How Baking Cookies Changed Her Life

After struggling with addiction and homelessness, Janie Deegan splurged on a hand mixer. Now her signature pie crust cookies are selling out in New York City.

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Posted in , Apr 12, 2022

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While out shopping one day, Janie Deegan spotted something on a shelf that she knew she needed. An electric hand mixer. Despite the price being way out of her small budget, she purchased it and brought it back to her tiny apartment in Manhattan's East Village. 

“It seemed like such an obscene amount of money at the time,” Deegan says, “but it was such a beautiful act of self-care.” 

At the time, Deegan was working as a building superintendent in New York City. She was trying to put her life back together after experiencing homelessness and struggling with addiction.  

Despite having a good childhood, Deegan’s earliest memories were of discomfort and not belonging. She first started using alcohol and drugs when she was in her teens to deal with her anxiety. “I didn’t know any other techniques to cope,” she said. “Drugs and alcohol felt like an easy solution.” 

As she entered her twenties, Deegan’s life started to spin out of control. Because of her addiction, she couldn’t support herself and pushed away nearly everyone in her life. Eventually, she became homeless. For about a year, she survived by sleeping on subways, living in shelters, and being hospitalized a few times. She tried to get and stay sober, but it never stuck. Then, at 25 years old, she reached a defining moment of desperation. 

While talking with one of her only friends, Deegan finally opened up about what she had been dealing with and how her addiction had taken control of her life. “It was this moment of authenticity,” she said. “It felt so good to tell the truth and not be pushed away.” Deegan finally asked for help

Though she was sober and receiving support, Deegan still dealt with feelings of anxiety and emptiness. But her new hand mixer gave her something to focus on: baking. Something she’d enjoyed as a child. Her parents were artistic and encouraged Deegan and her brother to express themselves in the kitchen through baking and cooking. It was the meticulous art of baking that brought Deegan exactly what she needed during that time. “My life was so out of control,” she said, “but baking is such a controlled science. You need to follow the rules before you can break them. And you end up with beautiful results.” 

READ MORE: Her Biscuits Gave This Widow a New Purpose in Life

Deegan started by making brownies and cupcakes to bring to friends’ birthday celebrations. Then someone she knew asked to buy one of her cakes to bring to an event. Then, one year for Thanksgiving, Deegan built a small website where people could order pies from her. Through the support of her friends and word of mouth, Deegan’s baking became more and more popular. “Even after all this time,” she said, “I had to remind myself that vulnerability and accepting help from people who want to help is beautiful.” Eventually, she was doing well enough to take the leap and open a bakery. In 2015, on the Upper Westside of Manhattan, she opened Janie's Life-Changing Baked Goods.  

This was also when she invented the now famous pie crust cookie. A combination of pie crust, filling, and streusel, flavors include strawberry rhubarb, pecan, chocolate, and peach. Deegan describes it as the perfect bite of pie in cookie form. It has become one of New York City’s most sought after cookies.  

Now Deegan is using the success of her company to help other women who need a second chance. She has an opening hiring policy at the bakery. Team members don’t need prerequisites or even any experience in baking. Just enthusiasm and a willingness to work.  

“It has worked out beautifully in so many ways,” Deegan said. “I put myself into such dangerous situations, it’s a miracle I’m still here. For so many people they don’t have that moment of grace... I succeeded because people believed in me, so I want to do that for others. Believe in them.” 

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