Volume 79, Number 41 | March 17 - 23, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

A Kiehl’s announcement notes its espresso bar now features Mike & Cookies Bakery products.

Mud cookie crumbles at Kiehl’s; Mudtruck mystery in W. Village

By Mary Reinholz

With soul music sometimes blaring from a boom box, the tangerine-colored Mudtruck with its gourmet street coffee and assorted eats has become something of an East Village icon, a neighborhood rebuke to Big Java parked outside the Astor Place uptown No. 6 subway entrance.

But Mudtruck’s mobile unit in the West Village, within shouting distance of a Starbucks, vanished last fall, chased away from Sheridan Square, apparently by enforcement agents and other running dogs of the establishment that monitor traveling food vendors.

And in another bit of bad news for caffeine addicts in Downtown Manhattan, the mom-and-pop coffee company has also lost its longtime spot at Kiehl’s canine-friendly flagship pharmacy and spa on Third Ave. at E. 13th St. where Mud had been for six years.

The new kid at Kiehl’s espresso counter these days? An upscale 2-year-old Greenwich Village bakery, Milk & Cookies, which provides hair- and skin-care customers with varied special treats and beverages, and a doggie bone for their pampered pooches made out of “all natural” pumpkin and peanut butter. A new dog cookie may be in the works.

“We meet their clientele’s needs,” said Damien DePaolis, general manager of the bakery. “And they have a big clientele for dogs.” He noted that one of the “head people” at Kiehl’s Hudson St. corporate office approached the nearby Milk & Cookies to negotiate a deal several months ago.

“They said they liked Mud but that they do not bake their own product and they wanted something for customers that would go with their cup of coffee,” DePaolis said. “Eventually, they pulled Mud.”

He added that his Commerce St. bakery, owned by pastry chef Tina Casaceli, a Kiehl’s regular, is now in the process of “creating a special cookie just for Kiehl’s.”

Rob Imig, Kiehl’s vice president of public relations, claimed the parting was mutual. 

“We have no ill will against Mud,” he said. “Customers loved their coffee, but we wanted a snack and something more upscale to fit our mold as a company. We had a great relationship with Mud, but this is...about our customers and what they demand from Kiehl’s, and we listen to our customers.”

Once a family-owned company, the 159-year-old Kiehl’s was purchased in 2000 by L’Oréal, the French cosmetics giant.

Rachael Kelley, another Kiehl’s spokesperson, worked to put together the partnership with Milk & Cookies. She would not discuss any financial arrangement with either Mud or the bakery.

Mud co-owners Nina Berott, a German advertising pro, and Greg Northrop, her rock musician husband, are currently in Berlin for an extended stay, staffers said, and they did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment by press time. The couple introduced the first Mudtruck in March 2001, quickly garnering kudos from media foodies in mainstream publications like Time Out New York, an interview on “Oprah” and plugs from the politically correct Reverend Billy, the pompadoured anti-consumerist prankster.

“I’m not in Sheridan Square every day and I heard through the grapevine that they had pulled [the Mudtruck] out of there, but I never knew the story,” mused Reverend Billy, real name Bill Talen, who lives in Brooklyn and said he is close to Mud owners Berott and Northrop. “I know them well and trust them a lot,” he said. 

Several Mud employees at the popular brick-walled Mudspot coffee shop with a garden on E. Ninth St. near Second Ave., which opened in 2003, were tight-lipped when asked about the business. A woman in the nearby Mud office said curtly, “We cannot answer questions.”

And a bandana-wearing Mudtruck barista serving orange cups of steaming Joe to customers passing by on Astor Place claimed he didn’t know what happened to the second converted Con Ed Mud van that had been parked until last fall on W. Fourth St., between Seventh Ave. South and Grove St. 

“Maybe it’s in the garage for repairs,” he said.

As it turns out, the case of the disappeared Mudtruck is not especially mysterious. 

“It was parked illegally near an I.R.T. train in a no-stopping zone,” said Bob Gormley, district manager for Community Board 2, which covers the West Village. He said he received a complaint about the Mudtruck in Sheridan Square and forwarded it to the office of the Manhattan borough president, which was collecting complaints from community boards about the locations of mobile food vendors and passing them on to enforcement agencies and inspectors. 

Gormley said he didn’t know if the Police Department prompted Mud to move, but said he got a call from one of the owners, claiming Mudtruck had a permit from the city’s Parks Department. 

“But the Parks Department has no jurisdiction for complaints about mobile food trucks,” he said. “A Parks permit can’t be used to park illegally, and maybe the Mudtruck misunderstood and was using it in a way they weren’t supposed to.”

But despite various cookies crumbling for Mud, the company seems poised to keep on trucking. Two of its brands are on sale near Sheridan Square at the Gourmet Garage on Seventh Ave. South, said Rob Prusak, the store’s director of purchasing. 


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