Thursday, May 12, 2022

Music spotlight: Corin L.

Many of you know Corin as the highly excitable baker in the background often singing, dancing, or just generally goofing off (he has a whole barnyard of animal noises at his disposal, including an owl, and a rooster), but you might not know that he is a music lover and guitarist and singer-songwriter (a man of many talents, not just baking!). In any case, Corin has fully taken over DJ responsibilities at the Bakery, so for the last couple of months, and perhaps into the future, it will be all country and bluegrass, all of the time.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

So many cranes, so little time

Ingredient Costs and Supply Disruptions

As ingredient and materials costs have increased 40%+ since January, it has become increasing difficult to manage, not to mention periodic shortages of basic items, like cake boxes, hazelnuts, even cream cheese. We have also seen increases in wages to keep staff on their jobs during Covid, and now these inflation-related costs make me fearful of what the future holds. With our ingredient costs running over half a million dollars a year, 40% is hundreds of thousands of dollars, while our profit margins typically are no more that 5%. Doing the math makes me scared. Hopefully the pain will alleviate soon.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Thank you

There are many reasons to buy local. From the bottom of our heart, we thank those customers that chose to support us and other local producers through these last two years of the pandemic. Your support has made all the difference.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

No More Black Boxes

In 2007, at age 28, I made the very characteristic, but very fated move to go into business with my best friend. It failed, as one might suspect, and we broke up as friends, also probably suspected.

It was a silkscreening business. He was the printer and artist, I was the business muscle. No matter what kind of smarts I brought financially, I could never actually print the shirts, and if my friend had a procrastination and organization problem due to his bipolar disorder, which influenced, or was self-medicated by his weed addiction, the shirts never got made, or got made poorly, or were late for our customers. He needed me on the team to help him, he said. But what he really needed was $12K to get a better printing machine, a six-table setup that he thought would springboard the business to success. We rented a U-Haul and drove it from New York City to Bethlehem, PA to pick up our brand new machine at Vastex. I made peanut butter and banana sandwiches for us for the ride down. We left at 6am. We lived together, sharing a one-room studio in the Bronx, no A/C, sleeping on side-bys-side futon mattresses on the hardwood floor. I left the business three months later. The business was going nowhere. We could barely cover our rent. I wouldn't talk to my friend for three years.

What I vowed after that experience was that if I ever owned another business, I would learn how to do everything myself, so I wouldn't have to rely on anyone. Looking back, I should have learned how to print the shirts, if I really cared enough to save the business.

When I owned my second business, a baking business, I did just that. I could do, or figure out every position in the bakery, from bread mixer to slicer to pastry to financials. No longer reliant on other people, I trained all of my own employees on every position. I currently have thirty of them, and we do about $2 million in sales a year.

But the linchpin, the bottleneck of my business, are the machines. Without a working spiral bread mixer, we cannot produce dough. Without a working oven, we can't bake bread. As much as I have tried to learn everything about my business, I've never been a mechanically minded person. When a refrigerator or an oven broke down, I always called a guy, and how quickly we could get up and running depended upon his skill and availability. Over the years, I've probably spent over $150K in mechanical repairs alone. We have a lot of old machines. Our mixer, a Kemper, probably dates back to 1960. I love these old machines, for their simplicity. They are a window into a simpler time in mechanics, before everything became digitized and computerized. Our mixer's electronics, if you could call it that, is just a set of physical switches. There is not even a digital readout. There is something about machines born before the handheld calculator and the digital watch. They have souls.

But I digress. Two days ago, our mixer went down. Fully locked up. The dough hook, that curvy metal thing that looks like a corkscrew, would not turn. At all. We were dead in the water. Our normal mechanic was booked up for the week. No mixer, no bread. I called a neighbor who was the retired mechanic for the bakery. He agreed that if I provided the muscle, he would show me how to break the machine apart (thanks Gene!!). We started with the dough hook, then the flywheel, inspecting the drive shaft, the pulleys, and the bearings. Finally, we found the culprit. The aging motor had locked up. It had done so once before, in the aughts, and been rebuilt. I disconnected the electrical. With assistance, we hefted out the 150-pound motor, placed it on a cart, and brought it to a local motor shop. Understanding my plight, they broke the motor apart, replaced the worn bearings, and put it back together. The motor went back in the machine, and we re-assembled it from the guts on up. When the flywheel and the belts magically turned, I was ecstatic, elated, and that's saying a lot for a depressed person like me. I've never read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but I imagine that euphoria when seven hours of hard labor turns into a working machine is likely what the author was going after. I was intensely grateful. I had a newfound appreciation for the complexity and importance of technology. I never thought I would ever be able to repair a machine like our mixer. What it showed me is that there is no such thing as black boxes.

