Volume 78 - Number 36 / February 4 - 10 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Villager photos by Lincoln Anderson

New Black Panther Party for Self Defense members demonstrated outside Lafayette French Pastry bakery on Saturday.

Panthers vow to shut down ‘Negro Head’ cookie baker

By Lincoln Anderson

Could the cookie be crumbling for Lafayette French Pastry bakery owner Ted Kefalnios?

After concocting a bizarre batch of “Drunken Negro Face” cookies allegedly “in honor” of President Barack Obama, Kefalnios has been receiving death threats, and now a group of militant black activists is vowing to “shut him down” for good.

Last Saturday afternoon, about 20 members of the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense rallied long and loud in the freezing cold outside the 80-year-old Greenwich Ave. pastry shop, which was closed for the day.

“Ray-cist Lah-fay-ette!” they chanted as they circled round and round inside a protest pen police had set up.

“Brick by brick, wall by wall — we’ll stay out here and make you fall!” they cried.

“You’re a coward and a racist, that’s why you closed the bakery today,” a female Panther bellowed at the store’s shuttered gate. “We’re going to shut you down Ted Kefalnios! You think your gates are closed now — we’re gonna keep you closed!”

Shaka Shakur, their leader, vowed they will be back every Saturday until they “get results.” They’ll be checking the store “to see if the cookie is there,” another Panther added.

“We want to get this pushed all the way to being a hate crime,” Shakur told The Villager. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s the same as a lynching. Kefalnios said, ‘Obama is going down the same path as Lincoln and he’ll get his’ — that’s a threat.

“Would I be allowed to operate a bakery if I made a swastika cookie, if I made any kind of anti-anything cookie?” Shakur asked. “This is our president, so this is a double attack. This was a deliberate act. Kefalnios knew what he was doing.”

At one point, an Asian sushi chef wearing a white cap and apron poked his head out of the door at Funayama restaurant next door to watch the protest.

“He made a cookie about me — he’ll make one about you,” Shakur warned him. “You gotta shut him down.

“We’re asking the good people of Greenwich Village to shut this place down,” Shakur urged passersby. “Either you’re with us or against us.”

Some of the Panthers then fanned out into the area to hand out fliers and try to enlist support for a boycott of Lafayette bakery.

A small detail of about 10 police was on hand to keep an eye on the demonstration. An article in the Amsterdam News had noted the protest was planned, and police said they had also seen mention of it on the Internet.

Meanwhile, Kefalnios, 45, in a telephone interview on Friday, had informed The Villager of the upcoming protest and said he planned not to be there that day.

“I’m concerned that they’re trying to do something,” he said of the demonstration. “I’m going shopping with my mother.”

On Sunday, a sign made with a circular white piece of cardboard — as might be used under a cake or pie — was taped up on the store’s front door, stating: “Sorry, closed today due to Asian Lunar New Year celebrations. Peace to All.”

“When did he become Asian?” a passing woman blurted out.

Kefalnios — whose family is from the Greek island of Zakynthos — said he was still sore that a female customer had contacted TV news reporter Arnold Diaz about what the baker variously dubbed his “Negro Head” and “Negro Face” cookies. That woman and another woman patron told Diaz in the now-infamous “Shame on You” segment that Kefalnios had told them that Obama, like Abraham Lincoln, “will get his.”

“That was just something I heard on the radio and I was being repetitive,” Kefalnios said. “I explained that to Diaz. … These women thought I was going to take out the president. That’s so ridiculous.”

Kefalnios said he was considering suing the first woman for “slander,” but that family members are advising him against it.

The baker said he’s been deluged with phone calls — in one case, more than 50 in one day — from as far away as California and Florida.

“I get both sides,” he said. “I get people who praise me and call me genius. I even got one guy who wanted to send 100 drunk Negroes to beat me into submission — and he was going to video it.”

Asked what he told that caller, Kefalnios said, “I’m not going to provoke the guy. He needs to sit down, have a drink, a smoke, whatever he needs to do.”

Kefalnios said someone sent him a book from Amazon.com, but that he will only open it in the presence of police.

Jimmy Alberici, Sixth Police Precinct community affairs officer, said the threatening calls to Kefalnios are under investigation.

“It’s a crime, it’s aggravated harassment,” Alberici said. “One of the detectives was assigned the case.”

Asked if he didn’t realize beforehand that making this sort of cookie in Greenwich Village would cause an uproar, Kefalnios said, “Obviously, it’s a more liberal area, I gotta take my lumps. … It was a happy cookie for a happy day,” he maintained, also calling it “art.”

