Editor’s Note: This story was written by Kellen Beck for Ithaconomy, an Ithaca College student publication. It is republished with permission.
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Behind the counter and through the double doors at 400 N Meadow St., there is a constant production of baked goods. Doughnuts, bagels, pastries, buns, loaves of bread and more are being made throughout the day and night. The peak hour is 4 a.m.
The only hours off at the Ithaca Bakery are on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every other day of the year, the bakery is producing and selling products 24 hours a day.
“The back of the house is a very busy place during those times,” said Ramsey Brous, co-owner of the Ithaca Bakery. “At that point you’re still producing bread, you’re baking bread, you’re still baking bagels, and you’ve got pastry people who have come in to turn out pastry products.”
The lights are bright and the machines are moving as about 40 people work in the back to make baked goods between 4 and 5 a.m.
“Typically [trucks] would be going out starting at about 4:30 in the morning, and then there will be some truck on the road all the way into the afternoon until about 3, 3:30 in the afternoon,” Brous said.
The trucks run all over Tompkins County, with baked goods ending up at restaurants like the Ithaca Ale House, Antlers and Napoli, as well as in grocery stores like Wegmans and Greenstar Natural Foods Market.
Two major wholesale buyers that might not come to most consumers’ minds are Cornell University and the Ithaca City School District.
Ithaca Bakery’s North Meadow Street location also supplies all of the baked good products to its North Triphammer Road location, as well as the three Collegetown Bagels shops in the area, which are all a part of the same company. Brous said between supplying its own retail locations and wholesale, Ithaca Bakery produces around 2,000 bagels every day.
“We decide how many bagels we order as the day goes on,” said Theresa Allen, manager at the Collegetown Bagels on Aurora Street. They get three deliveries throughout the day, and she said that location gets something between 31 and 56 dozen bagels a day.
Toby McDonald, co-owner of Ithaca restaurant The Antlers, said the restaurant gets fresh deliveries 7 days a week, totalling about 200 loaves of baguettes every week. The Antlers has used Ithaca Bakery bread since they opened 43 years ago.
Brous said that they don’t deliver as much as they used to, and the business isn’t looking to expand their deliveries to more restaurants and stores.
“We’ve gotten busier on the retail end,” Brous said. “It’s been more of a focus to us — when we look to expand it’s in that [retail] direction.”
Brous said some businesses aren’t willing to pay more for local bread when they can get cheaper, frozen products that will suffice their needs.
“[Ithaca Bakery’s] quality is excellent,” McDonald said. “We like dealing with people we know and respect. They take good care of us.”
Brous said the Ithaca Bakery and Collegetown Bagels use local raw ingredients as much as possible, between cheeses, meats, produce and gluten-free products.
“We’re paying good money for the ingredients and paying skilled people a decent wage to make the stuff,” Brous said. “It’s not cheap.”
Although they are not officially a Tompkins County Living Wage business, Brous said Ithaca Bakery does pay a majority of its employees a living wage, and that they are very supportive of signing onto the living wage concept.
“The whole industry, frankly, is headed in that direction,” Brous said. “Once that does actually become law, pretty much the entire industry is going to be living wage.” And when that happens, he said, the business will have to look at increasing their wholesale production.
“It’s a great town to be in business,” Brous said. “It’s not a huge town but it’s a very supportive town. It’s a town that cares about the quality of what they’re eating and the fact that things are locally produced… It’s part of what makes Ithaca special.”
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