Peter Pan: New York’s Neverland of Bakeries
Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop
- Years Open60+
- Years Owned by Siafakis Family23
- Best Part of the JobThe sense of community. “I was born in this neighborhood, so I know a lot of people. I once worked in Manhattan, where it’s more transient – I feel working in this environment much more comforting.” –Donna Siafakis, owner
- Owner’s Favorite DonutOld Fashioned, No Glaze. “I’m a dunker.”
- Thoughts on the Cronut“Anyone who tries to copy it is very foolish. It really was excellent.”
“Old fashioned” is more than a donut style at Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop in Brooklyn. Located in northern Brooklyn’s historic Greenpoint neighborhood, the mom-and-pop business has been serving the community an original menu of baked goods and breakfast sandwiches for more than 60 years. Even more remarkable, perhaps, than the donuts themselves—which have been praised locally for half a century, and, more recently, by the New York Times, Village Voice, and New York Magazine—is that the shop hasn’t aged a day since the 1950s.
Peter Pan’s commitment to tradition is visible in the details: donuts baked daily hark back to a pre-artisanal era, embracing tried-and-true simplicity; young women in pink-and-teal, infamous-in-the-neighborhood uniforms buzz instinctively from cash drawer to kitchen, filling donut orders and pouring hot coffee as if second nature; fresh pastries fill pink paper-lined trays basked in window light behind the register, which is, naturally, cash only.
The donuts, many made with recipes from the shop’s original owners (who helmed the shop since “before 1955”—though no one can pinpoint the exact date—until 1993), are perpetually replicated, unchanged as patrons age and the traditional Polish neighborhood shifts to a younger, more diverse demographic. But at Peter Pan, there’s a certain magic in the air; when you step inside, you’re like a Lost Boy who has found his home.
“We have a lot of regulars, which really makes it a nice feeling [here],” says Donna Siafakas, who owns the shop with her husband, Christos Siafakas, and their sons, Peter and Demetri. “You get to know people by name. I think it’s a friendly place. We try to be. I know a lot of people who have come here for years and years.”
True to her word, Siafakas greets a roster of regulars who tick in and out like clockwork—there’s Bob, coming for his ritual coffee and a bagel; then Jimmy, whose daughter was married on Sunday (“She looked so beautiful,” Donna says, doughy eyed—she provided the bridal party with pastry trays the morning of the wedding). And she’s not so different—Siafakas, too, grew up in the area, born blocks away from the bakery on Hausman Street.
“We’re from this neighborhood,” she says. “I was born in this neighborhood, my mother and father were born in this neighborhood…I have a lot of family here.” Later moving to the nearby neighborhood of Maspeth, in Queens, Siafakas never felt far from her origins; “Brooklyn never left me.”
The location isn’t the only intimate connection to the shop for Donna, as she and husband, Christos seem to have adopted donuts as part of their very identity. Together, the couple previously owned another donut shop, Daniella’s, in the 1980s; and before their marriage, they even met at a donut shop in Queens. The rest, one might guess, was history. “We met at Jack and Jill Donuts in Queens. I was going to school there, and he was a baker,” says Donna. “At that time, in the ‘70s, donut shops were popping up everywhere. [Baking] was a job where a lot of young men coming over from Greece found their way,” she explained, noting that Christos emigrated at age 20. “Someone taught him [how to bake donuts], and that was it.”
After their marriage in 1979, ownership of Daniella’s donut shop from 1980 to 1984, and a brief stint in the real estate business (“We didn’t make good landlords; you have to be tough,” Donna says), her aunt caught wind of Peter Pan’s original owner looking to sell. “The waitress at the time — who still comes in here today — told my aunt that the owner was retiring. [My aunt] called us up, we came down, and we bought the place. It was just meant to be.”
Since taking over the shop in 1993, the Siafakis family takes pleasure in its preservation, taking care to keep original recipes, menus, and donut names in place. The sweet creation the shop is most known for, Donna says, is the aptly named “White Cream With Chocolate Sprinkles,” a donut that received notoriety even in the 1950s and ‘60s.
“People tell me they remember coming in here as children and ordering that donut, [because] no other store made that,” she says. “This one stood out. To this day, people come in and remember that donut. White cream, chocolate sprinkles. We call it that because that’s what he [the original owner] called it.”
Some newer creations that appeal to modern tastes, without straying too far from the originals, include the Red Velvet and Sour Cream Glaze. “There are a lot [of new recipes], but those two really stood out,” she says. Another, the Ice Cream Donut Sandwich, recently received extensive social media notoriety in March, garnering seven million views in a one-minute video posted on Facebook by food blog, Eater. “I said, ‘I can’t believe that!’ That was something,” Siafakas says. “I was shocked. It was amazing.”
What makes Peter Pan’s donuts rise above the rest, along with their tradition and charm, is that the devotion to the past is equally met by impeccable freshness. Each day, batch after batch is baked on premises, the rigorous schedule beginning at midnight (most often, for son, Peter, who is currently enrolled in cooking school). “On weekends, it’s constant, all day. During the week, it’s until about three or four o’clock,” Siafakas says. (Simultaneously, she recites an omelet recipe to an employee, and waves and shouts goodbye to a smiling customer). “Nothing gets served the next day here.”
As a longtime participant in the donut industry and member of her community, Siafakas has witnessed several changes over the years, but she keeps her bakery true to its roots. As far as recent trends go, “there are a lot of artisan type donuts, which I don’t consider my donuts. I have the average Joe donut,” she says, though her customers may say otherwise. “They’re made forever, and that’s the way we like it.”