to compromise, and she needed everyone to be able to say, “this is delicious’” without qualification.
Being around Helene is a reminder to ask yourself a few questions: Am I doing exactly everything I want to be doing right now? Who am I trying to serve? And what’s for dessert for tonight?
Last year, I threw my husband a birthday dinner and a custom layered funfetti cake was hand delivered by Helene – she, of course, was in attendance. I told her we dream about the Amy, her mini funfetti Bundt cake — and decided we want our birthday cakes every year to be exactly that. The team went ahead and made the full layered cake version, and our guests couldn’t stop raving about it; they didn’t even realize it was gluten and dairy free because that isn’t the point.
I write this to you, while enjoying my bites of all the pastries I just picked out. Frank Sinatra’s “L-O-V-E” is playing in the bakery, and I can’t help but dance out loud with excitement for my taste buds and the reminder that, in New York, there is always someone who, while bringing their dreams life, is making your dreams come true too.