Let Them Eat Cake

You remember that karmic come-and-get-me of Marie Antoinette’s, don’t you? When alerted that her subjects could no longer afford to buy bread, she replied (while tucking a faithfully-reproduced miniature boat into her two-foot-tall hairdo), “Well—then let them eat cake!” to the general amusement of her patched-and-powdered sycophants. Well, it was kinda funny at the time, but, as always, karma got her in the end. She was relieved of the hairdo, and her head went along with it.

What seemed like a bit of baked-goods overkill (a human head vs. a loaf of bread) is not looking so crazy now. With wheat prices as unchecked as gas prices, the cost of a slice of pizza is heading towards $3 and bagels—which fuel us like the baguettes of pre-revolutionary peasants—are creeping upwards of $1. At what point will we just stop dropping into our local bakery? Where is the point where we skip our morning pastry and cup of coffee and drink a soy-based protein shake instead?

We caught up with Jeff Kohn of The Kneaded Bread Bakery who has been pondering this very problem. “Let’s just put it this way: when we opened The Kneaded Bread nine years ago, the price of a 50-pound sack of flour was $7.75. In February, ’07, it was $10.50—which is just normal, fully-expected inflation. Right now, that same sack is going for over $25. We’re feeling it.”

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Yet the Kohns have held their prices nearly steadfast despite the astronomical inflation. “We raised our prices maybe 10%—and people have been really understanding about it. We didn’t make an announcement, and we haven’t had a single complaint. I think they can see what’s going on. All they have to do is look at the gas pumps and their own bills—everywhere you look, times are tough. What’s worse for us is that we use a lot of paper goods and takeout containers, and those have gone through the roof, too.”

Jeff Kohn spoke to us while overseeing the construction of Q Mount Kisco, the first offshoot of his wildly successful Port Chester barbecue restaurant. He owns Q and The Kneaded Bread with his lovely wife Jennifer—and we usually find one Kohn or the other whenever we stop into their businesses. As reported in the Journal News, the Kohns have had a particularly grim week: Q Port Chester had a duct fire on April 27, which left them needing to close the restaurant for cleaning and cosmetic repairs. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Kohn is acting as his own general contractor in Mount Kisco, and organizing the construction of the second Q himself. (Let’s just say we’d hate to be his blood pressure right now.) The Mount Kisco Q is slated to open before Fourth of July, and will be located on 481 Main Street in Mount Kisco.

Despite the massive inflation of wheat prices, Kohn thinks there’s a cap to what he can charge for bread, so the bakery is absorbing the rising cost of ingredients by making less profit. “Look, I have $5 loaves of bread in my case. How much more can I charge for a loaf of bread—even breads like ours? We figure that you make less money when you raise the prices, so we’re trying to avoid that.”

We suggested, as delicately as we could, that maybe the Kneaded Bread could change some of its costlier ingredients for cheaper ones. (Besides skyrocketing flour, the Kneaded Bread uses carefully sourced, boutique grains in their breads.) I might as well have proposed shooting the Kohn’s cat. Audibly aghast, Kohn replied, “We would never. Never.” Then there was a long, awkward silence.

Recovering a bit, we asked whether business has been down. “Look, we sell feel good items. When times are tough, maybe you’ll skip that $50 lobster dinner, but you’re going to pick up your morning pastry and a cup of coffee.” And it’s true, too. Faced with grimmer realities, we’ve been known to pack up the gas guzzler and drive to The Kneaded Bread for carbs and comfort. We find the sticky buns consolation enough to keep us from rigging up a guillotine.

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