Every family has something they call a "junk drawer", or something like it. It's a loosely organized area that requires some fishing to find anything. Maybe it is a closet. Maybe it's an attic, or a crawlspace, or a shed. But everyone has some place that is disorganized and exists only as an abstraction of mixed up parts. That is what machines are to me, and what they are to many people. Many folks go to their auto mechanic without the faintest idea of how to repair their cars. Their car exists as that black box, and the prospect of a lengthy, involved, or expensive repair fills them with dread and anxiety. But whether it is replacing brake pads, rotors, a muffler, or dropping an engine, these are just mechanical things that either fit together, or they don't, and the skill of the mechanic determines how fast or how well it will be replaced.

For me, it doesn't make economic sense to learn to repair my own car. I have a bakery to run, a family to raise, and perhaps more importantly, I don't want to do my own car repair. I don't want to learn, I don't want to buy the tools, and I don't want to spend the time. I don't want to get dirty. So I pay a guy, and whether I drive or not is fully reliant on him, just as I would otherwise have been fully reliant on my mechanic to fix my mixer.

We live in an interconnected world, one now on steroids due to the influence and rapacity of global capitalism. There was a time when ordinary people did home repairs. Less so now. In the outsourcing of everything, we are fully reliant on someone else for virtually everything, from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat. We were generalists. We are now a nation of specialists. Humans used to make and mend their own clothes, and they used to grow their own food. No longer. Now all we have is a loose system of "junk drawers", people we can call when things go awry to fix everything, and hope the job gets done right. We even have therapists and medications to fix our besotted brains, which just don't seem to function as well as in prior generations. Maybe they're overloaded with images and thoughts of our cell phones, and out of RAM or disk space.

What I am saying is that the agency I felt in taking apart that Kemper mixer can be applied to everything. We know enough about the human mind to say that there are truly no more black boxes. If we want to fix something, we can fix it, it is only a question of our determination.

Politics is a great, and curious example. I despise Trump, I find him to be a vile human being. He decidedly was one of the worst presidents on record by any measure, and left our nation reeling and feeble after just four years of proto-facist chaos. Yet half of our voting public voted for him. How could that be?

Rather than write off those voters as black boxes, one would have to understand their brains, perhaps even at a biological, neuronal, or hormonal level, to understand how Trump could hold attraction for them. There is no shortage of academics and pundits who have tried to explain away Trump, but until we have a better handle on the self-annihilating (suicidal?) voter, we'll never have the opportunity to remedy the situation so we never have another one like him. I feel committed to undoing these black boxes. Our future, and that of our children depend upon it. The long list of ills mounts every day. The environmental climate is deteriorating. We must act, we must learn, and if it means breaking apart the brains of those who are greedy and stupid, metaphorically or literally, let it be done.

And then, the mixer broke again the next day, and all my pride evaporated, and was replaced with familiar dread. The motor still worked, but because the driveshaft was bent, we couldn't mix more than 150 pounds of dough. The motor simply wouldn't displace sufficient force. For my efforts, I received not a full solution, but a half-solution.

Ultimately if the mixer goes down completely, we can buy a new mixer.  There is no alternate world we can move to if we destroy the Earth. If we lose a single unique life to climate change, there is no replacement for that human being. People are not expendable, and neither is the environment. There is no Plan B.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Small changes, minimal difference

There is a point at which a soup is perfectly salted. Yet approaching that point, and going over it, there is a band of acceptability.

I remember distinctly a video of chef Angela Dimayuga that profiled the restaurant Mission Chinese in NYC and in the background, poking his head into the frame, was the founder and owner, Danny Bowein. He was adjusting the thermostat. To be successful in the food industry, an almost obsessive attention to detail is necessary, especially when evaluating and adjusting the food.

