New Kid on the Block: Goodie Girl Café

Note: Even though Goodie Girl Café isn’t exactly new, I’m slugging this post “New Kid on the Block” because it was new to me.

“I never dreamed of opening a café,” says Shira Berk, whose Goodie Girl Café is inside JCP Downtown. “I had never worked in a restaurant.” Instead, her background was mostly about music. She worked at her college’s music magazine, then signed on at record companies, including doing A&R at Thirsty Ear and publicity at Beggars Banquet and a Sire imprint called Primary. From there, she moved to handling PR at Rolling Stone, then TV Guide.

But her heart was in the kitchen. She was taking baking and confectionery classes at night, as well as nutrition classes at NYU. And therein lies the Shira Berk quandry: She loves cooking healthily as much as she loves sweets. While she considered starting a line of frozen soups or sweet popcorn, she bartered with local food companies—PR skills in exchange for learning their side of the business.

Originally from the Upper West Side, Berk has lived in Tribeca for 16 years (currently on N. Moore—her sister lives across the street). She and her husband have three kids, and when their twins began attending JCP preschool, she slowly began taking over the existing café, which was offering a lot of prepackaged product. She saw it as an opportunity to be near her children and meet people from the neighborhood, and it was also a chance to test-market various ideas. Eventually, the JCP asked if she was interested in running the café outright, and she couldn’t resist. But she didn’t really go public with it until very recently. “I wanted to make sure we got an A first,” she said, referring to the Department of Health’s letter grade.

The open kitchen—in a corner of the ground-floor lobby—is tiny. The menu is understandably small: a couple sandwiches, a couple salads, usually a soup or two, cookies (including gluten-free chocolate-chip ones). “Every dish is a full meal,” says Berk, who gets help from an assistant chef, Reene. Everything is kosher-style, too; there’s no meat on the menu, though tuna and salmon make appearances. “Teachers from all over come here,” says Berk, and I have to think part of the appeal—besides the food, of course—is the friendly pricing. Soups are $5-6 (or $12 for a take-home quart); salads are $6-10, depending on the ingredients; sandwiches are $4-9. The other day, I got a tuna salad sandwich, a small edamame-corn-and-tomato salad, and a chocolate-covered pretzel rod—possibly too much food, even for me—for $11. The seating area is bright and fuss-free, perfect for folks with kids; personally, I was happy eating my lunch while sitting on the loading dock. (Because it’s a preschool, by the way, visitors have to explain themselves to the guard at the door.) The café also sells school lunches that you can pick up in the morning ($7 for main meal, snack of choice, and beverage), even if your child doesn’t attend JCP.

Goodie Girl Café serves as a laboratory/springboard for Goodie Girl Sweets, Berk’s line of baked goods, corporate gifts, and party favors. For recent events, Berk has made miniature chocolate animals (for a veterinarian), cupcake-shaped chocolates that opened to reveal necklaces (one is pictured below), chocolate astronauts and rockets with Pop Rocks embedded in them (also below), and, for a casbah-themed party, jeweled treasure boxes made of chocolate with Marc Jacobs charms inside. Corporate gift baskets might include signature treats such as biscotti and cookies, as well as something unique. “We make it all by hand,” she says, “and I like it to have a sense of humor.” One product she’s hoping to sell around town is pictured above: chocolate birthday candles individually decorated with candy.

Goodie Girl Café is inside JCP Downtown, 146 Duane (between W. Broadway and Church), 212-334-3522. Information about Goodie Girl Sweets is at The café’s hours are a bit fluid. “They’re a little dictated by when there’s activity around the building,” says Berk. “We start at 9 a.m., and during the school year end at 5:30 p.m., except Friday we close at 3. Summer as of now is 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and we plan to close in August—unless the article makes us so huge that we don’t need to!”

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  1. Everything in these photos looks amazing!! The chocolate cupcake/dish is such a fun and interesting idea, and a great way to package tiny gifts (such as jewelry). We will have to stop in soon to get a taste of Goodie Girl Cafe!

  2. My kids are addicted to her soups, cookies, chocolate pretzels and chocolate lollies!!! Everything is always de-lish!

  3. Food is excellent. I have a child at JCP and frequently grab lunch there. I wish they delivered dinner.

    Highly recommended.

  4. You missed the biscotti! How could you miss the biscotti? Absolutely the best. Go back and try them.

  5. A lot of love goes into all of what Shira, The Goodie Girl, serves up! You can taste the love!