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The Case of the Vanishing Bakery


Carrot Top
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They used to exist.

They do exist in Europe and other places around the world.

But they seem to have gone missing.....wherever I've looked, outside of a few privileged outposts in large urban areas.

What has happened to the bakery that prepares cakes, pies, and hopefully a few other sweet tasty things, from scratch and not from scoops out of large white plastic tubs?

Can anyone solve this mystery.....

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I can't speak to it in general, but it reminds me of a scary story I heard recently: was having lunch with my editor recently in her neighborhood, i.e. the general environs of the newly trendy Meat Packing District in New York; she spoke feelingly about the fact that a local bakery (sorry, name escapes me) had just shut down, after 70+ years in business, because the Atkins craze had killed their bread trade.

Something is very wrong with this picture!

EDIT to add: all is not lost, though, as witness the new and flourishing business of our own bripastryguy, Sweet Karma in East Meadow, LI. (Can't remember where this thread is - in the Pastry forum, probably?)

Edited by balmagowry (log)
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There used to be several bakeries in the area, all but one dissapeared about five or six years ago. I think it roughly coincided with all of the area supermarkets adding in full-service bakeries complete with high quality looking breads, cakes, and etc. Most likely the supermarkets can offer better prices due to economies of scale, and for the majority of the consumers price and convenience trump quality.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Good News -- the space for a video rental store near my house in Northern VA that recently moved is being converted into a Vietnamese bakery :rolleyes: and a law office :blink: . Ok, so its partially good news...

Edited by FunJohnny (log)

Oh, J[esus]. You may be omnipotent, but you are SO naive!

- From the South Park Mexican Starring Frog from South Sri Lanka episode

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It's an extremely complicated issue, and I can't wait to hear from a lot of the pro bakers on EGullet.

Unfortunately, it still feels like a lot of the blame is on folks like myself, the buyer. We're the ones not actively seeking out and patronizing the indie bakery, and then lament that commercial baked goods generally stink. Why?

Because we Americans often grow up without much of a standard in baking quality? Quite a few folks I've served are taken aback at the concept and results of baking from scratch at all. And that's just a rank amateur putting together a few real ingredients and tossing em in an oven! Presenting them with masterful Austrian pastries might knock them on their kiesters.

Because while practices and materials used in independent baking degrade, at the same time that chain supermarket's standard upgrade, ironically filling in the "upscale bakery" niche? I sometimes stop at Wegmans' Pierre Herme bakery counter for a banana chocolate tarter or linzer torte for company or a special occasion, because the indie bakeries near me are just useless.

Because baked goods are considered evil? As fake as so much of our commercial baking can be, it is still sufficiently tempting to pose a threat to our gastronomically Puritanical outlook. We save desserts for festive occasions, and make a big act of avoiding their consumption in an attempt to impress one another. They're treated like some addictive substance, to be left to the weak minded.

Because food production is so corporate-minded, so heavily branded? Bread is Wonder, Pastries are Entenmanns, cakes are Sara Lee and Betty Crocker. Anything more can be written off as an absurd waste of money, or culinary snobbery.

"Give me 8 hours, 3 people, wine, conversation and natural ingredients and I'll give you one of the best nights in your life. Outside of this forum - there would be no takers."- Wine_Dad, egullet.org

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My feeling is that the major part of it has to do with price. Artisan pastries will cost more due to ingredient and labor costs, and many people simply are not interested in even thinking about paying for it.

But then again, many have never tasted the difference between the stuff that a production bakery puts on top of its cakes as 'frosting' and a freshly made French buttercream.

Some of it has to do with diets...but then again, having avoided the pastries, the packaged cookies are usually in the cupboard, aren't they?!

I do think that if most consumers actually saw the huge plastic tubs that hold the usual everyday bakery's and/or the supermarket's bakery's 'makings' (for in general, the purveyors of the bases....toppings, fillings, 'praline' pastes or varieties of chocolate products...sell the same stuff to either of those marketplaces) for the cakes and baked goods they were buying and eating, they would be shocked.

For really, there is not a lot of difference between this stuff and the cakemix and can of frosting or instant pudding you can buy on the grocery shelf. Except for variety and maybe 'holding' power.

It makes me sad. For a great world of taste, flavor, texture and beauty is simply not commonly available, that could be.

Perhaps it is just a niche market, fine or artisan pasty-making, and must be thought of as such.