One needs to know the degree of saturation difference and mouthfeel between a batch brewed coffee that has brewed for four minutes versus three minutes and thirty seconds (bitterness, turbidity on the tongue) if one is going to make a great, or even a half good cup of coffee. 

I remember during my trip to Hill Farmstead, Shaun and the other brewers knocking their heads together about blending in 2% versus 2.5% of another beer. We tasted mini-samples, which were hotly debated over, leading to multiple rounds of tasting. Novice as I was, I could taste no discernible difference if I was to blind taste it, especially if one was to judge its quality.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Best of 2021

New Beer: Master Shredder by The Veil

Words of the year: Languishing; Burnout

New BBQ: Lawrence BBQ

Local HVAC Mechanics: Boer Brothers

Food Pilgrimage. Jon G’s, Peachland, NC

Cheese: Jasper Hill Farm, VT

Swimming Hole (local): Turtle Hole

Swimming Hole Pilgrimage: Long Pond, Greensboro, VT

Beer Menu: Hutchins Garage

Dive Bar Struggling to Hold On and Stay True Amidst a Tornado of Gentrified Development: Accordion Club

Netflix: Squid Game; Sex, Love, and Goop

Restaurant: Rose's

Anticipated Opening: TNP FIT CLMBR Edition

Specialty Foods: Sundries at Locopops

Deli Sandwich: Old North Meats

Insider Political Analysis: NC Primer

Instagram Food Personality: Dan Pizzutillo at Pizzeria Ida

Hair From a Rock Star: Jenn Wasner, as shot by Jeremy Lange

Indie Track: Hard Way, Flock of Dimes

Festival: Merlefest

Ice Cream Pilgrimage: Emack and Bolio's, Cape Cod (try the frappes)

Local Instagram Influencer: The Doctorette

NSB Charitable Program: Durham Neighbors

New Opening: Ideal's

Album: Jenn Wasner, Head of Roses

Song: Essence, Wizkid

Rap Song: Wockesha, Moneybagg Yo

Bagels: Isaac's

Soups: Guanajuato (try the sopa de mariscos)

Dog: Jordan's Newfie (you know the one)

Beer Study: Hill Farmstead

Factory-made Candy Bar: Pearson's Salted Nut Roll

In Memoriam: Downtown Durham

In Memoriam: Mary Beth Bishop

In Memoriam: Vernon Mitchell

Saturday, December 11, 2021

A Return to Hill Farmstead

After visiting Hill Farmstead in 2018, I thought I had reached the proverbial mountaintop. I had kept in touch with owner Shaun Hill since, and petitioned for a monthlong internship this past July, which I was lucky enough to land. As you could probably imagine, it was a holy grail, once in a lifetime moment for me, and was meant to be a respite as well from the burnout I had experienced through the pandemic. Hill Farmstead has been voted best brewery in the world eight times. Ostensibly, I was there to learn the craft and possibly start a brewery when I returned, or simply get more deep into homebrewing. What I came away with was much more.

Once I arrived in Greensboro (VT), I’m in there on the brew cellar floor where the magic happens and the first four or five days I’m just furtively asking questions like I might be able to take something away immediately, and by the fifth day or so I realize, oh my gd, how little I know.  In my diary, it literally reads, "I've learned just enough to learn how little I know." You could study beermaking for years and still feel like an amateur, a poser, upon landing at Hill Farmstead.

In breadmaking, I would say there are twenty-five critical control (process) points, whereby if you screw something up at any of those points, your resulting loaf will be suboptimal. For beer, I would say it's closer to one hundred. Shaun and his team are brewing, then fermenting, dry-hopping, transferring, conditioning in a fermenter, foudre, puncheon, or wine barrel, and then bottling, and bottle conditioning until finding the optimal time to open, market, and present the beer to the thirsty public. It's so fucking tough, and makes breadmaking look easy by comparison. Yes, you can make really mediocre beer really easily, just as one can make mediocre bread. But if you drink your way through the HF catalogue, you'll see this unrivaled attention to detail, to craft, that makes it just one of the best in the world. The quality of the beer is directly proportional to the sophistication and predilections of Shaun's palate, as well as his meticulous attention to detail. "There is no Shaun," he said once, his nut-brown eyes glinting, "I am the brewery." I told him he had a book, or several books in him, as the beer not only is great, but is often accompanied by his personal philosophy as it is rendered through ancient and modern philosophers, as well as his ancestors that worked the very land that he brews on and sources some of his ingredients and water.

