Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Eli Zabar and his astounding food mark ups

One of the benefits of riding out the credit crunch has been remembering that I can cook, rather than speed dial the Mexican taqueria. So, apart from the odd day like Sunday when I looked up from reading the papers and inexplicably found myself sitting at the counter of the Murray Hill Diner inhaling the Garden Burger Deluxe platter and an ice cream sundae and, um, Monday when I was so fucking miserable that I went and sobbed over the $6.50 lunch special at Thailand Café, I pretty much cook from scratch both lunch & supper.

I’ve learnt to avoid Whole Foods, and shop mainly in Chinatown, at the veg stalls staffed by the Indian guys in the street and at places like the East Village Cheese Shop where a huge slice of triple crème brie is $1.50 and a bag of pita is a dollar. Although, really, I've always shopped like this. I love bargains and do think that the amount we are asked to pay for food in the supermarkets is jaw droppingly high. Especially because I do cook, so I know just how much those meals cost and what the margins are on prepared food.

Soup is the most hilarious. A pint of minestrone is $6.99 at the fancy food store on Eight Avenue. I can make that for less than 50 cents in under twenty minutes.

This brings me to Eli Zabar, who owns several foodie destinations including The Vinegar Factory, & E.A.T. on the Upper East Side, where I had an shockingly inedible lunch with Muv last week; (that review is to come.) In the interim I wanted to bring to your attention a shameless, slobbering interview with Mr. Zabar in The New York Times which really plumbed the lows of journalism, where he tried and failed to justify the cost of the food he served.

“He has established himself as a master of recycling, giving unsold products new life by reinventing them as prepared foods. Focaccia becomes Parmesan toast…On the day after Christmas, I met Mr. Zabar at Eli’s Manhattan, where he charges $24.99 for eight ounces of that Parmesan toast…Talking to Mr. Zabar about his prices feels like confronting a teenager coming in past curfew: his cornered tone hovers between “How dare you” and “How am I going to get out of this.”

“That Crunch is 70 percent Parmesan cheese,” Mr. Zabar said, “which is $14 or $15 a pound. You couldn’t buy it and make it for that money.”

Okay Mr. Zabar: here’s my maths:

Parmesan toast $24.99 for eight ounces equals $49.98 for 1lb
Parmesan is $14 per lb, 70% of 1lb = $11.20.
Therefore his parmesan costs are $11.20 of $ 49.98

Which means the customer is paying $38.78 for already budgeted leftover bread plus packaging & labour/restaurant costs.

“You couldn’t buy it and make it for that money.” Really, Mr. Zabar. REALLY?