Local Scones? For Starbucks, Not So Fast

My reverie about local baked goods appearing at Starbucks provoked this email from Maury Rubin, one of the bakers I most admire, now cross-country at City Bakery and Birdbath. Anyone who hasn't stopped at his flagship next to the Union Square Greenmarket for hot chocolate and a pretzel croissant (disregard the weather, this is too good to wait) hasn't lived.

Local and fresh sounds lovely but becomes a little la-di-dah when it comes to producing at anything like the scale Starbucks needs, he reminded me in his note, which he gave me permission to publish. He hints that he's thought this through and has some ideas for solutions. I hope he'll share them with me, and us--and news of the expansion of his all-green Birdbaths and what's happening with the Los Angeles City Bakery apres Brentwood.

Listening, Starbucks? Rubin does make good scones. But the idea of pretzel croissants in every Starbucks--now that's a dream worth fighting for.

The note:

Don't hold your breath on "local" baking being the answer to the [Starbucks] situation. I'm all for local (as I trust you know), but in this case, "local" won't trump "scale."

Starbucks scale is such that it requires baked goods be prepared at least the night before they will be sold. In real bakery time, with a bakery that's organized, I'd venture that that becomes the afternoon before. They must bake, cool, be packed, then shipped--and then still distributed to (for example in NY) more than 100 stores. Many moons ago, Starbucks talked to me about baking for its NY stores, and of course, I was interested. But the protocol to get our product into their distribution system meant we had to start baking at 2:00 p.m. the day before.

Believing as I do that our croissant should be eaten within two hours of the oven (maximum), plugging into their system meant we had to bake at least 8 times earlier than desired. I ran the other way. Why bother? And the better your product, the worse it gets: it's a long (and hurtful) way down for a lovely croissant baked at 2:00 p.m. and eaten 20 hours later. Ouch. OuchOuchOuch.

I believe there are options and solutions at hand, but it's not my place to suggest them. Maybe more constructively, I'd offer that this situation reveals something more interesting and essential about baking and baked goods and scale than it does about Starbucks. In your personal fondness for bakeries, I'm sure you can appreciate that.
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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

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