Cafe Warshafsky Is a Cafe for the Digital Age
Their shortbreads, however, are a feast for the senses
As the creator of Cafe Warshafsky, on any given day you’ll find Mai Warshafsky posting on social media, filling orders, and making shortbread cookies. You won’t, however, find a storefront. Cafe Warshafsky is essentially two big ideas: a brand of buttery shortbread cookies, which come in unique flavors like lavender-coconut, rosewater, and raspberry-hibiscus, and something a bit more ephemeral.
“The other side is the creative part,” Warshafsky told me over the phone. The name refers to the brand as a whole, which includes the company’s website and stunning Instagram feed. “It's the bigger picture I suppose. I want to creatively feed your visual appetite.”
Though there’s no physical cafe, Warshafsky still wants her customers to enjoy a cafe environment, even if that's a little abstract. “It's more like virtual reality,” said Warshafsky. Essentially, Warshafsky hopes that by spending time on her company’s website or social media profiles, you feel like you’re a part of something bigger. However, you’re not limited to experiencing Warshafsky’s work online, because her creative shortbread cookies are very much real.
Though Warshafsky finds the creative element of her company to be artistically fulfilling, she knows the core of her business—for now—is her shortbread. “At the end of the day, I'm selling cookies.”
Sell them she does. Though she operates with a small team in a commercial kitchen space in Manhattan, Warshafsky has sold her shortbread to individuals and retailers in all 50 states. Though it’s her full-time gig now, for years Warshafsky ran Cafe Warshafsky while also working restaurant jobs. Before that, it was just an edible hobby that she sometimes brought into work. In fact, her bosses at Jack’s Wife Freda in Manhattan were her first retail order.
“We had a staff meeting and I brought in a batch of my rosewater cookies, and Maya [Jankelowitz], the owner, especially loved them.” Jankelowitz enjoyed the shortbread so much she placed an order. From there, Warshafsky gained confidence to sell her cookies to other New York City retailers Harney and Sons, and Ground Support. Now, she works with nearly 20 retailers, among them The Wing, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and the Brooklyn Museum.
If you can’t get to one of Cafe Warshafsky’s retailers or are waiting for your own delivery of the shortbread, the virtual elements of Cafe Warshafsky (called “Cafe Life” and “Studio” on her website) are a treat in their own right. “I treated the series as though they were a few of the personalities that would be in Cafe Warshafsky,” Warshafsky explained. “There’s a self portrait of a tired worker like me. And then we have two candles leaning in, they’re supposed to be two lovers in a corner of the cafe, and the utensils shedding a tear. They're kind of like the actual customers in Cafe Warshafsky—eating, crying, breaking up.”
While Warshafsky does not yet have plans to expand her cafe to a brick-and-mortar location, she’s hoping to expand the “Cafe Life” section of her business by printing her illustrations on linens and cookie plates in the next year.
In the meantime, I’d recommend nothing more than to grab one of Warshafsky’s rosewater shortbreads (or two) and a warm cup of coffee, and to spend a little time in her virtual reality. I don’t think you’ll leave hungry.