In the middle of a weekday, there is a line out the door at Schmackary's, a cookie bakery on 45th Street and Ninth Avenue, as locals and tourists wait for treats covered in everything from beer cream cheese frosting to strawberry glaze. Founder Zachary Schmahl rushes in after making some deliveries. It's the week before Christmas and even though he's come a long way from baking cookies out of his 450-square-foot apartment and doing all the deliveries himself, he is still hands-on, especially during the busiest time of the year.
Schmahl started selling cookies out of his Hell's Kitchen apartment at the encouragement of his friends. A baker by hobby, he would throw cookie parties to get rid of the desserts he made in between working at a marketing firm and acting. Word spread about his experimental confections, combining flavors like bacon and maple syrup, in large part thanks to the theatre community. (To this day, all advertising has been word of mouth and social media.)
The Actors Fund asked Schmahl to donate cookies to one of their performances. For the self-described "theatre queen," it was a no-brainer. "And that is when it sparked," Schmahl says. Sending cookies to Actors Fund performances became a regular occurrence, so that by the time he opened a storefront in 2012, a lot of actors already knew the name. Because performers escape to Ninth Avenue between shows, it was a natural place for a break. "The fans started seeing the actors coming here and it became this thing like the Café Edison used to be where you'd see Broadway actors between shows," he says. The bakery is quickly becoming an institution of that same ilk.
"It goes a lot deeper than cookies. I think it's the fact that somebody is engaging," Schmahl says about what keeps actors coming back. "People come here because obviously we have great cookies, but there's a heartbeat that our company has that's different from a lot of places in New York City." For example, Schmackary's lets fans send cookies to a specific actor or show via the website. "Tom Hanks was on Broadway and I thought how cool would it be to be a fan and say I want to give cookies to Tom Hanks," Schmahl says. Certainly, the actors enjoy the gesture.
I seriously love that Schmacks delivers my cookies like this.
A photo posted by @queenlesli on
And of course, there’s Broadway Bakes where stars come in to serve cookies as a fundraiser for Broadway Cares (all tips and half the proceeds from sales go to the non-profit). Past stars have included favorites like Corey Cott and the Newsies to power couple Will Swenson and Audra McDonald. "We need to get Liza Minnelli in here in order to top it," he says. In addition to creating a fun environment in the store, it's a way for him to give back. "The Broadway community was the first community to show me any love, so it just seemed natural to give that love right back," he says.
There's now a second location in Cooper Square, and, though they have tried to recreate the vibe, Schmahl thinks each store will end up having its own feel. Nothing will be quite like the one he calls an "oasis inside the theatre district." "It's comfortable and it seems like a place you would find in your childhood," he says. "It's about finding something that seems warm and kind and friendly and comfortable and familiar inside this hustle and bustle city."