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Good News -- the space for a video rental store near my house in Northern VA that recently moved is being converted into a Vietnamese bakery :rolleyes: and a law office :blink: . Ok, so its partially good news...

hey, i think i know that law office...if it's who i think (my parents are among the lawyers) it's not so bad...at least there are cream puffs and hopefully bean paste filled sesame balls next door. :wink:

from overheard in new york:

Kid #1: Paper beats rock. BAM! Your rock is blowed up!

Kid #2: "Bam" doesn't blow up, "bam" makes it spicy. Now I got a SPICY ROCK! You can't defeat that!

--6 Train

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We got a new bakery here in my town a couple months ago. But...it caters to pets. :sad: The only other is a very hoity-toity, overpriced French bakery that produces totally tasteless, lardy-iced cakes and deadly sweet cheesecakes and cookies. It's won awards locally. :unsure: They could SURE use some competition...in the human category.

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The vanishing bakery is one of my pet peeves. I live on the UWS of Manhattan which is orthodox jew central. You would think this community could support a kosher bakery (we had two, the last one closed 3 years ago) and we don't have one. It pisses me off. I always made a point of going there because I believe in supporting local retailers, but most many of the kosher food stores bring in baked goods from elsewhere and people would get their cakes at those places. And with Manhattan rents the way they are the bakery closed. (I knew the owner... the lack of community support was a sore point)

As an aside for you Seinfeld watchers, the "marble rye" episode perportedly took place at this bakery. It was called Royale.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Alive and well here in Australia - theres one in pretty much every suburb and we also have seen a rise in organic bakeries - theres one up the road from me at work that does the best bread and organic pastries with real farm fresh cream and organic jams and fillings.

We also have seen the rise of several succesfull franchise bakery and patisserie chains such as Bakers Delight, brumbies and Michels Patisserie. Bakers delight in particular produces excellent bread and uses no preservatives or artifical flavours or colors in their products and makes pretty good old fashoined bread (you know the sort that actually goes stale after a day or 2 not keeps for weeks like some sort of mutated bread like product)

Perhaps its an Aussie thing but bakeries are the norm here with most making their own pies and the like as well - then again the hot meat pie is something of an aussie icon (covered in tomato sauce) so perhaps thats it.

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They still seem to be thriving in various towns here in North Jersey. Varrelman's Bakery is one of the unexpected charms of my town (Rutherford).

Hopefully Jersey folk are down-to-earth enough to ignore this Atkins nonsense.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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I can't speak to it in general, but it reminds me of a scary story I heard recently: was having lunch with my editor recently in her neighborhood, i.e. the general environs of the newly trendy Meat Packing District in New York; she spoke feelingly about the fact that a local bakery (sorry, name escapes me) had just shut down, after 70+ years in business, because the Atkins craze had killed their bread trade.

Lisa, I think you must be talking about Zito & Sons.

I felt both revolted and guilty when they closed-- I never bought bread there.

I'd say that in New York City the neighborhood bakery is likely suffering, but there are a number of large scale artisanal bakers who are doing well. (And when I say artisanal here I only mean they make good bread in old-fashioned ways.) Places like Sullivan St. Bakery, Amy's Bread, Uprising in Brooklyn-- or for pastry/choclolates someone like Jacques Torres-- there seems to be a small number dominating the field, and their goods are being sold in more and more places.

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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The vanishing bakery is one of my pet peeves. I live on the UWS of Manhattan which is orthodox jew central. You would think this community could support a kosher bakery (we had two, the last one closed 3 years ago) and we don't have one. It pisses me off. I always made a point of going there because I believe in supporting local retailers, but most many of the kosher food stores bring in baked goods from elsewhere and people would get their cakes at those places. And with Manhattan rents the way they are the bakery closed. (I knew the owner... the lack of community support was a sore point)

As an aside for you Seinfeld watchers, the "marble rye" episode perportedly took place at this bakery. It was called Royale.

I never understood why the Royale closed. I find it hard to believe that it was for lack of enough business. They were packed every time I went in there, whether it was before a holiday or just a regular weekday. I know I eventually stopped going so often because the staff became very rude, and the owners (or the owner's sons, those idiots who always sat behind the cash register) were arrogant as hell. The Royale had become a very unpleasant place to go in to, so I had a lot of mixed feelings when they closed.

I don't really know how to explain the loss of the neighborhood bakery, I suppose it's part of the whole sociological trend of how neighborhoods and stores have changed altogether, going from small and special to huge and all-inclusive. The bakery was always so special but at the same time so simple. I used to love to go there for the rye breads and eat the ends as I walked home. I've never ever had a chocolate babka like the ones they made at our neighborhood bakery. Now it's all "artisinal" but then it was just a matter of course, every neighborhood had at least one bakery.

