Disney darling: Gideon’s Bakehouse owner turns personal passion into recipe for success

It’s pretty much a guarantee. On any given day, when Gideon’s Bakehouse opens its doors, people from all over the world are willing to wait in line for a pistachio toffee chocolate chip cookie or a triple chocolate chip cookie. All cookies at this Orlando-based bakery are made by hand – no machines! – and take 24 hours to produce.

Steve Lewis, Gideon’s owner and “sublime prince of the esoteric order of cookie,” says he sometimes will find an inconspicuous observation point in the shop or on the balcony of an adjacent restaurant. The self-described introvert likes to see guests’ reactions when they experience Gideon’s cookies and cakes.

“I work hard to avoid pride and ego in my life, but I’ll admit that it’s satisfying to see how things have turned out,” says Lewis, a trained musician with no formal baking instruction.

Humble beginnings

Nobody but owner Steve Lewis knows the exact recipes for his cookies

According to Lewis, he started baking as a teen, growing up in New York, because he found it to be a stress reliever. His early dreams of becoming a musician ended in the late 1990s after a botched hand surgery. That’s when Lewis moved to Orlando to open a comics shop and art gallery. At his gallery events, he baked and gave away cookies that, years later, people would stand in line for hours to purchase.

Over time, Lewis expanded his cookie repertoire to six flavors and began selling them from his home kitchen. Word spread about his creations, and, in 2016, Lewis was asked to open a temporary pop-up at East End Market in Orlando. Gideon’s Bakehouse was born.

Lewis had one baker working with him and an $800 operating budget.

“I didn’t think I could make a living off a small selection of very labor-intensive cookies,” Lewis admits. “Long story short, I was very wrong.”

Lines formed even on his first day of business.

The "sublime prince of the esoteric order of cookie" himself

“After talking to the previous pop-ups, I had a general expectation of daily sales, so I thought I had three weeks of dough ready,” Lewis says.

It was all gone by 1 p.m. that first day.

At the end of each business day, Lewis would take all the cash earnings, go to Costco and buy ingredients and then stay up all night prepping for the next day.

“It was one of those times in your life when you reflect and wonder how in the hell you pulled everything off,” Lewis says.

Dreaming of Disney

A decadent chocolate cake topped with peanut butter cups

Not surprisingly, Lewis was offered a permanent lease at East End Market. This is where Central Florida fans really got to know the story of Gideon’s, which was named after a cookbook Lewis purchased at an estate sale in the early 2000s. The cookbook, printed in 1898 and filled with what seemed to be a young boy’s doodles and writings, had the name “Gideon” written in the back.

Lewis started talking with the folks at Walt Disney World about opening a second bakery at the resort. In June 2020, amidst a global pandemic, a second Gideon’s Bakehouse opened its doors in Disney Springs. Lewis was unwavering in his commitment to authenticity, even in the bakery’s design. He describes the Disney Springs location as an old Victorian bakery that pays tribute to the cookbook’s late 1800s heritage and answers the question: “What would that creepy, little kid’s bakery look like?”

“I wanted guests to know it was Gideon’s immediately, with our gargoyle on the roof, fading lettering on the bricks, and old books and antiques surrounding desserts in the windows,” Lewis says.

Gideon's signature gargoyle, a witness to the popular bakery's long lines

The bakehouse also borrows inspiration from old houses where Lewis once lived, the artist Edward Gorey and Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Candles and spooky artwork decorate the interior spaces.

All of Gideon’s baked goods remain true to Lewis’ vision. He is the only person who knows the exact recipes. The one hint he offers is that his baked goods likely contain less sugar than you think. (Butter is another story.) Lewis admits he gets a kick out of seeing copycat recipes online; he has yet to see someone get it right.

Lewis says it took him 15 years to master his chocolate chip cookie recipe.

“Gideon’s is so personal because it represents my life’s many changes and lost loves,” Lewis says. “That cookie and I have been through so much together. I still struggle to think of it as a business. It is a truly personal expression.”

Gideon's epic chocolate chip cookie

Also, Lewis will not ship his cookies.

“It would probably make me a rich man, but happiness is more important and shipping desserts is a nightmare,” he says, adding that visiting his shop is part of the experience. “I want people to see and feel the escapism of the space and the art and lore that lives inside. I also want to say hello to you in person and let you know how grateful I am that you care about what I’m putting out there.

“While you immerse yourself in the embracing darkness of Gideon’s, we can talk about the latest Marvel movie or share photos of our pets,” Lewis says.

Creepy wall of portraits inspired by author-artist Edward Gorey and Disney's Haunted Mansion

The former musician has come a long way from giving away his coveted cookies and struggling to pay the bills. Lewis now runs a bakery at one of the most visited destinations in the world, churning out as many as 7,000 cookies a day with 170 employees.

No matter how large his production gets, Lewis insists on being authentic. He is still the sole owner of Gideon’s Bakehouse and the only person who handles social media for the business.

Lewis is Gideon’s.

“The experience is what matters at Gideon’s Bakehouse,” he says. “Food is a fantastic creator of lifetime memories. If you’re learning about us for the first time, please plan a trip to come and see us. We’ve been waiting to meet you.”

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