Volume 78 - Number 37 / February 11 - 17, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Villager photos by Lincoln Anderson
Local residents Lynn Swan, left, and Jose Moreno-Lacalle debated the Lafayette French Pastry cookie controversy during Saturday’s protest.
The Secret Service grills baker; Cookie protest remains chippy, but he says he already apologized
By Lincoln Anderson
Take one kooky baker who made a racially offensive cookie, 20 indignant, yelling New Black Panthers, a horn-tooting “Bugle Lady,” leaven generously with local outrage, but also a dash of support, and what have you got? The second straight Saturday protest over the now-infamous “Drunken Negro Head” cookies at Lafayette French Pastry.
Unlike the previous Saturday, when the shop’s owner, Ted Kefalinos, chose not to open in the face of the protest, this time, he was open for business and working inside, along with his mother.
Added to the cookie mix, just days before, two Secret Service agents had paid Kefalinos a visit to determine if the baker’s comments about President Obama amounted to a credible threat.
Chanting “Ray-cist Lah-fay-ette!” the New Black Panthers were back in front of the 80-year-old bakery at 26 Greenwich Ave. They recently started a petition, demanding the shop be shut down, with the goal of collecting 10,000 signatures all around the city.
“We really want to shoot for a hate crime [designation], because that’s what this is,” said Shaka Shakur, their leader. “We want people to understand that when they spend a dollar in that store, they’re supporting racism.”
Shakur said they had already gotten 1,000 signatures, and expected 200 to 300 more from Saturday’s protest.
‘ONLY ATTRACTING BUSINESS’
Every 20 minutes or so, a customer would come into the store. It definitely seemed slow, but Kefalinos denied the protest was hurting business.
“It’s actually better today,” he claimed. “They’re only attracting business to us.”
A red, double-decker tourist bus came into view through the window, and Kefalinos said, as if to prove his point, “What do you see? A busload of people — attracting business.”
But the bus just motored on by. Apparently, Lafayette wasn’t a stop on its route.
Joining the Panthers’ picket line was Lynn Swan, an actress who lives on Bleecker St.
“I saw this on TV and I said, ‘This is so awful,’” she said. “We finally got someone in the White House that is black, and that is what [Kefalinos] is reacting to. We just want him to know we don’t want racism in our world.”
However, the main complaint of Jose Moreno-Lacalle, a substitute history teacher at LREI who lives across the street, was that the noisy protest was making it impossible for him to work in his apartment.
“I think he also has the right to make protected speech,” Moreno-Lacalle said. “I’m a member of the A.C.L.U.
“He’s a conspiracy theorist — and he’s kind of whacked out. I don’t think he had any idea what he was doing.
“I go to him every once in a while, because he’s the only source of elephant ears — pommeillers,” he said of Kefalinos.
Ted Kefalinos working in his pastry shop during last Saturday’s protest.
STANDS BY COOKIE NAME
Kefalinos defended the name of the controversial concoctions with grotesque features that he created on Martin Luther King Day: “Drunken Negro Face” cookies. He also had called them “Drunken Negro Head” cookies. The day of the Inauguration, he redubbed them “Obama cookies.”
“In New York, you have the United Negro College Fund,” he told The Villager, justifying his using the word “Negro.”
“And, again, I didn’t say ‘drunk,’ I said ‘drunken’ — and if you look that up in a thesaurus, there’s a lot of meanings,” he pointed out.
“‘Drunk,’” he explained, “it’s like a drunk on the street. But you can be in a drunken stupor. ... I’m an educated person.
“The educated people, I guess understood [the cookie],” he said. “The uneducated people didn’t get it, took it at face value.”
Shakur was unconvinced.
“You can play with the ‘drunken’ word as much as you want,” he said. “But ‘Negro’ is the issue.” “Negro” is too close to the “N” word, he said.
“It’s rampant in the African-American community,” he said of that racial slur.
Shakur is founder of a small African-centric school in Harlem, called Gyenyama University. He said they forbid their students to use the “N” word.