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In part, sadly, I think many independent bakeries reacted to the threat of cheaper, lower quality competition by....becoming cheaper and lower quality. Which, of course back fires usually because they can't be as cheap as Sam's Club and survive.

There are newer artisan bakeries replacing them in places with enough population density to support them, but, as is mentioned on another thread in the pastry forum right now, they often do not specialize in pastries and desserts, but mostly in breads. Which is fine for some, but misses the spot for others.

Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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I can't speak to it in general, but it reminds me of a scary story I heard recently: was having lunch with my editor recently in her neighborhood, i.e. the general environs of the newly trendy Meat Packing District in New York; she spoke feelingly about the fact that a local bakery (sorry, name escapes me) had just shut down, after 70+ years in business, because the Atkins craze had killed their bread trade.

Lisa, I think you must be talking about Zito & Sons.

I felt both revolted and guilty when they closed-- I never bought bread there.

I'd say that in New York City the neighborhood bakery is likely suffering, but there are a number of large scale artisanal bakers who are doing well. (And when I say artisanal here I only mean they make good bread in old-fashioned ways.) Places like Sullivan St. Bakery, Amy's Bread, Uprising in Brooklyn-- or for pastry/choclolates someone like Jacques Torres-- there seems to be a small number dominating the field, and their goods are being sold in more and more places.

OMG. I was afraid that she might be talking about Zito's & I didn't want to contemplate that it might be gone so I didn't ask.

We lived in the far West Village for 20 years. Walking down Bleecker to get a loaf from Zito's was a ritual & such a wonderful one.

I'd only gotten back there maybe 3 times in the 14 years since we moved to NJ, I was rarely in the neighborhood during their open hours.

I can't tell you how appalled & disgusted I'm feeling right now.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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The fact that the Atkins 'craze' is being blamed for the closing of bakeries and the llike is deeply concerning - we are starting to see it here and frankly its a deeply worrying issue, at least one state government in australia has talked about banning the whole thing.

My wife managed to loose a lot of weight on atkins, at the expense of her general health and then yo yo'd back up in weight even more after it - and from others i talk to this is not unusual , when a diet starts affecting basic food stores you have to wonder what the long term effects will be, especially when looking at Dr Atkins weight when he died.

Healthy food and good food eaten in moderation and combined with exercise and intelligence will result in far more weight loss than fad crazes - so many people know this yet we are seeing bakeries close because people are being sucked into the belief that you can cheat the system and avoid things like boring old exercise with diet.. It should be ringing a lot of alarm bells..

Forgive me the rant its just that as in so many things American we are sure to follow them in Australia and theres times where it gets a bit hard to take, our supermarkets are already over flowing with tasteless and nutritionless foods and we are suffering the same obesity problems among children that the US has thanks to fast food giants pushing junk onto kids and now our bakeries are threatened as well?

God help us

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This issue goes along with one of my favorite concerns - that people don't bake at home anymore.

I think the loss of the neighborhood bakery is definitely tied to cost -- if I can buy a half-sheet cake at Costco for $20 (or whatever it costs), why would I buy a small, 8-inch layer cake for $30? (aside from quality, freshness, and taste) And that also translates to the other side of the house. If I'm a baker and my $5 or $7 pastries aren't selling, I'm not going to stay in business, no matter how well-made they are.

I think that we, as a culture, have forgotten what quality baked goods taste like, or else we treat them as a special treat, as someone else said. Over the years, we've come to expect shortnening-based icings (with your favorite photo air-brushed on top), gummy fillings, and dry, overly sweet cakes as "the norm" for something from a bakery.

And since we're collectively unwilling, or unable, to bake something at home from scratch, our choices are then limited.

Here in San Francisco, we have several very good bakeries, as well as excellent bread and chocolates, but in the hinterlands - even as close as probably Walnut Creek, or Livermore, the "bakery" probably means what's in the supermarket, or at Costco. "Pie" means some concoction from Baker's Square, in a graham cracker crust, with packaged pudding filling, chopped Snickers bars, and a quart of whipped cream, rather than a simple tart with a butter crust and fresh, seasonal fruit. "Homemade cookies" means that I bought the pre-made dough at the store (cutting it off the roll is now too much work, and it comes in lumps), and stuck them in the oven (and if you believe the advertising, if you do this, not only are you a "good mom," but you are creating lasting memories for your kids)

In deciding to pursue a pastry career (I start school in September), I feel like it's somehow my mission, in whatever form it takes, to bring quality, fresh baked goods back into people's homes. Homemade cookies, pies, cakes, tarts. Somewhere between Mrs. Fields (and her cookies were probably good at first) and Martha Stewart.

