John Gravdis, in Pacific Standard, tracks down the strange, but oh-so-California, origin of the left coast’s latest food craze: $3-4 a slice artisanal toast.
All the guy was doing was slicing inch-thick pieces of bread, putting them in a toaster, and spreading stuff on them. But what made me stareâ€”blinking to attention in the middle of a workday morning as I waited in line at an unfamiliar cafeÌâ€”was the way he did it. He had the solemn intensity of a Ping-Pong player who keeps his game very close to the table: knees slightly bent, wrist flicking the butter knife back and forth, eyes suggesting a kind of flow state.
The coffee shop, called the Red Door, was a spare little operation tucked into the corner of a chic industrial-style art gallery and event space (clients include Facebook, Microsoft, Evernote, Google) in downtown San Francisco. There were just three employees working behind the counter: one making coffee, one taking orders, and the soulful guy making toast. In front of him, laid out in a neat row, were a few long Pullman loavesâ€”the boxy Wonder Bread shape, like a train car, but recognizably handmade and freshly baked. And on the brief menu, toast was a standalone itemâ€”at $3 per slice.
It took me just a few seconds to digest what this meant: that toast, like the cupcake and the dill pickle before it, had been elevated to the artisanal plane. So I ordered some. It was pretty good. It tasted just like toast, but better.
Behind every foodie breakthrough, there is a PC sob story. Go ahead and fork over $4 for that slice of toasted bread, it’s for a good cause!
J. O’Dell blames the tech industry.
I went to The Mill for breakfast today and got a black cup of coffee and a single slice of toast topped with butter and sour strawberry jam. For $6.
It was an experiment in upper-middle class lifestyle consumerism. In San Francisco, flaunting your wealth has been elevated to new lows, if you will. The labels arenâ€™t the usual lineup of foreign design houses; rather, we pay $300 for simple denim jeans or $200 for plain black yoga pants. We donâ€™t go to the opera; we overspend on the simplest facets of life.
Coffee. Water. Bread. Housing. The kinds of things our pioneer forebears made themselves and considered basic necessities or small comforts.
And the tech community is largely to blame, in this writerâ€™s opinion.
Hereâ€™s the cycle:
Someone creates a business for consumers with too much money and pretensions of superior taste. It might be a physical good, like toast; it might be a service, like black-car, chauffeured rides.
Tech folks, being one of the largest demographics in the city with ample disposable income, patronize, promote, and even invest in said business. (See: Blue Bottle coffee.)
Aforementioned business prospers and grows its profile.
People both within and outside the tech community are inspired to create more bourgie businesses that cater to the bored and overprivileged, peppering their descriptions with buzzwords like â€œorganicâ€ and â€œfair tradeâ€ and â€œartisanal,â€ the most meaningless of them all. Rarely are these goods and services truly accessible and affordable.
San Francisco becomes saturated with overpriced crap that is comparable in quality to less overpriced crap.
Middle class and working class families and individuals in the community find themselves priced out of goods and services. Small businesses in those sectors languish.
Good toast and a plain cup of coffee shouldnâ€™t cost $6. But I canâ€™t imagine the tech community putting the brakes on this trend any time soon. Weâ€™re obsessed with false ideas of quality. We fetishize the precious processes and benchmarks and prices that, in reality, have no bearing on how good something is.
Hat tip to Lisa Schiffren.