Move over cheesesteaks, cookies are the new late-night snack in South Philly.
College kids everywhere have been keen to the late-night magic of cookie creation offered by Insomnia Cookies, which was spawned by University of Pennsylvania alum Seth Berkowitz 18 years ago.
The private company, which has taken the country by storm with nearly 200 locations nationwide, returned to its roots on Saturday and opened its late night bakery concept at 833 Wharton St., nestled between iconic cheesesteak powerhouses Pat’s and Geno’s.
It became the 192nd location but the first to offer an experiential “CookieLab” where visitors can experience some imaginative menu items and toppings that are unique to that location.
Late-night dining now has a new attraction at the heart of a South Philadelphia hotspot.
“So many of our stores are late night-driven,” Berkowitz said. “This is kind of the Mecca when it comes to that. This is the ‘own the night’ mentality that we try to capture here. This fits perfectly. We are leveraging the Philadelphia food scene in a way that, to us, is very important and connects us to our brand and our founding.”
This isn’t your normal storefront cookie store.
Once inside the 631-square-foot storefront, visitors can find a“secret” passageway behind a bookshelf that opens a cookie corridor into a 1,659-square foot CoookieLab. Inside this speakeasy-type establishment, guests can create their one-of-a-kind creations, including customizable cookies, cookie-cakes, Cookie’wiches (ice cream sandwiches), cookie-dominated milkshakes and more.
The CookieLab offers never-before-seen, customizable treats that even Insomnia Cookie loyalists can’t find anywhere else, which include over-the-top cookie-style milkshakes.
“These are all ways that you can make cookies that are totally unique and custom just to this location,” said Tom Carusona, chief marketing officer of Insomnia Cookies, who previously lived near 24th and South streets. “All this stuff doesn’t exist anywhere else except for here in the CookieLab.”
Patrons can either start from scratch and have their cookies baked right in front of them after picking the dough and inclusions, before selecting the toppings. There’s also a time-consuming option of starting with previously baked dough and finishing off a warm cookie with toppings and finishing touches. The store also features a pickup window for those who want to grab a quick cookie to go with their cheesesteak.
“You can have an experience that takes a little bit longer,” Carusona said. “Or you could do a much quicker experience. Either way, you can add ice cream or whatever you like.”
The CookieLab has a milkshake bar, indoor seating and plenty of neon lights for those wide awake at the late hours of the night.
The Wharton Street location will open 11 a.m. on weekdays and at noon on weekends. Last call for cookies is at midnight Sunday through Wednesday and at 1 a.m. on Thursday-through Saturday nights.
Those late hours are the same time of night that Berkowitz got his idea to enter the cookie-creating business.
“I lived in a college house on 41st between Spruce and Locust with eight other guys,” Berkowitz said. “And the common move for us was to order pretty terrible pizza every single night. One particular night, there’s a knock on the door and it’s (the same pizza place) we had ordered from for the third time that night. I remember turning to my friends and saying how is this our only option? The idea was to try something sweet and something more indulging late at night. I was just meeting the demands that I knew I wanted as a college kid and ultimately it resonated.”
Insomnia Cookies occupies part of a brand new building on Wharton Street, which Berkowitz admits was a perk of opening a new location in a prime area.
“Having a blank canvas and having to build whatever you want, especially when it comes to a physical space, is very exciting for us,” Berkowitz said. “It’s so rare that you get this white vanilla box with all new fixtures and new things and we get to put our own mark on it so it was very gratifying to be able to make that happen.”