For the myriad of artisanal local businesses that got their start at Dean & Deluca, the gourmet grocer’s financial troubles mean more than just a lost client. Several New York City vendors have spoken out about being owed tens of thousands of dollars — and now, vendors such as Amy’s Cookies in Brooklyn are at risk of closing.
Dean & Deluca served as the stage where Amy Berg kickstarted her cookie business, which the former photographer started nearly 30 years ago after an eye disease gradually depleted her vision. Supplying to the grocer fueled her growth, and at the company’s peak, she had a seven-person team and half a million dollars in yearly sales.
But now, Dean & Deluca owes Amy’s Cookies nearly $71,000 — an amount that threatens to shut down the business, Berg tells Eater. She is one of several vendors that have filed lawsuits against the grocer in recent years, following repeated attempts to recuperate the debt from the floundering company.
According to the Times, Brooklyn bakery Bien Cuit is owed $75,000; French macaron and pastry vendor Colson Patisserie is owed $24,000, and Amy’s Bread is owed $51,000 for its layered cakes. Last year, Eleni’s Cookies took the company to court for $86,000 but settled for 50 cents on the dollar.
Berg says she’s had to let go of most of her staff and can no longer pay herself a salary. She doesn’t have the funds to order ingredients from her regular suppliers, instead making frequent runs to Costco for her baking needs. She’s still supplying to about eight NYC businesses and is trying to find more clients.
“At this point, it’s just very hard out there,” Berg says. “A lot of the gourmet places that exist now don’t have pastry departments. Since my cookies are fresh, they don’t have as long a shelf life as grocery stores are looking for, unless they have a bakery section where they can put them out.”
Dean & Deluca hit the scene in the late ’70s, turning into a destination for upscale food in the city. For Berg, getting into the store in 1990 was a boon for business, and by 2008, she built a new kitchen in Sunset Park.
Last October, Berg, 64, was getting ready to sell her company when she noticed Dean & Deluca had missed a few payments. Since then, she’s received irregular payments and dealt with a number of different executives who made false promises, paying her only enough to convince her to send her next batch, and then not paying for those.
She cut the company off in April 2019, when the grocer’s debt to her reached nearly $71,000. In a letter sent to Dean & Deluca in May, Berg’s lawyer says the outstanding debt has had a “devastating impact” on Amy’s Cookies.
Giorgio DeLuca and Joel Dean founded the New York gourmet food market known for carrying local artisanal goods in 1977. The duo expanded the brand globally in 2003 with an outpost in Tokyo, followed by several locations in Asia and the Middle East. In 2014, the company was purchased by Thai real estate giant Pace Development for $140 million, which vendors claim was the turning point for the brand.
Over the past five years, Dean & Deluca has closed a number of stores across the country, pulled out of leases, failed to pay landlords and vendors, and its craft goods have been noticeably replaced with big brands like Häagen-Dazs and Coca-Cola.
On June 30, Dean & Deluca quietly closed its Upper East Side market, as well as one in Napa Valley. In New York, only the Soho outpost remains, as well as the company’s new cafeteria concept Stage, though that’s also in the process of closing. On Thursday afternoon, its website was down for a few hours; it’s back up now with an updated “locations” page.
A spokesperson tells Eater that the company currently has no plans to close the Prince Street store.
Meanwhile, Berg is waiting for the company to respond to her lawsuit, which she filed about three weeks ago in Kansas. She says her employees promised to return if she’s victorious, but until then, she’s at risk of closing.
“It’s tough in New York in the summer — every business feels it, not just mine,” she says. “I made a big mistake by continuing to sell to them.”