There’s no shortage of bakeries selling $5 gourmet cookies the size of a small pie that can put a dent in your wallet and derail your diet. But it can be tough to find a shop offering freshly baked cookies — warm, crisp, chewy — that never disappoint and won’t break the bank. Luckily for Bruins, such a magical place exists.
But first, a word about the lines.
Since Diddy Riese opened its doors in the early 1980s, students, Westwood locals, Angelenos and tourists alike have flocked to the cozy cookie and ice cream shop. And they’re willing to wait — often up to 20 minutes — to get their sugar fix. On any given evening, just around the corner from the Regency Bruin Theatre’s art deco–style entrance on Broxton Avenue, throngs wait behind a roped-off area outside the small shop. The intoxicating aroma of freshly baked treats wafts through the night air. College students, teens, families, seniors — they all queue up in front of the neon-lit storefront glass, patiently inching their way forward, happily chatting about which cookies or dessert they plan to order.
The uninitiated may wonder: What’s the big deal?
Well, let me tell you. I arrived at UCLA in the late 1980s, landing on a big, unfamiliar campus with more than 30,000 students. After getting lost several times that first week — a ritual as ingrained as the Inverted Fountain — my newfound friends and I were more than ready to try the cookies from the unusually named place we kept hearing about: Diddy Riese.
When we finally joined the obligatory long line, we couldn’t believe our eyes: This little shop was selling fresh-baked cookies — chocolate chip, cinnamon sugar, peanut butter, and everything in between — for 25 cents each. And did I mention the brownies and ice cream? No wonder everyone waiting in line was so bubbly.
With plenty of time to decide, I finally settled on a white chocolate chip cookie. After one bite, the only thought I had was: I’ve found my second home. It quickly became a regular haunt. Judging by the omnipresent line — from the opening at noon to closing time, at 11 or midnight — it was another home for the rest of the campus, too. When we were stressed out by finals, we headed to Diddy Riese. When a love affair soured or a friend needed a pick-me-up — same. When a final score at Pauley called for a celebration (or consolation), we headed to — well, you get the idea.
Though it feels like it’s been a Bruin rite of passage forever, Diddy Riese — named for the founder’s grandmother — first opened for business in 1983. There was a Mrs. Fields store on the next block, but the lines were always outside the Broxton shop. If the cookies alone weren’t enough to draw customers in, the 1995 debut of its now famous custom ice-cream sandwich ensured its status as a Westwood icon.
You choose two cookies from the 10 varieties, then pick the Dreyer’s ice cream flavor you feel will best complement and hold those two warm cookies together. Back then, that would have set you back just a buck: perfect for a college student’s budget. Or, also for one dollar, you could have bought three cookies and a small carton of milk — just enough fuel for finals.
Of course, it’s never been about the cost, really. In 2002, when Diddy Riese hiked prices by 40% due to inflation, the Los Angeles Times covered the story. While 40% is steep, there were few complaints. It meant the always fresh cookies would cost 35 cents (gasp!) instead of 25 cents. Inflation has marched on: Today, cookies start at 75 cents each, three for $2; an ice cream sandwich is $4.50. If people are complaining, they’re doing it while still standing in line and waiting for their turn to order.
The fact Diddy hasn’t expanded — there’s only one — makes it all the more special: This is truly a Bruin bakery. And if you’re willing to fork over the delivery fee, various apps now allow you to have all of that decadent goodness brought right to your door.
For the first time in years, I recently stood in line to order an ice cream sandwich. (Total wait time: 20 minutes. Not too bad.) With one bite of the top warm, chewy chocolate chip cookie and the bottom candy chocolate chip cookie enveloping a scoop of vanilla ice cream — well, it felt like rediscovering Diddy Riese all over again. As I walked through Westwood, savoring every bite, I had just one question: What combination should I order next time?
Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Winter 2024 issue.