The beauty of the land there swept me over. While learning to attach tri-clamps to giant fermenters in a land of no cell service, dirt roads, and copious ponds to swim, I fell in love with the Northeast Kingdom as it's known, the beer, and even the people, often curmudgeonly and terse as they are. Returning to Durham after a month away, I wondered who I would be if I lived there permanently.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

All Hail the Pep Cup (Review)

Some say the circle is the divine shape, but lovers of pizza know that the square is the true test of the pizzaiolo’s skill. I love pizza. Who doesn’t love pizza? But do we have opinions about it? Sure? Are they subjective? Yes. Who is this guy anyway? Also, fuck pizza, right? But shit, I will never stop eating it. 

Those thick, square slices (also known as Sicilian) can be topped with any number of options, but they’re best when teeming with pep cups—tiny, sliced, cured meats that, when exposed to high temperatures, flex concave, like seedlings yearning for the light. Unlike the thin bland pepperoni slices that typically top a pizza, they’re salty and spicy, full of garlic and umami, not to mention thicker and chewier than ordinary pepperoni. Little orbs of unctuous goodness. Little flying saucers of gold.


The Triangle happens to have two of the best pep cup slices in North Carolina (imo). Coronato and DiFara Pizza each swagger like two heavyweights in the ring for Sicilian pie dominance.


Coronato is crust-to-crust, wall-to-wall pep cups, all completely inverted as they should be, with a little bit of crispy char for flavor and texture balance. For DiFara, some pep cups are braised (mmm...braised cured meats) into the cheese and sauce, yielding a different meaty mouthfeel altogether, some charred inconsistently. A hot slice of Difara is swimming in a soupy delicious sauce, whereas Coronato covers their pie in generous grated Parm.


The way each restaurant sets up and handles their pie dough influences the final product. The piemakers at Difara press each piece into the mold prior to baking while the makers at Coronato set up the dough, chill it, and then slightly deflate it using their fingers prior to topping. 


The result is that DiFara is more like pizza, and Coronato is more like focaccia. It depends what you like, but one would have to say that DiFara is the more “authentic” (shit, I hate that word) pie.


And you wouldn’t think sauce would be the difference-maker, but the cooked San Marzano sauce at DiFara, surprisingly black-peppery, almost obscures the cheese. The shreds of basil scissored onto the pie that gives a slight hint of herbaceousness, cutting the lactose intensity of the browned mozz. 


Both pies go into very well seasoned (olive-oiled) pans, which yield the best fried toast crust you could ever imagine, cooked to perfection in a high temperature oven in a thick pan.

Like a momma choosing their favorite child, it’s hard to pick just one, but for my money, DiFara outlasts Coronato. The dough to sauce texture is superior, and the sauce is better— it doesn’t matter how many cups you load on there (and trust me, Coronato will go down swinging). 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

In Memoriam: Mary Beth Bishop

Mary Beth Bishop, January 30, 1942 - March 12, 2021

Mary Beth was one of my original customers when I ran Berenbaum's, and continued her devout patronage through the years I've owned NSB. It's hard for me to describe her smile even now, her laugh, her generosity. At the time in 2011 when I met her, she was married to Alan, who though a tall man, was quite stooped and walked with a cane. They made quite the pair. She was a foodie's foodie, enthusiastic and giving, a great lover of our gingersnaps and biscotti and mandelbrot and kombucha and sandwiches. She survived breast cancer and chemo, only to have it come back. She survived her son, Steve, who also passed away from cancer two years before. She went through the breakup with Alan post-cancer with the utmost strength and dignity. She was like a surrogate mom or grandmom to me here in Durham (my family lives in Boston). She had a beauty and spirit and a liveliness all her own. I don't think I can put into words what it felt like to give her a hug, or what it was like to carry her bakery packages to her Subaru (with her dog Lisi in the back) that last time I saw her, to say goodbye without knowing it's goodbye. I heard two or three weeks later she passed very suddenly in the hospital. She had been getting weaker, and had a stubborn cough and laryngitis that went unexplained for months. The cancer had returned, this time in her throat and her lungs. I bake for people like Mary Beth, and I hope to carry a piece of her wherever I go, and in whatever I do.

