Beyond Toast

March 23, 2015

IMG_8730Even if you’re not a hipster in New York or part of the social elite, you tend to be part of the 30% of the US population to know of a trend before the rest of the country, and by the time it becomes a regular thing on a menu here, the rest of the country is just hearing about it.

Case in point, toast.  Now, I don’t live in a hipster neighborhood.  I live in a predominantly Asian working class neighborhood, crammed with bakeries, groceries, and Asian restaurants, so when I heard about this $3 toast craze going on in the west coast, via NPR, it dumbfounded me, not because people were paying $3 for toast, but because people were talking about it.

We’ve been paying $3 for inch thick honey toast for a while now.

I didn’t really think of this as being something TMI worthy, until I came upon an episode that aired from Ira Glass’ This American Life podcast talking about the origins of artisan toast, which originally aired a year ago.  Out of coincidence I got my hands on a copy and realize there was more to this trend than just skinny jeans and lattes.

During the initial rise of San Francisco toast craze, journalists blamed the exorbitant cost of toast on everything from the hipster movement, to silicon valley.  As human behavior dictates, those that are outside will always find a reason to rebel against those elite on the inside.  Marie Antoinette was a casualty of this, but this story doesn’t start with a high brow woman in an palace.  It begins with a woman in a single car garage sized coffee shop learning to live with her bipolar disorder.

FullSizeRender2Giulietta Carrelli, is a 34 year old, former wild child, who only in recent years was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which is a condition that combines the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.  Prior to knowing that she had a condition, she blamed herself for all the destruction that occurred throughout her life, and drugs on all the out of body experiences and lapses of memory loss and identity.  It wasn’t until one of her employers, who was most likely going to let her go, gave her a business plan to open up her own coffee shop, did she, with $1000 worth of borrowed money and a newly minted business license, open up the Trouble Coffee and Coconut Company, also known as “Trouble”.

On the menu presently is coffee, shots of grapefruit juice, young thai coconuts, and cinnamon toast, each with a story associated with it.  We can understand the coffee, but what’s with the last three menu items?  Due to her disorder, coconuts were the only food she could stand to eat where the chewing did not bother her and where she didn’t feel like she was being poisoned.  She survived three years mainly on them for sustenance, but required a form of vitamin C, which is where the grapefruit juice comes in.  As for the cinnamon toast, it reminded her of her childhood and was a symbol of comfort.

Giulietta, like with all of her actions these days, started Trouble Coffee as a way to ground her, in case her disorder lead her astray.  This is also the reason why she has so many visible tattoos and wears the same style clothes day in and day out.  Being a notable figure and Trouble Coffee a fixture in the neighborhood made sure that those around would know who Giulietta was and ensured her she didn’t get herself into danger and that someone would recognize her.  In a way, the toast was just a piece of a puzzle to help one woman though her life, but metamorphosed into something more.

But $3 toasIMG_8737t?  Come on!  Truthfully, the piece of toast at the top of this article was actually worth $7.50.  You can see the receipt on the left.

In areas like mine, where you have fashionable Korean owned French bakeries and coffee houses, inch thick slices of artisanal pullman style toast, glazed in honey, dusted in almond sugar, or in the case of the first pic, honey, cream cheese, and strawberries, is not out of the norm, and in a working class area, people do buy this stuff.

It’s almost like those areas in Asia where they are rocking Coach or Louie V bags in some of the poorest regions because those are where they’re made.  Trends don’t always have their origins like those of the mighty cronut.  Sometimes they’re out of necessity, but they find their ways into a larger main stream audience

For more on Giulietta’s story, read the original piece in the Pacific Standard by John Gravois titled “A Toast Story” here.  And you can listen to the piece via the podcast below or via here: