Local Scones? For Starbucks, Not So Fast

By Corby Kummer

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/06/local-scones-for-starbucks-not-so-fast/18942/