A short prose poem:

And if you should take a grain of sand from Shackleford Banks home with you in your shoe, you will remember the name of her on her birthday, and on the grave that is scattered through the ashes of time in the hills of her birthplace of Casper, Wyoming.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Covid Diary December 16 to September 30


Poverty and shooting mar Durham during Covid:


Moving forward:

The death of independent restaurants:


Homeschooling exacerbates stratification, putting families on different playing fields:


“If you can come up with a vaccine in a year, why are we sitting in a community where there is no grocery store with fresh fruits and vegetables.”


My year-end wrap:


The reality of nursing homes:

My dad, a medical center physician, in his corny dad way, has renamed Operation Warp Speed Operation Dead Speed, attesting to its dysfunction and slowness.


The social fabric of America is unraveling:


Trump rioters invade the Capitol:

We've come undone.



Where I ask over email our DDI and downtown business leaders not to reopen too fast and the reaction I got:

Sorry to use this thread for something off topic, but has there been any interest in pushing on City Council to do another shutdown? I'm getting many more anecdotal case reports from supermarket workers, baristas, grocery owners, etc. Our staff is coming to work every day anxious now. I know a shutdown similar to April is not business-friendly, but I think we need to put public health first here. We posted the attached to IG, FB, and Twitter and got positive responses/views.

In case you didn't see it, the legendary Titina Vuotto of CarpriFlavors passed mid-Dec of Covid:



Hi Ari—


This is a very difficult decision and one where the arguments on both sides are compelling.  My personal opinion is that while a complete shutdown of businesses may cause numbers to trend down, it will also put a number of individuals in an even more precarious position—restaurant and retail and other small business employees not having steady or reliable incomes (and in some cases medical insurance).  I believe that the restaurants in downtown are doing everything they absolutely must (and in many cases going beyond the bare minimum) to ensure that they remain open and their employees (and customers) remain safe and healthy.  The added resources and assistance from Greenlight Durham provides additional assistance in tracking of cases, listing of testing sites, and other COVID-related resources.


I won’t argue as to why the numbers are increase (eating out vs small family/intimate gatherings indoors).  However, by allowing small businesses to stay open, the owners can decide what the appropriate response/answer is for their given situation and in downtown we are seeing each business owner decide what makes the most sense for not just the business operations but, in many cases, what is the most responsible thing to do to protect employees.  Due to a lack of any significant and comprehensive federal, state, and/or local small business assistance, it is difficult to advocate for a complete shutdown as this would place an intense financial stress (on top of the stress many businesses are already carrying). 


These are my personal thoughts. It is a difficult situation we are in and I think many thought we’d be a little further along in combating this virus.  Regardless, as we continue to move forward, no matter how slowly, it remains difficult to plan when there’s so much uncertainty.  I rely on the one-on-one conversations I have with multiple business owners in downtown to try and advocate what makes the most sense and provides the most benefit to the overall downtown business community.  The wants and needs of a restaurant owner vs a salon owner vs a retail shop vs a live venue space are so varied and each must be considered.  I continue to believe that the business owners in downtown will operate in a safe and responsible manner.


Nicole Thompson

President & CEO

Downtown Durham, Inc.

Hi Nicole, 

Thanks for sending.  I appreciate your thoughts.  Just to be clear, I would still encourage restaurants to do takeout and outdoor dining. I think that is the best path until most of the vaccines are distributed. I think the fact that the mayor and city council have not enforced any type of stay-at-home order with the exception of going out for food/supplies/etc. (as we did in April) is foolhardy and leading to needless disease and death. Evidently we've become numb to the numbers of the sick and dying and have accepted it as a byproduct of our need to keep things open through this surge in cases. The fact that most of the disease burden falls on lower income folks just reinforces my distaste for how this has been handled.