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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Here in the burbs of Dallas (PLano) we have a bakery that is going on 30 years old. They still deliver the old southern favorites.

The big however is they cannot compete with Central Market quality wise and cannot compete against Sams and Costco price wise.

This being said another decent bakery just opened.

Also even with the Atkins craze I have been slowing building a market for my cookies. It's also amazing how many catering jobs start with "what kind of sweets"

Of course the great old German bakery that was the mainstay here in Dallas growing up went out of business several years ago. At least we now have several Russian Jewish Delis to get poppy seed cake from.

The bakery tradition has never been what it is in Europe. I still remember fondly being in the Train station in Venice. A middle aged Italian gentlemen doing the "pee pee" dance excitedly asking me with the bathroom was and telling me he was from Ferrara so I asked him if he was a baker, he answered of course as I pointed him toward the men's room :laugh:

Never trust a skinny chef

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What do you all think of bakery chains, like Great Harvest (is that the right name)?

Here in northern Vermont, there are a good number of artisan bread bakers, whose goods are sold in regular groceries and health food stores. I'd rather support them than the corporate franchise, even though the franchise owners are perfectly decent people. :smile:

Margo

Margo Thompson

Allentown, PA

You're my little potato, you're my little potato,

You're my little potato, they dug you up!

You come from underground!

-Malcolm Dalglish

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I'd much rather support a good, local bakery than a corporate chain. I can't think of any right now, of course, except for Noah's Bagels or Cinnabon, and I can think of better places to get both bagels and sticky buns.

Here in San Francisco, close by my house, an out-of-the-way, not central part of town, is a small bakery, and all he makes is cheesecake. Plain cheesecake - any flavors are toppings applied after baking. This is a heavenly, light (ricotta?) cheesecake, not NY-style, and the man does really impressive business. At Christmas, he only sells off of orders, so if you walk in off the street, you're out of luck. Cash only. Once he's out of the day's cheesecakes, he closes for the day. He's so popular that when he goes on vacation every summer, he sells a bunch of cheesecakes to a local market, and puts a sign up on the door -- but that's the only time you can get them at the market.

That man is my hero. Do one thing, do it really well, and you get to make the rules. :smile:

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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Great story, about the cheesecake man. I wish we all had little shops with marvelous foods coming out from them like this.

It is the Great American Tale though, that usually people like this end up franchising. Isn't this the way the Cheesecake Factory was started? One woman baking cheesecakes?

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My experience here in Toronto is exactly the opposite. Good local bakeries and pastry shops seem to be opening up all the time, and thriving.

Just exactly why this is, I don't know. Toronto used to be a wasteland for bread and pastry not too long ago.

Quite aside from this, there are a couple of extremely good "corporate" pastry places (Dufflet) and bakers (Ace) which between them, have raised the bar for bread, cakes, pies and a lot of other stuff.

Dufflet especially supplies many local restaurants and their stuff is also available in better food markets.

Their influence has forced some other supermarkets to greatly improve the quality and variety of the bread and pastry they offer.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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Also, don't forget the rent factor. You've gotta sell a lotta pies to break even in many metropolitan and upscale suburban areas. The sad thing is, the ones that seem to thrive are increasingly found only in upscale areas and they're accompanied by upscale prices. The inexpensive mom and pops just can't make rent and if they tried to sell their goods are higher prices they'd be competing directly with the supermarkets.

And of course, it's not just bakeries; small independent shops of all kinds are being forced out of densely populated areas

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We still have some of those full-service old-fashioned bakeries near where I live. The demise of bakeries like these started long before the recent Atkins craze. The problem is that places like these didn't have any competition before supermarkets started selling baked goods, and now they can't compete with the prices. Because the stuff they traditionally sell is awful. Shortening instead of butter, whipped fluff from a bucket, no better quality than the stuff in the box at the supermarket.

There's just not too much demand for cupcakes with crisco shortening anymore.

Not that there aren't good bakeries. The good ones have diversified, and make more popular stuff. Plus, now we have artisan bakers who make some really good products.

The niche is there..

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One aspect I believe no one has mentioned is the difficulty in finding dependable workers willing to start their day at 3AM on a regular basis. The owner of the beloved Virginia Bakery in Cincinnati Ohio cited this as one of his main reasons for closing.

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