Let’s Dish: Berger’s run low, Lexington Market gets hot and readers have ideas

Published 8/19/2022 6:00 a.m. EDT

DeBaufre Bakeries Inc. Berger's cookie of Baltimore, MD.

Welcome to Let’s Dish from The Baltimore Banner, a regular column where we’ll fill you in on what’s happening at your favorite local restaurants and give you the scoop on what’s coming soon. We’ll check in with Maryland farmers, chefs and grocery store owners. I’ll throw in some dining recommendations (and eagerly accept yours).

The pandemic has changed the narrative when it comes to food, bringing takeout pivots and a surge in online ordering as well as shortages and supply chain disruptions that have affected just about everything we eat.

This week, the supply chain issues got personal.

Baltimore faces shortage of Berger’s cookies

Berger’s cookies, those fudge and shortbread confections as beloved in this city as snowballs and Natty Boh, have been running low on the shelves at area grocery stores and specialty shops as the South Baltimore manufacturer temporarily halted production.

A website for Berger’s cookies notifies customers that they’re experiencing equipment issues and can’t make cookies. The message referred to the situation as temporary, adding that they hoped to return to production soon.

But as of Thursday morning, an employee for the company said they were still waiting for a replacement part needed to resume cookie making. The company’s owner, Charles DeBaufre Jr., did not respond to an email and phone call from The Baltimore Banner.

The situation has left fans of the decadent desserts scrambling.

Sharon Johnson, owner of Cheese Galore and More in Federal Hill, which sells the products retail, realized there was an issue two weeks ago when she tried to place a large order for an area bride-to-be who wanted to serve them at her wedding. An employee for the manufacturer responded that they wouldn’t be able to fulfill the order.

The bride, D.C. resident Libby Solomon, said she and her husband ended up driving around Giant grocery stores in Maryland and in Northern Virginia in search of Berger’s cookies. “We put some family on the case, too,” Solomon said. After hitting multiple stores, they finally had enough for their wedding: 240 cookies in about 30 boxes.

But the Berger’s supply was dwindling around the region this week — the shelves at Eddie’s of Mt. Vernon were empty of Berger’s cookies Wednesday afternoon, while Cheese Galore and More had just one box left.

The company’s history dates back to the 1800s, when its founder Henry Berger arrived in the United States from his native Germany, according to the company website. His East Baltimore bakery was acquired by DeBaufre Bakeries in 1969. Today, the snacks are sold primarily within the city, but are shipped to customers nationwide.

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Ross Nochumowitz says the cookies are an “integral” part of his business, Baltimore in a Box, which sells Charm City-themed gift packages as well as ice cream made with Berger’s.

The cookies are “by far the most-selected item” on the company’s website, which also offers local products like Old Bay seasoning and Zeke’s Coffee. Baltimore in a Box can sell more than 1,000 packs of two per month, and even more during the holidays.

“Without Berger cookies, I feel like we don’t have a business anymore,” said Nochumowitz.

It’s not the first time Nochumowitz has run into hiccups when ordering the cookies wholesale. But in those past instances, he’s been able to source them from local retailers such as Royal Farms or Giant Food. This time, “You can’t even find them on the shelves right now.” His Hampden-based company has enough cookies to make it through the next few days, but “in another week or week and a half we’ll probably be out.”

Lexington Market heats up

The new, $45 million Lexington Market is set to open this fall. Meanwhile, vendors at the old market, considered one of the first public markets in the U.S., were facing the heat this week as air conditioning in the aging facility was out for multiple days.

With highs in the 80s this week, Arra Cho, co-owner of Krause’s Lite Fare and Cho’s Sea Garden, said employees were getting sick and refrigeration equipment was malfunctioning as it struggled to stay cool in rising temperatures.

Cho, whose stalls are two of more than 30 businesses set to launch in the new Lexington Market, was visibly frustrated by the situation, saying, “They’re making it very hard for us to want to keep open [and] to want to move to the new place.”

Paul Ruppert, President and CEO at Baltimore Public Markets Corp., the quasi-governmental nonprofit that manages the markets on behalf of the city, said that workers had restored the air conditioning system by Wednesday evening. The current HVAC system, he said, “is from 1952, so we’ve been nursing it along over these past few years.”

What do you recommend?

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Christina Tkacik, The Baltimore Banner’s new food reporter. When I started this week, I asked people what kinds of stories they wanted to read — and what kinds of stories would make them subscribe.

Some themes came up in people’s responses:

  • You’re hungry — and don’t want to spend a ton of money. Many readers commented that they want recommendations for cheap eats around Baltimore, with a focus on small, independently-owned restaurants. You’re also interested in meeting more local cooks and hearing stories from Baltimore’s kitchens.
  • We may be more than two years into this pandemic, but COVID-19 is still top of mind for many restaurant-goers. A few people said they want to know about places where you can eat outside and rest assured that staff and servers are still taking extra precautions.
  • You want to better understand how Baltimore’s long-standing inequities are manifested in food, including issues such as food deserts, as well as initiatives to address them.
  • You celebrate the delicious traditions that make Charm City rich. You want to reminisce about pickled onions and pit beef. At the same time, you know that variety is the spice of life: you want to learn new recipes and ingredients to enliven your palate.

What do you want to read about? What would make you a Banner subscriber, if you aren’t one already? Email me at christina.tkacik@thebaltimorebanner.com. I’ll do my best to respond.

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