A New York City bakery is making a splash in Manhattan seeing incredible success overseas.
Ole & Steen originally started 30 years ago in Denmark as two separate bakeries on the east and west sides of the company, owned and operated by Ole Kristoffersen and Steen Skallebaek. After a lot of initial success on their own, the two decided to team up and created Lagkagehuset, which means “layer cake house.” However, in an effort to make the brand more accessible to a non-Danish market, the brand underwent a name change to its locations outside of Denmark.
“The founding bakery, if you look at the building, it looks like the layers of a cake with icing between all the layers, so that’s the name of the business,” said Jason Cotta, CEO of Ole & Steen. “But when we came to London and New York, we thought that wasn’t going to be a great brand name for us because it’s not very easy if you’re not Danish, so we took the two founders’ names instead and made that our brand in London and in New York.”
The brand grew to have over 100 bakeries across Denmark and 18 locations in London, so New York was the next step. The team at Ole & Steen took a look at Manhattan and tried to find locations that would not only cater to New York City’s tourist population, but also the New Yorkers that utilize office spaces in the borough.
Eventually, the brand opened three new Ole & Steen locations at Bryant Park (80 West 40th Street), Midtown East (InterContinental New York Barclay, 518 Lexington Avenue), and Union Square (873 Broadway).
“That was the combination of locations between Union Square, Bryant Park and InterContinental because it was a nice blend of offices and people that needed to work every day and tourists as well,” said Cotta. “That was the primary driver. As we grow in Manhattan, we’re going to try other locations as well.”
Ole & Steen prides itself on the authenticity of all of its menu items, which include a variety of Danish pastries, breads, and confectioneries. Everything is made in-house early in the morning and sold that day, and that remains the same regardless of which country you are in.
“In all three countries, everything we sell we make. All of our confectionery, all of our pastry, all of our amazing bread, is made by us that night by really talented, skilled people,” said Cotta. “It’s just a real authenticity and integrity about our product that’s hard to match anywhere else. We’re very passionate bakers, we’re really good at what we do.”
A popular menu item at Ole & Steen is the cinnamon social, a cinnamon-flavored pastry that is sold by portion in New York. Cotta says is not only the most popular item sold in New York, but across every single Ole & Steen location across the globe.
“It’s an amazing danish pastry with cinnamon flavoring, it’s just the best,” said Cotta. “It’s our number selling product across every store in every country. We literally sell thousands of portions of that a week because it is just a real signature product for us.”
However, as time has gone on, Ole & Steen had to keep up with the needs of New Yorkers and has since expanded its menu to include a line-up of toasted sandwiches, soups, salads, and other breakfast options. Even with these offerings, Ole & Steen still prides itself on being a bakery first.
The brand also has a huge focus on sustainability. According to Cotta, when looking at their own sustainability practices, Ole & Steen surveyed their employees and customers to see what they were the most passionate about. Through their research, they landed on three key areas to focus on: food waste, diversity and inclusion, and packaging.
“We are food producers, we create waste, so how do we use waste through services like Too Good To Go, which we are a part of. But also we recycle a lot of products to create fresh products, it’s a bakery discipline that people have been doing for years, you can reuse some of the product,” said Cotta. “Secondly around diversity and inclusion, it’s just being really open about who we employ and who we serve. Thirdly, around packaging, how much packaging we create, and reducing our footprint. This year, this month, we started work on baselining our CO2 footprint as well.”
Ever since Ole & Steen made its way to New York City, the bakeries have been incredibly popular among New Yorkers and tourists alike. Cotta says that pre-COVID, the three New York City locations were the busiest locations. Even throughout the pandemic, Ole & Steen saw success as they stayed open throughout the entirety of the pandemic.
“We kept locations open all the way through the pandemic because we knew the thing about serving the community, particularly in our Broadway location where customers lived around us, we never closed that location,” said Cotta. “But that’s kind of how we thought about arriving in the market and how we thought about the opportunity to grow here as well, because even post-COVID-19 (or getting close to post-COVID-19) at our store on InterContinental, as offices have come back, we’ve just set our new sales record to even beat pre-COVID as well. Given that the city is still a long way to come back yet transit and office occupancy, we’re seeing a massive opportunity for people using us, and it gives us the confidence to keep investing here in the city.”
As for the future of Ole & Steen, Cotta recognizes that the United States is definitely going to be a big player in the bakery’s growth.
“We definitely think our future is here, there’s a huge opportunity here in New York. I don’t know how many stores we can get to but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think we could get to 40-50 stores here,” said Cotta. “I’ve got trips planned to Boston, DC and Chicago to try and get a feel for those cities. I think it’s a real opportunity here.”
For more information, visit oleandsteen.us.