Kefalnios even went as far as to say that the cookies — with their distorted features and blotchy, cherry-red eyes — were inspired by the African masks at the neighboring Bengally African-crafts store.

Yet, Kefalnios said when the crafts store’s owner, in one of the Fox TV news segments, “was put on the spot he said the word ‘racist.’ I think that was a bit premature,” Kefalnios said.

The day after Diaz’s “Shame on You” report aired, Community Board 2 Chairperson Brad Hoylman sent out an e-mail calling for a boycott of the store.

(The full board of C.B. 2 had met that Thursday night at its monthly meeting, at which point the cookie story was just breaking, so the board didn’t have a chance to consider a resolution on the issue.)

Last Thursday, the chief of staffs of State Senator Tom Duane and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn phoned Kefalnios in a conference call to tell him that the two local politicians were urging him and his employees to undergo “a training” by the New York State Division of Human Rights.

“I agreed to do it, because I felt maybe it was the right thing to do,” Kefalnios said. “Maybe they’re right, I do need a little bit of sensitivity.” But he said he’s so busy — working 15 hours a day, seven days a week — he might have to do the training online.

This Monday, Hoylman said C.B. 2, unlike the Panthers, isn’t looking to drive Kefalnios out of business.

“I think it’s great that the owner has agreed to take the training course,” he said. “I don’t think C.B. 2 will be calling for a continued boycott since the owner has agreed to New York State Human Rights Law training, publicly apologized and stopped selling the offensive products.”

Normally cheerful on the phone, Kefalnios noticeably sounded a bit sad last week when asked how his business has been doing since the cookie outrage exploded. As local parents are telling their schoolchildren not to go to the store, it’s taking a bite out of his business, he acknowledged.

“I should have never gone this far, that’s all,” he said fatalistically. “And I hope my business doesn’t get hurt as a result. I’ve been here so many years. I’ve never had a problem of this nature.”

A number of Villagers who were strolling by the store, at 26 Greenwich Ave. between Charles and W. 10th Sts., last Sunday said Kefalnios, as the saying goes, is his own worst enemy.

Friends Juliette Imhof, 22, and Julie Znoy, 24, said when they went into the store about a month ago, Kefalnios struck them as “inappropriate.”

“I’m definitely never going to give him my money again,” said Imhof, a New York University graduate. “He was kind of kooky when we walked in there. He’d make inappropriate comments.”

“Like he had no filter,” added Znoy.

“I’d rather go to Patisserie Claude, which is just around the corner,” Imhof said, though admitting that Claude, that pastry shop’s former owner, was “a bit intense.”

Mimi Miller, who said she had been a customer at Lafayette French Pastry “since the ’50s, when his father owned it,” recalled that a couple of years ago Kefalnios had laid into her unexpectedly.

“A woman had yelled at him about not having a handicapped ramp, and he told me, ‘And it’s your neighbor!’

“He doesn’t deserve to have the business,” Miller said. “It’s hard to have that kind of karma on the block.”

Liz, who came to the protest with her daughter, Simone, 9, a P.S. 41 student, said, “He once had this whole tirade about unions with me a few years ago.”

Though she won’t patronize the store anymore, Simone said she never had any run-ins with the owner.

“He was never weird to me — I mean, he changed the price” of the ice cream, she said.

“It would go up or down depending on whether he or his mother was selling it,” Liz explained.


Shirley Budhos, a retired teacher who is familiar with Kefalnios, said, “He’s not very smart. He’s stupid. He’s closed. I was a teacher, so I know the range among humans. … This man is really stupid.”

One neighborhood resident who declined to give his name said, “He’s not very smart. He thinks he’s funny. He’ll make a green St. Patrick’s Day cookie and say, ‘Have a cookie with your beer!’ But you can’t joke with everyone.

“I know he’s not prejudiced,” the man continued. “He’s like a failed comedian. … He’s dumb. He’s dumb, that’s all.”

But Shakur wasn’t having any of it.

“You’re smart enough to have a business,” he said. “You can’t run a business that long and be that famous without having some kind of intelligence. … What’s done is done. It’s these kind of acts that lead to violent acts.”

After two hours of protesting, with a final shout of “Black Power!” the Panthers collected their protest placards and trudged off in the cold. They’ll be back, they said.

Kefalnios was back open for business Monday.

“They want to close me down for a cookie?” he asked. “That’s really quite unfair.”

Told that the Black Panthers said his cookies could incite violence, he said, “How does a cookie cause violent acts? Cookies are meant to make people happy. … It’s just a lot of media hype.”


My Fox NY interview of Ted Kefalinos.

 

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