I was just looking at the stats tonite.  13 Durhamites dead in the last week due to Covid (probably an undercount):

County Total CasesTotal DeathsDateRate Per 10,000% of all cases by dateNew CasesNew Deaths7 Day New Cases AvgCases per 10,000 last 7 daysCases per 10,000 last 14 days
Durham17,826158Jan, 19554.52.6120011783979
Durham17,626157Jan, 17548.32.5826471803976
Durham17,362150Jan, 15540.12.5520131864179
Durham17,161147Jan, 14533.82.5217511984378
Durham16,986146Jan, 13528.42.4913611954379
Durham16,850145Jan, 12524.12.4713001954277


We know that the new variant of Covid is out there and may be 50% more transmissible and we are still not locking down.


The UK struggles:


This American Life on the Capitol Riots:


15 Durhamites died last week of Covid.  How many more need to die before the city takes steps to keep people from gathering and mixing? 

This is exactly the case where a gradualist, incrementalist practice of progressive politics runs headlong into the life or death situation which is Covid.







After it's over: The mood now seems to be one of preparation for what comes after our society's lockdown. Will business-as-usual reign?

The only problem is in double mask hell, is no one can hear you speak.

Some reflections on the five hundred thousand (and counting):

The problem with this is that people are like wood, and so long as there is dry wood, there will be fire so long as the virus still exists. I have no doubt this will lead to greater infections statewide.

A year into the pandemic, full-on burnout has taken hold.

Durham kiddos return to school amid controversy:

Voting rights are under attack across the country. Can we push back?

It's the Coronaversary.  (One year since things really shut down around here.) The year that nothing happened and everything happened, when no one changed and everyone changed.

All of the bakery employees have now received at least their first shot. Most have received both. Thank you to Greenlight Durham for facilitating many of the shots.

As predicted, there are vast vaccine inequities and access to information around vaccines:

Downtown Durham is busy with people, people out at bars (Glass Jug), and scooters ripping and running all down Main Street. It appears the fine weather together with vaccines for most (?) have given people new confidence to get out. We've certainly seen an uptick in sales at the Bakery, and especially at Farmer's Market. The news cycle appears less terrifying now that Biden is president. It (and Trump) no longer hangs over the community like an evil scepter. People are worried about variants, and there are still lots of infections in the U.S., but somehow this seems more manageable. We continue to distribute funds via the Durham Neighbors program, and free lunches every day to the needy.

In poorer parts of the world, the virus rages on. The possibility for a vaccine-resistant variant rises with every day we fail on this.

The world needs more vaccines, and the 1st world has them:

The prospects and volume of Durham businesses have really picked up the last month. With vaccines and lower infection rates, people are getting out more. Business owners seem to be in a better and more optimistic mood as well. As my grandmother would say, "Money's like honey."



The shifting CDC mask guidance has caused real problems for us. Now some customers (and vendors!) feel they can walk into the bakery sans mask and will fight us verbally for their right to be served inside without a mask.  It’s deplorable and confusing for everyone involved.



The masks have come off.  Covid must be over.  Bars, restaurants are filled with cooks, servers, and patrons without masks. Is it too early? I guess we’ll see if there is a fourth (?) wave. Only half the population in NC is vaccinated and yet the Covid rates are plummeting. So I guess things are working? It still feels too early for us to call it, so we are still requiring masks on all employees and also all customers inside the Bakery.

The Bakery turns 40 years old!


Wow. Ain’t nobody wearing masks anymore.  I went to Phillips Farm in Cary and literally 5 out of 400 ppl were wearing masks.   

I was the only person inside the bar wearing a mask and everyone looked at me like in was the weirdo.  And I thought, maybe I was.

After much deliberation, we were one of the last Durham businesses to require masks indoors, and today, we went mask-free for the vaccinated.

just as soon as we were in the clear and went maskless at the bakery, the delta variant reared its ugly head. #thefourthwave?


The mask mandate returns in Durham due to a spike in cases from Delta. Just one month later, masks return to the Bakery.


I lost my best friend and I lost my rabbi due to Covid.  The weird thing is, they are still alive.   


Food service providers are finding it hard to stay staffed up. I can't get deliveries from US Foods because so many workers at the their warehouse are at home with Covid (delta):;


It appears that we have crested the hump of the delta infection wave and reports indicate that mu (the next strain) is in fact not vaccine-resistant. Does this mean we're in the clear or will mask mandates (and regular vigilance) lessen only for delta to return again for another (lesser?) wave of infection? Vaccine boosters are in rollout mode. Feels like an inflection point.