Each Wednesday from May to November, the corner of 34th and Walnut streets transforms into an oasis of local goods, including a stand run by Andy O’Neill of Big Sky Bread Company. If you’re looking for their stand on Wednesday, follow the aroma of oven–crisp breads and sweet pastries. You’ll soon see the smiling face of Andy O’Neill and a long line of waiting students. Big Sky Bread Co. travels to Penn from North Wilmington, Delaware. Luckily for us, their cookies also make the trip.
Andy’s father, Patrick O’Neill, founded Big Sky Bread Co. about 20 years ago, specializing in all–natural whole wheat breads and sweets. At Big Sky Bread Co., you’ll notice the list of ingredients on all of their products is short and pronounceable. They use certified organic wheat, sweeten their products with honey, and only use real sugar, avoiding artificial ingredients at all costs. These ingredients make your taste buds and your wallet feel good about your purchase. You can even pay with dining dollars.
Patrick O'Neill was trained at the Culinary Institute of America, while Andy graduated from Delaware University with a degree in business. He always had a passion for cooking and baking, so he was eager to enter the family business. Street asked Andy to tell us more about baking and those out–of–this–world flavors.
34th Street: So, you’re the man behind the cookies—but are cookies your favorite thing to bake?
Andy O'Neill: I enjoy selling the cookies and eating them more than baking them.
Street: Can you walk me through the production of these cookies from making them in your bakery to them being here at Penn?
Andy: I start doing cookie prep Tuesday morning around about 9 a.m.. I mix all the batters, which usually takes about an hour or hour and a half, then I start doing specifically the chocolate chip and the raisin. Some of our cookies all start with the same base and then we switch a couple things around, but the cranberry raisin cookies are their own recipe.
Street: Those streusel cookies are heavenly—are they your specialty?
Andy: Oh yeah! We get a lot of questions about them. Essentially, they’re a crumb–cake cookie. They’re one of the hardest to make. They have a brown sugar cinnamon topping. We scoop them out in an ice–cream scoop, flatten them down half way, take a handful of crumb topping and swoosh it around to make it as even as we can, then flatten them all the way and top them with some powdered sugar when they’re out of the oven.
Street: What do you personally think is the best cookie you make?
Andy: I love a good old fashioned chocolate chip.
Street: About how many cookies do you bring to the farmer’s market on Wednesdays?
Andy: We bring about 250 cookies and we completely sell out.
Street: Are these family recipes top–secret?
Andy: I’ll give ya a couple hints. We do use whole–wheat and rolled oats in our cookies. There’s a dash of molasses in them. But other than that, pretty secret.
Street: Do you get sick of your own cookies?
Andy: No. (Editor’s note: neither do we.)
Street: What’s the hardest thing about being a baker?
Andy: The hours. Combination of super early and late hours. Wednesdays when I work the UPenn market, it’s a 15–hour day.
Street: Any advice for Penn students who want to become bakers?
Andy: I think like with any food service, be ready for some tough hours—weekends and holidays and nights. Other than that, make sure you love it! You have to enjoy it and have a respect for it.
Street: What famous person, dead or alive, would you want to try your cookies?
Andy: Martha Stewart. Her and Snoop Dog have a show together and I think we could be on that show.
Street: Do you ever get any negative reviews of your cookies?
Andy: Every so often you get a person who says, “Oatmeal, no way!” because all of our cookies are oatmeal based. But it’s good for you, it's fiber *laughing*. A lot of people call the cranberry raisin cookies a “breakfast cookie.” In that one we use apple and plum puree instead of butter so it’s a little healthier.
Street: What are your interests outside of baking?
Andy: I’m personally into cars and motorcycles. My father, who owns the bakery, loves live music—he’s at a concert right now.
Street: If you were a cookie, what cookie would you be?
Andy: Hmmm…you know I’d have to be the oatmeal streusel, because it’s simple with a little bit of pizzazz on top.