A Sweeter Look at San Francisco
Words and Photos: Jennifer Sandoval
San Francisco is a city for foodies. More than any other American city, San Francisco has the highest per capita of restaurants, putting even New York to shame. The city-dwellers take pride in their abundance of small “mom-and-pop” shops and specialty food purveyors unique only to this amazingly diverse city. Among these stores are sweet shops, which make some of the best cookies, macarons, and other treats. Whether you’re in San Francisco for the weekend or have been living here for years, these shops are not to be skipped out on.
Dan Glazer, 54, stands near the window of his snug shop in San Francisco’s notorious Castro District. His smile doesn’t falter for a second, until the moment he spots a rack of cookies two inches too close to the display window.
“Can you push the tray away from the window?” Glazer asks the woman behind the counter as he points to the imperfection. She fixes the rack and goes back to work.
“See how I’m so picky,” he laughs as he reflects on what his favorite thing about owning Hot Cookie is (which he ultimately decides is the people whom he works with). Glazer opened Hot Cookie nearly twenty years ago. He decided to give the business a try after moving to the city. He had no idea how popular the store would become.
“As a business owner, you don’t know how successful it’s going to be. I put everything on the line for this store.”
The shop sells a variety of cookies, from traditional items like white chocolate macadamia, to cookies packed with more wild ingredients. One of the more unique items is the mocha-cayenne cookie, a holy matrimony of chocolate and spice. The one notorious item the store is known for selling is the ever-popular penis-shaped cookie. Not only can Hot Cookie satisfy your sweet cravings, it also gives you the option of buying underwear. Placed on the shop’s walls are countless photographs of customers flashing their branded rears in support of the store and its delicious treats.
Location: 437 Hayes Street
Nestled along one of the quaint sidewalks of Hayes Valley, (otherwise unofficially known as “Little France” because of the four different shops within its modest perimeter that sell macarons) stands Chantal Guillon, named after the owner of the store who opened up the petite shop in 2009.
The shop has a total of sixteen different flavors of macarons. The ingredients for these gluten-free macarons are imported from France and Italy, but made locally in a more “traditional” French style way.
“We decided to have one product in order to give all my energy and knowledge in order to reach excellence in that product,” says Guillon. “First is quality.”
Guillon has seasonal options to her menu, too. For Halloween, she created the pumpkin spice macaron, and for the holiday season, she will be coming out with other flavors including nougat and påte de fruit. After a few seconds of flipping through a French-English dictionary, a staff member informs her that the English translation is “crystallized fruit.”
Guillon offers a flavor for all kinds of people. “Each of us have different tastes, someone may think ‘too sugary’ or ‘too sweet’, others may think ‘too sour’. You have to follow your own taste. That’s why we have sixteen different flavors, because everyone is different.”
The shop itself is a treat. “When you make a shop, you want it to be a reflection of yourself,” says Guillon. “When you are in a good place, that looks pretty and nice, you feel comfortable, and we can share with the [customers] and the people who come around, [so that they feel welcomed in a better environment].”
A couple blocks down from Chantal Guillon stands one of San Francisco’s cutest confiseries. The store carries a variety of sweets, including chocolates, marshmallows, hard candies, and other treats. In their front display case are jars filled with large macarons of several flavors of unconventional ingredients.
The staff favorite, according to Jeremy Suzio, who works at the Hayes Valley Miette confiserie, may be the rose geranium macaron, which he says tastes like a rose smells. Suzio started his career at Miette a year and a half ago and has since achieved a managerial position (or as he refers to it, “Senior Shop Boy”). Among their choices of macarons is a new seasonal option, the coffee macaron. Suzio says that the flavors of the macarons are subtle but wonderful.
Miette may look like an adorable candy shop, but their cupcakes pack a powerful punch. Their gingerbread cake (laced with a secret ingredient: purportedly Guinness beer!) with cream cheese frosting was voted number four in the top sweets in the nation by Food Network’s Alton Brown. Another favorite among the younger crowd is the oh-so-gooey old-fashioned cupcake with Italian meringue, which tastes like a s’more minus the graham cracker.
Among the bustling pedestrians and taqueria shops along Mission street is Dianda’s Bakery, which opened up in San Francisco in 1962. The bakery sells everything from cannolis to trés leche cakes.
Dianda’s is currently celebrating their fiftieth-year anniversary, and to promote their products, the bakery places a sticker on the box commemorating their achievement. The bakery also promotes their products by claiming that all products are baked fresh daily on their premises, using the finest ingredients.
Although the shop may not have the best appearance, their bakery is visible to customers who are curious to see the items being made on the other side of the counter. The treats appeal to all kinds of customers by offering a mix of Italian and Mexican baked goods. The shop also offers birthday cakes, which the workers will personalize quickly with lettering before packaging it into a simple white box and branding it with a “Dianda’s” sticker.
Anthony’s Cookies doesn’t look like an average cookie store. The store is lined with large bottles of milk, and a long wooden table sits on one half of the room. Chalkboards are hung up on the wall, informing customers of the array of cookies that are being made by staff members behind the counter. The rustic appearance of the shop doesn’t stop a line from quickly forming inside the store to try these delicious mini-cookies.
Anthony Lucas, a former student at San Francisco State University, started out by baking cookies for money while in school with no culinary training, and expanded into his very own shop on Valencia. Anthony’s Cookie is now the number one gourmet producer in the Bay Area.
Some of the flavors of cookies are cookies and cream, oatmeal cranberry, and peanut butter.
In an interview with Google, Lucas expressed that he was never a baker and never intended to be a baker, but strived to do something he loved in the field of mathematics.
“I never in my life was good at baking, I know my mother, she was good at baking, but the most I ever came to baking was licking the spoon after she got done whipping whatever she made.”
Lucas believes that the main building block to success of any scale of business is not losing sight of the customers. “We’re very strict on the hiring process. Because if somebody comes into your shop, you don’t want to disappoint them.”
“If you can open up a food establishment in San Francisco, and be successful, you can pretty much be successful anywhere.”