UES Dessert King William Greenberg Jr. Dies at 97

Photo by Bobby Panza

Life on the Upper East Side just got a little less sweet. Legendary New York baker William Greenberg Jr., who opened his first storefront on East 95th Street back in 1946, passed away earlier this month in a Westchester rehabilitation center at the age of 97, the New York Times first reported.


As the famous story goes, Greenberg — a Long Island native as tall as an NBA player (6’4”, to be exact) — snagged seed money for his eponymous bakery via poker winnings during an Army stint in World War II. The tiny kosher kitchen steps off of Second Avenue began producing a myriad of memorable treats, including custom cakes, Linzer tarts, brownies, babka and famed black and white cookies. The latter delicacy has racked up serious accolades over the years, with Ina Garten (and countless others) dubbing it the best black and white cookie in New York.

The decades passed, and by 1971, William Greenberg Desserts became a mini empire — boasting four locations and a flagship on 86th Street and Madison Avenue. Celebrity fans and New York’s elite took notice, with Greenberg establishing himself as the cake impresario for famous families like the Tisches and Lauders, according to New York Times. Film legends like Mike Nichols and Glenn Close became regular clients, often calling in orders to celebrate new deals and wrap parties. Greenberg’s goodies had staying power — his pecan brownies even popped up on an episode of Mad Men in 2012.

Though his projects were all ambitious, two seemingly stand out as the most memorable. In 1955, he baked his favorite wedding cake recipe (dubbed a “Madison Avenue Victorian number”) on the day of his own nuptials (to Carol Greenberg née Serling, a daughter of a devoted customer). Then, in 1996, after his son, Seth Greenberg (who acquired the business in 1992), sold the company, the original owners stayed on for one last gig: President Bill Clinton’s 50th birthday cake. A slew of hijinks ensued — but ultimately, the American flag-themed masterpiece (which called for 96 pounds of butter and 98 pounds of sugar) made it safe and sound.

With two locations currently open — one at 1100 Madison Avenue, and a relatively new outpost on the Upper West Side which opened last August — the Greenberg legacy lives on. You can even buy their iconic black and whites over on Goldbelly. Jerry Seinfeld said it best: “Look to the cookie.” In William Greenberg Jr.’s honor, we all should.



Leave a Reply