Dan Cohen has been making macaroons for more than a decade, but he only became Danny Macaroons two years ago. In that short span of time, his confections have risen above the Passover tin to become the crowd favorite at the Smorgasburg food market in Brooklyn and be sold online and at coffee shops throughout the city. With flavors like red velvet, salted caramel and German chocolate, Danny has redefined a cookie typically relegated to the Passover holiday. Jspace caught up with the man behind the cookie to talk about his Jewish roots and unusual business strategy.
Jspace: How did Danny Macaroons begin?
Dan Cohen: Around 12 years ago, I came home from college for Passover and I asked my mom why we never made macaroons for Passover. We made a lot of stuff at my house growing up, but macaroons were never a thing that anyone seemed to care about. She said, “I don’t know, but if you want them you should make them.”
So I looked up a ton of different recipes for background and started playing around. People really liked them so I kept making them the next year. The year after that I decided I wasn’t going to make the macaroons because I didn’t want to be the guy who was always coming to Seders with macaroons. But then everybody yelled at me and told me I wouldn’t be allowed back at Seders if I didn’t make the macaroons. So then I kept making them.
Fast forward to 2010, it was Passover and I made macaroons again. My uncle’s mother-in-law was saying, like old lady from Brooklyn, “Oh these are so delicious you should sell them,” over and over. I’m in a coffee shop two weeks later and they had no food. I thought, “Hmm, I don’t know. It’s a terrible idea but maybe I’ll try to bring them macaroons.” So I showed up with macaroons there. The guys looked at me kind of funny, tried them and really liked them and asked me if I sold them. I said, “Sure if you’ll buy them why not,” and that was it.
It was never something that I thought I really wanted to do or planned on, but that first day I took the rest of the batch that I made to other coffee shops in my neighborhood, and picked up two more customers. And then people in my building started buying them and I picked up a couple of other customers. I thought maybe this is actually something I could do, and started putting more time into it and now here we are.
You don’t have a permanent shop. What are the challenges of vending from food fairs and third parties?
I decided that I would wholesale, and that was a great idea to have the macaroons in all these different coffee shops and cafes around the city because it’ll reach more people that way, and then maybe one day you can sell them on the web because people know who you are. Maybe one day you can open up your own place and people will go there because people know who you are.
One of the major challenges that I’ve faced is that is really difficult if you have a freshly baked product—it’s different if you have packaged stuff—but if you have fresh product it’s really hard to go into places and have them put up a sign saying your name on it. If you go into lots of coffee shops, more often than not the pastries are unprinted and most of the croissants and stuff like that comes from either Ceci-Cela or Balthazar. But they almost never have signs saying where the stuff is from. And then as a smaller vendor, the shops are less inclined to put your name on it, especially in the very beginning because “Who are you?” and “What’s the value?” in saying where these are from. It’s changing two years later, but that’s been a major challenge.
How was it to win the People’s Choice award at Smorgasburg?
Totally shocking. I just didn’t expect that that many people would say that they love macaroons. I know people like them. But I guess there’s so much amazing stuff in that market and macaroons often get a little bit sidelined. Even if they say they like Manischevitz macaroons, most people’s experience with macaroons is bad. They come in a can and they’re dry and they’re gross, even if you’ve got a nostalgic love for shitty tin macaroons. So that people would vote en mass for my macaroons is really amazing.
What makes your macaroons so different?
They’re fresh. I make it with condensed milk, which the ones that come in tins are not made with. So they’re more moist. I like to use a different shred of coconut, so it’s a little bit meatier, there’s a little more of a chew on it. All those little finely shredded bits that come in the macaroon tins, the more surface area you have the quicker you lose moisture. So they’re drier for lots of different reasons. I make mine from scratch. I bake them fresh, and I don’t use any fillers or weird ingredients. Just coconuts, egg whites, condensed milk, salt, and vanilla. And then whatever flavors, or caramel or chocolate, or whatnot.
Do you have a most popular flavor?
Well the salted caramel is definitely the most popular. Back when I started doing the salted caramel was when it started to really pick up. And it’s remained my most popular flavor up until now. But I got a book deal two months ago, and it’s going to be the macaroon bible, so there will be many, many coconut macaroon recipes in there. Now I’m trying to come up with lots of different flavors. People have really liked the guava ones. My favorite happens to be the chocolate banana hazelnut.
You seem to market baked goods with an attitude. How did you begin your online campaign of Famous People with Danny Macaroons?
There’s all of those photos where there’s one guy with goofy smile on his face that appears in random photos and then people start photoshopping it in random places where it never was. So I was looking at stuff like that and thinking, “Why not put the macaroons in funny places?”
Actually, when I started, when I had 3 fans on the page, the idea was to put the macaroons in one of my fan’s pictures. I thought it would be a fun way to engage my fans, whoever that may be. It was literally like my brother and my cousin, but whatever. And then when they tagged themselves, all the people that know them would see they were tagged in this picture and other people would click it. A little viral marketing technique I suppose.
So this girl liked my page, who I didn’t know, and she really liked horses. I took one of her pictures of her on a horse and I photoshopped her sitting on top of a macaroon, and she de-liked the page. So I stopped doing that. Then I just stuck to the celebrities.
Has your Jewishness influenced your business or life in other ways?
I probably wouldn’t be Danny Macaroons if I didn’t grow up in a Jewish family. I might not know about macaroons or have been exposed to them at all. I think that growing up in the context of Judaism laid the entire foundation for doing this. There wouldn’t be Danny Macaroons without the Torah.
Do you have any advice for young Jewish entrepreneurs?
Listen to your great-mother-in law. The old ladies know.