When Dave Dreifus lost his private chef job at the beginning of the pandemic, he started baking cookies to cope.
He couldn’t have known that soon he’d have a thriving business selling those very cookies—the Best Damn Cookies in New York.
Let’s just say that his cookies are better than yours. Like, a lot better.
Dreifus started selling cookies on Instagram because he wanted to cheer up his friends in a moment of crisis and baking connects him to his roots.
His grandfather, Armin Dreifus, immigrated from Germany to Brooklyn in the 1930s to escape the rise of fascism, and: “My grandpa started working at a [Jewish] bakery called Stern’s in Midwood. He started out sweeping floors, and then he became a dishwasher and a baker and then head baker… He eventually owned the business.” Stern’s was famous under Dreifus’ grandfather’s management because “In an era where these things weren’t happening, my grandpa was saying, ‘No, we need to have high-quality butter. We need to have good eggs.’… There was an intensity for finding good ingredients.”
Dreifus has carried on the family tradition for superlative baked goods, obsessively sourced. Starting this Friday, May 28, Best Damn Cookies (so named because it’s what Dreifus’ business partner Mohit Sahoo exclaimed upon tasting them) is moving into Manhattan’s Market Line at Essex Market, one of the oldest public markets in New York City.
Up until now, Dreifus has been operating out of the kitchen at About Mass, a Williamsburg Mexican restaurant run by his Culinary Institute of America classmate and former coworker Zack Wangeman, who is originally from Oaxaca. Ironically, Wangeman has a pastry background, having worked at The Restaurant at Meadowood, and Dreifus’ training is culinary.
Thus, having each other around has been a blessing for both chefs. According to Wangeman, “One of the cool things about New York City is that we all know it’s a hard place to live in. The rent’s high, everyone has to work a lot, and because of that there’s a sense of community that I don’t really see anywhere else. So when Dave was looking for a place to start producing cookies outside of his apartment, we came to an agreement to share the space.”
Dreifus echoed that sentiment, commenting that since Sobre Masa opened in the midst of the pandemic: “To see your friends making something delicious felt really good… I was making eight cookies at a time in one oven, and it was just impossible. And Zack had an oven that didn’t work.”
It took two months to get that oven operational, but eventually Dreifus was able to move into a corner of the restaurant: “On that first day I baked 120 cookies in eight minutes. And I cried. I actually cried. It was a mixture of friendship and luck and a great opportunity.”
Their partnership has also worked because Wangeman “does simple things expertly.” Sobre Masa has gained a stellar reputation for its hand-pressed tortillas made with heirloom corn from Masienda, inventive takes on traditional Mexican pastries (courtesy of Cosme alum Jesus Perea), and an incredible, laid-back menu featuring cilantro flower guacamole and weekend barbacoa specials since it opened in mid-2020. Soon, they’ll be opening a second location, a tortilleria near the Morgan L stop in Bushwick.
Wangeman is excited about his friend’s success, but not exactly surprised. Wangeman noted that, “What people don’t even realize is that [Dreifus’ cookies are] baked just to perfection. You can overbake a cookie in, like, thirty seconds. That’s something he’s really, really mastered.”
Sahoo, whose background is in marketing, has coordinated several limited edition cookie collaborations with other businesses since Best Damn Cookies began, and Dreifus has treated them as opportunities for creativity.
Dreifus’ main menu is plenty interesting, featuring The OG (brown butter chocolate chip), Kelp! (white chocolate, nori, pecans), Kerala (green cardamom, oatmeal, cranberry), Levante (vegan tahini espresso) and the gluten-free Pinole (heirloom cacahuazintle corn, canela, chile de arbol) which he produced in concert with Sobre Masa.
But Wangeman noted that Dreifus’ limited-edition offerings have given him an opportunity to shine: “Whether it’s with a spice or with a salt or adding dried mango in the Pinole cookie, he’s always thinking of how can I season this better… It’s thought out, it’s not just following a recipe.” Cross-promotion is something Sahoo is devoted to, so they’ve produced biscotti with Black & Bolyard, a luxe Louis XIV cookie with Bushwick’s Fine & Raw, and Dreifus is working on something secret with MaLa Project, among others.
Dreifus can’t wait to move into his own permanent space, but is also deeply grateful to Wangeman for his generosity: “2020 has been like forty years in one. I started in here in December of 2020, so 2021 is similar… It felt like every month the [Sobre Masa] business model changed. Zack was busy in different ways, doing different things. He’s been so gracious, and so patient with letting me figure out how to do this, because I’ve never made a cookie company in a Mexican restaurant before.”
Wangeman, for his part, is holding Dreifus to his promise of a lifetime supply of chocolate chip cookies now that he’s moving out of said Mexican restaurant. Lucky for you, those cookies deserve their moniker—I’ve never had any that rival them—so you might just want to pick up a lifetime supply of your own. I know Dreifus will appreciate it.