Responding to Kefalinos’s claim that educated people “got” the “Drunken Negro Head” cookies, Shakur said, “Everybody on that petition is not less educated. This guy is just fishing for excuses.’
WHAT PANTHERS WANT
Asked if the Panthers really are bent on shutting down Kefalinos’s store or might accept an apology, Shakur said, for right now, they are pushing for putting him out of business. But if Kefalinos makes some sort of acceptable offer, they might call off their protests, he said.
That offer could be “verbal” or “monetary,” as in funds donated to Gyenyama or a public school, for example, he said. The city’s African-American community and the Greenwich Village community would have to decide on what an appropriate apology and gesture would be, he said.
“Pay him off? You mean extortion?” Kefalinos said, looking shocked, when told of Shakur’s statement. “I already apologized. ... To get on my knees? I’ll never get on my knees.”
Kefalinos said he apologized on the Fox News follow-up segment two days after Arnold Diaz’s initial “Shame on You” report on the cookie. On that second segment, he had said: “Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, it was just an innocent design that I created, and it was nothing more than just, just…just a piece of art.”
Kefalinos added that his MySpace page for Lafayette French Pastry now says, “Best of luck to the president.”
But Shakur retorted, “It’s not up to him to say if he’s apologized enough.”
‘THE CAVALRY ARRIVES’
Suddenly, a trumpet sounded outside the shop.
“The cavalry’s here,” Kefalinos said with a broad smile. Hester Brown, the “Bugle Lady” of Bleecker St., a staunch supporter, had arrived.
Marching into the store, she wore a beret and a short military jacket festooned with all manner of pins and buttons. Hanging from her neck were dog tags and on the back of her belt was a small pouch containing a trumpet manual. She was toting her “Pedestrian” sign, which she got down at the World Trade Center after 9/11, and the latest issue of The Villager, containing a scathing letter she wrote defending Kefalinos.
Brown is leading her own petition effort, calling for the resignation of all 50 members of Community Board 2. After the “Shame on You” report, Brad Hoylman, the board’s chairperson, sent out an e-mail call for a community boycott of Lafayette French Pastry.
Subsequently, at the urging of State Senator Tom Duane and Council Speaker Chris Quinn, Kefalinos agreed to take a training course by the State Division of Human Rights. As a result, Hoylman last week said the full board likely now will not back a boycott.
Settling into her favorite chair, wedged into a corner by a refrigerated display case, Brown said of Kefalinos, “I’ve known him since he was a little boy. He baked two-dozen of those horrible things. They blew it all out of proportion.”
However, Shakur said he recently called Kefalinos and asked if he would mail order him some of the “Drunken Negro Face” cookies, and the baker said he would.
“He’s absolutely wrong,” Kefalinos stated. “Those are claims that are being put on the Internet.”
SAYS HE’S SORRY
As Kefalinos brushed strawberries with apricot glaze and then stuck them around the edges of a birthday cake, The Villager asked him if he was sorry for making the “Drunken Negro Face” cookie.
“I’m sorry that I offended whoever felt they were offended,” he said. “To me, I liked it. I thought it was cute. But you can’t say that — it winds it all up again.”
Asked who he thought was offended, he said, “I guess mostly African-Americans were offended by it.”
He admitted he didn’t vote for Obama, feeling someone with “more experience” was needed.
As for the visit by the Secret Service, Kefalinos said, “They asked me 10 questions. I had to sign a paper. They asked if I had ever been treated for any mental illness. The answer is no. They asked if I had been to Washington recently...am I a member of any groups.”
Asked what the other eight questions were, he said he would rather not answer.
Regular customers who stopped in for treats showed their support for Kefalinos.
“I know these guys, they’re good people,” said Anahi Angelone, who lives nearby and manages a bar Uptown. “Yes you made a stupid judgment — but it can happen to anybody.”
“I’m 57 years old, and I’ve been coming to Lafayette since I was 5,” said Emily Paine. After some discussion of the protesters, and whether or not they were “legitimate Black Panthers,” Paine asked Kefalinos, “When you said Obama was following in the footsteps of Lincoln — did you mean he was going to be assassinated?”
