Let's play a game. What can you buy for 35 cents in Los Angeles? Not the L.A. Times, not a first-class stamp -- maybe a gumball in one of those machines outside of Ralphs? Your options are pretty limited on this piddly budget, unless you head over to Diddy Riese, a hot cookie spot in Westwood that has flourished since opening its doors in 1983.
When those doors swing open at noon on any given Saturday, the infamous line has already curved out of the shop and down the sidewalk. The gathering crowd is as assorted as Diddy's cookie menu: parents with small children, cliques of UCLA students, well-dressed couples in their 40s and, well, food writers. Everyone stands at ease, perfectly willing to wait 15 minutes for a 35-cent cookie or the famous build-your-own ice cream sandwich for $1.75.
Though the cookies are made fresh daily (day-old dozens are on sale for $2.50), they are not "artisanal" or seasonal or anything too fancy. You aren't going to find a chocolate chip cookie with a sprinkling of fleur de sel or any vegan or gluten-free options. These are down-to-earth, homey cookies that make you feel all warm and gooey inside. The ice cream sandwiches aren't filled with organic ice cream from grass-fed cows or the expensive stuff from local creameries, but that's cool with us, because they're a sweet steal and you can choose from 12 different Dreyer's flavors to build your own sandwich.
Some of the cookies on their menu include white chocolate macadamia, chocolate white chocolate (a chocolate cookie filled with chunks of white chocolate chips), oatmeal walnut, chocolate chip walnut, and cinnamon sugar (commonly referred to as the snickerdoodle). All are very flavorful, but the chocolate chip, white chocolate chip, and cinnamon sugar are our favorites.
Mark Perry, the original and current owner, emphasizes the importance of freshness. He's so committed to the product, not the profit, that he absolutely refuses to franchise.
In a city smothered with food trucks and franchises and flea market stands, it's not only refreshing but shocking that a business owner reaping such success would choose to stay put and keep things as they are. With a catchy name like Diddy Riese, a wildly popular menu and a loyal following, it's very possible that Perry could have built up a pretty big cookie empire.
"The second you franchise, the price goes up and the quality goes down," says Perry, who grew up in the restaurant industry. He's a reticent but warm person and he manned the counter on the Saturday we visited, along with other employees. While he doesn't shun the press, Perry certainly doesn't seek it, and he could even be considered somewhat of a culinary recluse, a Keyser Söze of the cookie world, not wanting any attention drawn to himself. Indeed, there isn't one photo of him online anywhere -- and we really hunted. But there are hundreds of photos of his cookie creations.
"Our dough isn't frozen," Perry says. "Everything is made from scratch daily, even the fudge that goes into the chocolate chocolate cookie." It's apparent with one bite that the cookies are made from scratch and very fresh, given their terrific texture. "Three things make a restaurant successful," Perry continues, "quality, consistency and price. Most important is consistency." Though this seems fairly obvious, it's astonishingly difficult to maintain consistency in the food service world, and all the more difficult if a business grows and franchises. "We are absolutely dedicated to the product."
Diddy Riese cranks out hundreds of cookies a day and they fill several high-volume orders. Just $4 buys you a dozen, so it follows that Diddy's is a popular choice for anyone needing loads of cookies for a party or special event.
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And this is no hole-in-the-wall bakery. The kitchen, which is open and visible behind the counter, is spic-and-span clean, the speed racks, industrial standing mixer and four convection ovens literally shine, even during their high-volume production. Clearly, Perry and his employees take pride in their work -- and both our palates and pocketbooks are the happier for it.
See also: 10 Best Cookies in Los Angeles
Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer and a pastry cook at Lucques. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.