The Eastman House Cafe's Anti-Local Habit

Eastman House Cafe's Coolers in December, 2011

Eastman House Cafe's Coolers in December, 2011

About a year ago I complained to the George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) about the coffee in their cafe. I noticed the cafe had replaced the fair-traded coffee from The Coffee Connection (681 South Ave., formerly the Women's Coffee Connection) with Eight O'Clock Coffee. More generally, the cafe had been replacing (and continues to replace) locally-sourced products with non-local ones. In a letter from Commercial Development Director Peter Briggs, he said that the Eight O'Clock Coffee was replacing Paul DeLima coffee, not the fair-traded coffee from Coffee Connection. He added that he was pleased to note that nearly all the checks sent out go to Rochester addresses. Poor proof indeed: my RG&E check goes to East Avenue, but that doesn't mean that it's local [hint: follow Carmen Sandiego to Spain].

Well, now it's come to pass that all that's available at the cafe is Eight O'Clock Coffee (unless you specifically ask for them to brew a pot of fair-trade just for you) [and I have not yet mentioned how flagrantly inferior Eight O'Clock is to locally-roasted beans, but that's another topic]. I've also noticed that the cooler — pictured above — is also sparse of local products. If you can't see close enough, the products and their manufacturers are:

  • Minute Maid, Dasani, SmartWater, Coke, Mello Yello, Fanta, Sprite, Barq's, Dr. Pepper, Power Ade, Vitamin Water: Coca-Cola Company, Atlanta, GA
  • V8: Campbell Soup Company, Camden, NJ
  • Tropicana: PepsiCo, Inc. (Purchase, NY, NYC area), Chicago, IL
  • Red Jacket Orchard: Geneva, NY
  • Honest Tea, Honest Ade: 40% Coca-Cola, Bethesda, MD
  • Silk: White Wave Foods, Dallas, TX
  • Hood: HP Hood, LLC, Lynnfield, MA
  • Perier: Nestlé Corporation, Vevey, Switzerland
  • Jones: Jones Soda Co., Seattle, WA
  • Crystal Geyser water: CG Roxane — of mysterious sources around California

Thus, there actually is what I'd qualify a "local product" tucked in there: Red Jacket Orchards from Geneva. But why no milk from Pittsford Farms Dairy, or even Byrne Dairy (from Syracuse), or even Upstate Farms? Why no soft drinks from Saranac (F.X. Matt Brewing Company in Utica)? Why no cider from Schutt's Cider Mill? And expanding to the rest of the cafe: why no snacks from Stever's, Hedonist, or the Nut House (two-of-three of which are available at the Little). At least the gelato is locally sourced and the cookies are baked on-site.

In my mind, the Eastman House has equal responsibility to support its community as its community does to support it. Given George Eastman's contributions to this city, it's apparent he was proud of it, and I can only assume he had an interest in supporting it.

Grumbling About the Eastman House

As regular readers know, I am often compelled to rant vociferously on one inane topic or another — particularly if there are other, more productive ways to address my grievances. This time it's the Café at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) — and in two parts.

First, why the absence of regional treats? The inventory of the refrigerated case was recently changed to exclude Saranac or Stewart's soft drinks, end even the milk is inexplicably not from Byrne dairy, Pittsford Dairy, nor even Upstate Farms. Heck, The Little (240 East Ave.) offers treats from both Stever's Candies, Inc. (623 Park Ave.) and The Nut House (1520 Monroe Ave.) — a welcome respite from the chemical sludge inside colorful corporate wrappers. At least the gelato comes from The Royal Café (15 North Main St., Fairport) and the cookies are baked in-house (and, if I recall correctly, locally made as well).

Second, what's up with these Best of Rochester bars they sell? They are chocolate bars — and I am emphatically surrounding chocolate with sarcastic air-quotes … er, I guess then I mean they are "chocolate" bars whose label features a suitably bland image of the city skyline. It takes some audacity indeed to claim these as the best Rochester has to offer — I mean, what of Stever's Candies, Inc. (623 Park Ave.), Hedonist Artisan Chocolates (674 South Ave.), or even the sweet old Peter's Sweet Shop (880 S. Clinton Ave.); each of those are not only better, they offer some real excellence. Attempting to affect bizarre upstate city rivalry, I'll say it must be made by someone in Buffalo or Syracuse (where, perhaps, this might be considered "best"). More likely [and a more bizarre attempt to affect Monroe county township rivalry] is that they were made by some ignorant suburbanite who sees Rochester not as a vibrant, muti-cultured mini-metropolis, but the root of problems their leeching ways have caused.

They are sold by a company doing business as Made in Rochester in this area: a storefront for distributing locally sold products. Why the presumably identical candy bar (which is definitively not made in every city on their site, and "best" of none of them) is also sold is a mystery. Then again, I possess equal measures of congratulations and disgust: for this site caters to people with more money than, at best, desire to stay — five 6-packs of Zweigles hots sells for $65 for instance. There must be a word for the financial abuse of a population all too glad to pay: usury? good business? — it's hard to say anything but both.