“I don’t think anybody should be shot,” Kefalinos answered. “And I expressed that to the Secret Service — that’s how bad it got.”
AN OFFER OF COOKIES
Brown had the idea of offering the protesters some black-and-white cookies, the symbolism obvious. Kefalinos didn’t have enough of those, but instead offered her a boxful of small, heart-shaped cookies that were dipped in chocolate on one half.
When Brown proffered the Panthers the cookies, though, they rebuffed her.
“I don’t eat ‘Drunken’ cookies,” one Panther scoffed.
“Clearly, a provocateur,” Khadjah Shakur, Shakur’s wife, said of Brown.
Brown kept saying how she had just wanted to give a little boy who was on the picket line a cookie.
“I didn’t go out there to aggravate them,” she said.
“We know that African-Americans have always suffered with self-image in this country,” said Khadjah Shakur. “We know that people get collagen injections to look like us — but those distorted lips,” she said of the cookie. “Images have power — that’s why we’re here.”
She added that it doesn’t matter whether Kefalinos isn’t the sharpest tiramisu in the case, as some of his customers and Villagers contend. Lots of “mentally challenged” people “strategically” and deliberately do things, she said — such as making a racist cookie, for example.
P.S. 41 E-MAIL FLURRY
Judith Newman, passing by with her son, Henry Snowdon, 7, a P.S. 41 student, said school parents have been burning up the Internet discussing the cookie controversy.
“There’s a huge e-mail thing going on about it at the school, saying we must boycott him,” Newman said. “People are upset. They’re quoting Malcolm X — the idea of engaging, not just boycotting, that we have to explain to him why this is wrong.”
However, she admitted Kefalinos “has the cupcake market cornered,” since he’s so close to the school.
The baker said he was hurt by a student’s statement in last week’s Villager that the store’s prices fluctuate.
“My mother forgets the price, but sometimes she doesn’t know,” he said of his 80-year-old mom. “So she has to look at the chart, but she can’t see that well.”
He didn’t want to give his mother’s name, saying he wants her left out of it. During the protest, his mother looked occasionally exasperated, smiling sometimes, once saying the demonstrators needed some cookies.
After more than four hours of picketing, the New Black Panthers left, planning to return next Saturday.
For the record, Shaka Shakur said he is not related to the late rapper Tupac Shakur. He also said Reverend Al Sharpton is not behind their protests, as one passerby the first Saturday accused.
“He’s tied up with fights on other fronts,” Shakur said of Sharpton. “We respect what he’s doing.”
As for the New Black Panthers’ relation to the original, 1960s Black Panthers, Shakur said, “We stand on their shoulders.” However, he said there are some “ideological differences,” the main one being that N.B.P. are “nationalists.” That means they want to strengthen their own culture through self-empowerment, and, if possible, obtain their own land somewhere where they can build their movement. He said they are not racist.
CIVIL LIBERTARIAN’S TAKE
In a telephone interview, attorney Norman Siegel, former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, summed up the situation as he saw it: “He has a right to make whatever cookie he wants. The New Black Panther Party has a right to protest him, call for an economic boycott.” Making the racially offensive cookie is “not a hate crime,” Siegel said. “It’s offensive. We don’t want to get to the point where offensive, repugnant expression becomes a hate crime.”
As Brown was playing “Taps” at the corner of W. 10th St. and Greenwich Ave. after the protest, Doris Haskins came slowly walking by. A 90-year-old, African-American woman, formerly a housekeeper, she lives next door to the bakery. Like Brown, she likes to sit inside by the refrigerated case.
Asked if she thought Kefalinos was racist, she said, “That cookie? I don’t even know. I knew his father. ... Him? No, I don’t think so.
“There’s a little chair in there and I go in there and sit,” she said. “And if someone’s sitting there, he’ll say, ‘There’s a senior citizen here.’ If I buy something, fine. If I don’t, fine. I stay as long as I want to.
“I don’t care what protest,” Haskins said. “If I want to go in and buy a cookie, I’ll buy it. It’s my money. The money that I have, worked for — nobody tells me where I can spend my money.”
With that, she went into the store, and took her seat.