As the New York Times reported last week, the city’s bagel shops are under the threat of a cream cheese shortage. In response to the deficit, bagelries across the city are able to buy fewer tubs of cream cheese from their distributors at higher prices than ever, all while some customers, fearful of running out, are preemptively ordering more bulk cream cheese orders. Affected owners are frantic to find new methods of acquiring the goods; forcing them, in some cases, to get creative with their menu strategies. Many spots have been left wondering how long this shortage will last and whether they’ll soon have to raise their prices.
Several bagel shops, such as Greenwich Village’s Bagel Bob’s and Forest Hills Bagel, a 24-hour shop in Queens, said that customers indeed seem to be preparing for the worst. Bagel Bob’s owner Peter Messinis says that, although he’s been less affected by the shortage in recent weeks as compared to a month ago, he’s nevertheless noticed regulars who are now ordering about four times the amount of cream cheese tubs to-go than they used to, pre-pandemic. Meanwhile, Forest Hills Bagel manager Luis Diaz says that where once the shop’s delivery orders were mainly sandwiches, now customers are also ordering large tubs of cream cheese, he believes, in response to shortage reports. Hopefully, Diaz says, it doesn’t get to a point where they “need to limit customers’ orders.”
Diaz also shared that their shop has had difficulty sourcing from their main purveyor, Kraft Heinz-owned Philadelphia cream cheese. “Last week, no one had Philadelphia,” he says. “We tried all the companies. This store in New Jersey was selling it first come, first serve. [There were] 15 cases of 50-pound tubs, but by the time we’d have gotten there it wouldn’t have been available.” In a normal week, they go through 20 cases of 50-pound tubs. These days, he says, they’re paying “almost double,” and that’s just for 30-pound cases.
For Bari Musacchio, the owner of Baz Bagel in Soho, the cream cheese shortage is just the latest in a series of supply chain “curveballs” during the pandemic. To secure enough cream cheese for the business — the bagel shop goes through a thousand pounds a week, and more when office catering is in full swing — she says she’s spent the last three weeks texting sales representatives and refreshing distributor websites “all day long.” Po Patraakrakul of Baychester’s Bagels on Bartow, in the Bronx, has gone to Queens to secure several boxes. Meanwhile, the Forest Hills Bagel’s team is similarly scrambling. Diaz says that the business is ready with bagel shop contacts as far as Florida to ship them cream cheese, should things get dire.
Many owners and managers said that despite the increase in costs, they had yet to increase their menu prices — even though they are currently operating at a loss — for fear of losing customers. In Astoria, Between the Bagel posted on its Instagram Stories that, this week, they were paying nearly double — from $85 to $150 — for the same amount of cream cheese that they normally buy.
“We are evaluating the situation,” says a manager for another affected shop, Bagels ‘R Us in Staten Island, who asked not to be named to protect her privacy. “If this seems like a long term problem, we may then be forced to raise our prices.”
Many bagel shop owners have shared that vegan, tofu cream cheese is much easier to source right now because it’s unaffected by the same dairy supply chain issues — but, at least right now, it hasn’t been selling any faster in light of the shortage. “The people who are going to order vegan cream cheese are going to continue to order it,” Bagel Bob’s Messinis says, while those who wouldn’t normally order it aren’t more interested now.
In Queens, Jewel Bagels — Forest Hills Bagel’s Flushing kosher arm of their business — has not had any issues sourcing their cream cheese. “We work with Cholov Yisroel brands, which means they’ve been supervised by a rabbi at every stage of the cream cheese process,” says Rabbi Menachem Ungar, who manages the shop, adding that perhaps it’s been easier to source because the dairy is coming from a supplier for a more niche market. He notes that shortage or not, this type of special cream cheese tends to be more expensive. “I don’t really see other shops turning to [Cholov Yisroel] cream cheese, even during this time, for that reason,” he says.
Park Slope’s Bagel Hole owner Phil Romanzi says that they’ve had to temporarily change cream cheese suppliers from Philadelphia to James Farm for regular flavors like plain or chive, but he hasn’t heard customers mention any “difference in taste.” Wackier flavors, like a jalapeno-cheddar cream cheese, come from an entirely different supplier that, Romanzi says, they’ve had no major issues sourcing from. Ess-a-Bagel in Midtown East has turned to distributors other than Philadelphia to maintain its regular cream cheese output of hundreds of pounds per week, according to chief operating officer Melanie Frost. “We’re known to put a heap of cream cheese on ours,” she says. That hasn’t changed during the shortage.
In the meantime, Baz has been running specials for its non-cream-cheese sandwiches: first bacon, egg, and cheeses, before an ongoing bacon shortage drove up their cost, then bagels with honey butter. Some people are ordering the specials, Musacchio says, but for the most part, she’s found that New Yorkers are pretty uncompromising when it comes to their bagels with schmear — perhaps more now than before the shortage.
“They want to be one of the last people to eat the cream cheese, rather than something different,” she says.
Additional reporting by Luke Fortney and Bao Ong