Janie's Life-Changing Baked Goods in New York has 'an open-door hiring policy for people recently out of prison or a shelter who want to work.'
Janie's Life-Changing Baked Goods in East Harlem, New York, is not only known for its crust cookies but also for owner Janie Deegan's inspiring and life-changing story. She first started baking as a form of self-care during recovery after struggling with addiction and homelessness at 25. When her skills and confidence grew, she decided to make that cookie her future. What started with Thanksgiving pies and special-order cakes for neighbors and friends has turned into a success story. All thanks to her creativity and hard work. “I was stuck in an overwhelming darkness with no hope or glimpse of the future,” said Ms. Deegan, now 35, as reported by The New York Times.
She has two stores, one on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and another in East Harlem. For both stores, she has “an open-door hiring policy for people recently out of prison or a shelter who want to work,” she said. When a friend suggested making the best part of a pie into a cookie, she began experimenting with recipes. After several trials and errors in the kitchen, the Pie Crust Cookie was born. Her bakery specializes in pie crust cookies with fruit fillings and produces about 1,500 cookies every day. Deegan has 15 employees across two locations and plans to open a third. All of her employees are new in the business sector, but Deegan teaches them everything they need to know.
"I think that the people who do come here really value the fact that you don't have to have all these credentials or a background of any sort to be invited and welcomed in and come work with us," she told CBS News. Because of baking, Deegan and her employees have a second chance at life. "I wake up every day and get to be like, 'We sell joy.' I get to wake up and be at work 100 percent me. I don't have to hide my past, I don't have to have shame anymore and it is sweet." Also, Deegan was awarded a scholarship that provided her with financial aid to focus on her signature item after winning a competition sponsored by Stacy's Pita Chips. She also partook in the food business program at the International Culinary Center, where a food industry expert deemed the pie crust cookie to be the "next Cronut."
Deegan was accepted to the Harlem Local Vendor Program (HLVP), a business initiative of the Columbia University-Harlem Small Business Development Center (SBDC), in 2018. "There's no price you can put on that program, to take a course at the Columbia Business School -- it's an education in building a business," said Deegan. After completing the program, the Pie Crust Cookie was selected for retail at Columbia Dining's Uris Deli at the Business School in 2019. "I grew up 10 blocks from Columbia. I was not an Ivy League student -- I barely made it through college. So to not only participate in a course at Columbia but to have my product sold to best and brightest is so cool -- it's like coming home to me."
Beyond her love for baking, the Pie Crust Cookie queen wants to help and support others who may also be struggling. As her business continues to blossom, Deegan is dedicated to developing relationships with local shelters, youth centers, and rehabs through mentorship and second-chance employment. "Learning to bake and developing a business has changed my life -- and I want to help give that to others," she says. "I'm a warrior now."
To learn more about Janie, visit the website janiebakes.com.