By Sophia Jones
With four cookbooks, a cookware line, and Baked NYC locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito have built a baking empire serving fresh, classically American cakes and desserts.
Baked NYC feels just as familiar and traditionally American as the story behind it. With limited funding and a few time-honored recipes, two friends risked it all to follow their dreams, rise above every challenge along the way, and work endlessly to build their business from the ground up. With Baked NYC, Matt Lewis’ and Renato Poliafito’s goal was not to reinvent desserts, but to give new life to baked goods that have been around for centuries. When they met at an ad agency in New York City, where Matt worked as a web producer and Renato as a graphic designer, the dessert fanatics immediately bonded over their shared love of good coffee and cake. Renato and Matt opened Baked NYC in Red Hook, Brooklyn (shown above), in January 2005 and their second location in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood in 2014.
As “dessert archaeologists,” they’ve traveled from coast to coast, and even across international borders, tasting regional desserts and bringing the best back to Baked NYC. Now, working on their fifth cookbook, the baking pioneers hope to take Baked NYC global. Read on for Matt’s and Renato’s thoughts on cake, each other, American baking, the future of Baked NYC, and their first and best-selling cookbook Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.
We chatted with the friends on their baking inspirations and how they got their start.
Why do you think people gravitate toward your brand, recipes, and products?
Matt Lewis: People appreciate the fact that we’re trying to give new life to these cherished desserts that have been around a long time. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re not trying to use weird or strange ingredients to be cutting edge. We’re trying to bring you classic American treats that remind you of your childhood.
Renato Poliafito: Matt and I are not trained pastry chefs. We just have a passion for desserts. We know what we like in terms of flavor profiles, and we think we know what other people like. The goal was always to make the overall experience at Baked NYC pleasant and memorable enough for people to want to come back. The customer service and bakery environment is as important as the dessert and coffee we’re serving. A dessert can be great, but if it’s served to you with a smile and great customer service, it will taste even better.
How did your love for baking develop?
ML: Both my grandmothers, one was Italian and one was Scottish, brought me into the kitchen at a young age. I remember so clearly making a Bûche de Noël from start to finish with my Scottish grandmother, and I remember how beautiful the finished cake looked.
RP: My parents immigrated to Queens from Italy, so I’m a first generation Italian-American. My mom is your classic Sicilian mom who cooked all the time and made these amazing meals. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen just watching her. She wouldn’t use cookbooks; she would just whip up whatever came to her imagination, or go by a memorized family recipe that had been handed down to her.