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Bagel Express

A portion of the cream cheese case in Bagel Express in Setauket. Photo from David Prestia

Across the North Shore of Suffolk County, bagel shops and bakeries have found that it has been a little difficult getting cream cheese.

While customers can still get their favorite spread on a sandwich or buy a cheesecake or Danish pastry, local bakery and bagel shop owners are having a difficult time procuring cream cheese, and the price of the product has increased over the last few weeks. The shortage has been felt across the nation.

David Prestia, owner of Bagel Express in Setauket, said he first heard about the shortage on the news. It was a bit concerning to him as his restaurant uses cream cheese often for their bagel sandwiches, even though they offer other options such as butter, egg salad and more.

Prestia said he deals with several distributors so he has only been slightly affected by the shortage. When a couple of them couldn’t fulfill his cream cheese order, he was able to go to another distributor. However, the amount he could order was limited. He said this distributor told him that they would have to limit orders until they could assess the situation.

Cream cheese comes in 50-pound blocks, and while it’s the norm to order a few blocks at a time, he and others have been lucky if they can get one or two per order.

Prestia said he also noticed the price was going up recently. He estimated, based on his experience, that it cost 20% more to buy the spread.

Cream cheese blocks can last 45 days if the seal isn’t broken, so Prestia said he should be good through the remainder of the year. He added that cream cheese is not the only thing in short supply and he has had trouble finding other products, including napkins and plates.

“It’s been so many different things that we’ve been short on and then when the stuff appears, then the price goes up and that’s the problem,” he said. “Prices are changing so rapidly. It’s hard to keep up with what’s going on.”

Cemal Ankay, owner of Bagelicious Cafe in Port Jefferson Station, has been experiencing the same issues as Prestia. He said he has been reaching out to different distributors throughout the state to get cream cheese.

Ankay said he always tries to have two-weeks inventory, and while he hasn’t been able to get as many blocks of cream cheese as he has in the past such as four or five, he has been able to get one or two here and there. He said it’s important to be proactive as the year winds down.

“Christmas week, that’s our busiest days of the year,” he said.

Product shortages have seemed to become the norm lately, Ankay said.

“After this pandemic happened, we always have different kinds of product shortages,” he said, adding at one point he had trouble getting bacon then cups for iced tea. He, too, has had trouble getting napkins.

Ankay has seen the prices skyrocket for cream cheese. He once paid $1.90 a pound but then last week it was around $2.49, and the other day he was told it would be more than $3.

“You’re lucky to get it,” he said. “I don’t want to say to my customers, ‘Sorry, I don’t have any cream cheese.’”

In Northport, Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe owned by Flemming Hansen has been facing similar problems getting cream cheese for items such as cheesecake, Danishes and their red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, according to employee Jessica Greenbaum. Like Bagel Express, they deal with a few distributors and have options regarding ordering. Recently, they ordered cream cheese from a distributor that they haven’t ordered the product from in the past.

“I hope it doesn’t come to, when in the morning you crave a cheese Danish, that we don’t have one,” she said, adding that the bakery has enough to get through the holidays as they don’t use as much of the spread as a bagel store would.

Grocery stores

The cream cheese shortage has affected local grocery stores, too.

Stefanie Shuman, external communications manager for Stop & Shop, said, “Like many retailers, we are seeing some shortages because suppliers are experiencing labor and transportation challenges due to COVID-19. With cream cheese, Kraft specifically has been having supply issues on Philly and Temp Tee [products] due to impacts from Hurricane Ida.”

King Kullen, which has stores in St. James and Wading River, is experiencing similar problems, according to Lloyd Singer, spokesperson for King Kullen.

“While we are in stock on most varieties, supply is tight and is expected to remain so through the end of the year,” Singer said.

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Village Coffee Market in Stony Brook offers a new coffee blend for customers to buy for frontline workers. Photo by David Luces

Local businesses have begun to reopen and continue on their path to recovery, though it hasn’t stopped owners to continue efforts to give back to hospital workers, first responders and residents in need.

Village Coffee Market’s “Here Comes the Sun” blend to show support for health care workers. Photo by David Luces

For Gary Contes, co-owner of Village Coffee Market in Stony Brook, there’s a deeper meaning to his coffee-blend-pack donations to hospital workers. He created a special blend of coffee called “Here Comes the Sun,” named after the Beatles song that is played throughout the halls when COVID-19 patients leave Stony Brook University Hospital.

“For patients, the song means a new beginning, a new day, and it’s just a sense of optimism they get,” Contes said. “So, I kind of wanted to share that same feeling with the hospital workers with this blend.”

The owner said individuals can purchase a 12-pack of the special blend for $7.50, though the catch is that they don’t get the coffee, the frontline workers do. Contes then donates the packs and makes deliveries to workers at Stony Brook Hospital and other health care facilities.

Contes said the “Here Comes the Sun” coffee is a medium roast that has a slight smoky taste to it and a “nice full body flavor.”

“I wanted to come up with a great tasting coffee which would appeal to anyone,” he added. “Everyone that buys a box, they get to write a message that will be seen by the workers who open up the box. This is our special way of saying thanks to them for all they do.”

So far Contes has donated more than 220 boxes and hopes to make it to 1,000 in the coming months.

“All our customers have been eager to participate,” he said. “It’s always very touching when we go out to deliver. Recently, we had one of the workers start to cry when she saw the boxes of coffee. My wife is a nurse, and I have other family members in the health care field, so, this means a lot to me. As a businessman who is struggling right now, if it steers people to come here and buy coffee for themselves, I would be thrilled, but if given the choice and they had to buy one item, buy a box of ‘Here Comes The Sun.’”

Bagel Express in Setauket sells signs to show support for essential workers and uses the profits to donate meals to local hospitals. Photo from David Prestia

David Prestia, owner of Bagel Express in Setauket, has been donating meals to Mather, St. Charles and Stony Brook University hospitals for the last few months but also was suffering businesswise from the shutdown. He then came up with an idea that would get customers and the community involved.

“Our customers wanted to pitch in and help the first responders,” he said. “That’s when we came up with the sign idea.”

Prestia began selling support signs for frontline workers. The signs cost $20 with the funds going toward sending food to local hospitals and first responders. Customers are encouraged to display their signs outside their homes. He said Decal Designs Mobile only charged $5 each to have the signs made, and Michael Ardolino, founder and owner-broker of Realty Connect USA, donated funds to offset the cost.

Prestia has already sold more than 400 of the signs.

“The community got really involved and wanted to donate,” the business owner said. “It is great to spread awareness and give those workers thanks. It’s amazing how many of our signs we see in the area. It is wonderful to see. I’ve been here for 30 years and it is great to see the community coming together.”

Residents have been doing their part to help those in need during the pandemic as well.

Jake Shangold

Jake Shangold, a Ward Melville High School senior, has been raising money for Island Harvest food bank by starting a virtual food drive, www.fooddriveonline.org/islandharvest/jake.

Shangold began handing out flyers in the community and promoted the food drive on social media. He was able to raise $3,000 to help those in need of meals. With the money raised, Island Harvest will be able to provide 6,000 meals.

“I wanted to help people in need, especially with what’s going on with the pandemic,” he said. “I was very happy I was able to raise so much money, and I hope to continue doing these food drives in the future.”

Know of a Three Village business or resident doing good in the community? If so, email [email protected] to let us know.