Renowned Manhattan baker William Greenberg Jr. dies, turned poker winnings into tasty business
Baker extraordinaire William Greenberg Jr., renowned for his butter cookies, babka and brownies since 1946 across his four namesake Manhattan outlets, has died at the age of 97.
In an oft-told story, recounted on the company website, the seed money for Greenberg’s nascent business came from $3,000 in poker winnings collected while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II.
His baked goods became legendary across the ensuing decades, with fans including famed acting instructor Lee Strasberg, movie director Mike Nichols and actress Glenn Close.
The company’s signature black and white cookie was another favorite of customers, famously earning mention in a classic “Seinfeld” episode, as were their sticky buns and Linzer tarts.
Greenberg’s revered pecan brownies were even featured in an episode of the hit TV series “Mad Men,” with character Don Draper delivering a batch as a house-warming gift in one episode.
The bakery, initially established in a small Upper East Side storefront, added three more stores across the decades under his leadership.
Greenberg’s Feb. 7 death at a Valhalla, Westchester County, rehabilitation facility was first reported by The New York Times.
His signature cakes were another favorite. Actress Close was know to order cakes for movie wrap parties, while the mother of Manhattan business mogul Jonathan Tisch ordered a cake shaped like the city skyline for his 40th birthday celebration.
The 6-foot-5 redheaded baker was born in the Five Town area of Long Island before signing his first lease and opening the doors of William Greenberg Desserts one year after the war ended.
Greenberg was taught how to bake by his favorite aunt Gertrude , who passed along her recipes to her nephew. The customers often shared familial ties as well, with generations of fans frequenting the store.
By 1971, the operation expanded to four locations including its flagship store on Madison Ave. at E. 86th St., where Greenberg served as the cake decorator. His son Seth Greenberg briefly owned the bakery before selling the business in 1995.
“Don’t be put off by the prime Madison Avenue address, this is an old-school kosher bakery, with plastic-wrapped baking trays providing the display, and service that’s refreshingly opinionated and direct,” read one review on Gothamist.
And “The William Greenberg Desserts Cookbook,” released in 2019, offered tips on recreating the beloved treats.