$4 Toast and Specialty Coffee Shops

$4 Toast and Specialty Coffee Shops


There is a new food fad that has already taken one major U.S. city by storm and is now starting to show up elsewhere in the country, and you might be surprised to learn that it’s toast. Then again, considering the nature of fads, you might not be surprised at all. But you will be surprised at is that this is $4 toast.

There haven’t been this many skinny men with splotchy beards lined up to eat bread since the Great Depression.

Yes, grilled cheese, chocolate covered bacon, and cupcakes are on the way out and artisanal toast is really starting to heat up. We can trace this fad’s origins to San Francisco (indeed, we can trace it  back to the woman who, quite possibly, might have started it all), but sightings of toast with $4 price tags have been reported in New York City and even Londoners are preparing for the wave of posh artisanal toast to hit their shores.

And, with a fake Twitter account in place, you know this fad is legit.

While bloggers and newspaper columnists rush to criticize the gussying-up of the most basic of foodstuffs or assign blame to tech industry employees or determine “what buying $4 toast says about you,” I want to shift my focus on who is actually selling $4 toast – because that’s what I find most surprising about this story.

While the likes of Google and Twitter make the tech industry San Francisco’s most profitable profession by a long shot, the city and its residents seem to be most proud of its artisans – its bakers, restaurateurs, and especially its coffee shop owners and baristas; artisanal bakers, however, aren’t the ones reaping the profits from the $4 toast obssession – specialty coffee shops are.

The Mill (a joint venture between Josey Baker Bread and Four Barrel Coffee) might be the most recognizable business to popularize artisanal toast (they’ve certainly garnered the most attention for doing so) (and even Josey is surprised at the popularity of his toast, stating, “On a busy Saturday or Sunday we’ll make 350 to 400 pieces of toast. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”), other high-quality shops such as Acre Coffee and Red Door are trying to take advantage of a food fad on its upswing too. Even the person credited for inventing $4 toast isn’t an artisanal baker – she’s a coffee shop owner (Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club).

Now, I’m all for any food fad that will bolster locally-owned small businesses – especially specialty coffee businesses – no matter how ridiculous the fad is. But I do wonder what effect the perceptions of the $4 toast fad will be on the businesses most associated with it. I wonder even more at why the specialty coffee industry is so prone to set itself up for mockery and public scorn? Reading through all of the articles I linked to above, none of the writers are praising the quality of the coffee being served in these shops – they’re ridiculing the cost of the toast!

I have to say, though, toast isn’t the one getting burned by the ridicule – these shops are. Nobody’s reading these articles and mocking the bakers for expensive bread; they’re mocking The Mill, Acre Coffee, Red Door, and Trouble Coffee. Despite the fact that $4 toast is what’s in the crosshairs, these shops (and, possibly, the industry at large) are receiving the brute of the collateral damage.

If the industry doesn’t want to be regarded in this manner anymore and would prefer being regarded in this manner, then perhaps it’s time for it to stop associating itself with silly food fads like bacon and fondue, Cronuts, cupcakes, and, yes, $4 toast.

Though, I will say, it is nice to finally read an article criticizing the cost of toast in a coffee shop rather than the price of coffee.

  • jamesmacleod

    I live in Melbourne and yesterday I saw a Coffee shop in an outer suburb selling “Thick Toast” for $7.99 ($5.60 USD). Nothing fancy, just thick bread – toasted! I thought you’d maybe get a coffee with it… Nope, just some Jam or Vegemite. Quite glad to report they were empty!