Stepping into The City Bakery on 3 W 18th Street at 9:00 AM is a cozy respite from the unrelentingly frigid winds of New York City. The enticing aroma of hot chocolate and various pastries, combined with a spacious layout and bustling crowd, provides a warm and homey atmosphere. After ordering from the counter in the middle, people can sit down on the first or second floor to enjoy their freshly baked sweets, perhaps along with a mug of hot chocolate made with real chocolate and a massive homemade marshmallow.
Maury Rubin, founder and CEO of The City Bakery, has baked the delicious pastries people have come to love every day for the past 23 years. Formerly a TV sports director at ABC Sports, Rubin’s passion for baking began with a pastry class in Paris while on vacation. “I loved it. I became a little obsessed with it,” said Rubin. He became so engrossed in the art of baking that he decided to stay in France as an apprentice in various pastry shops for a year.
“When I got back to New York, I discovered that bakeries here were terrible,” Rubin said. “You went in to buy a fruit tart at any one of those bakeries, the fruit came out of a can, there was just no way that the fruit wasn’t processed food. But then I was like, ‘wait a second. I can do this better.’ So I started working on the bakery. I spent a lot of time in the 53rd Street New York Public Library just researching basics about how to write a business plan.”
After filing for the name in New York in 1990, Rubin began building The City Bakery. He describes getting started in the food business to be “brutal to do in the right way”. For the first seven years, Rubin toiled in the kitchen for eighteen hours every day. Despite the exhausting work, he found himself constantly immersed in new bakery ideas.
Rubin attributes much of City Bakery’s success with his initial decision to find a source of fresh produce in order to ensure the quality of his products. “When I was in France, I went to farmer’s markets all the time, so when I got back here I sort of connected and fell in love with Green Market,” Rubin recalled. He decided to set up his bakery on 17th Street where he could buy fresh ingredients for his pastries from the local farmer’s market. Although this made finding supplies inconsistent and difficult, City Bakery’s use of raw materials has become a standard in the baking industry today. Twenty three years later, Rubin still goes to the farmer’s market to buy from the same family farms. “The only difference is I’m buying from their children,” he said.
Today, City Bakery has locations in Japan and New York. The bakery has developed a distinctive reputation through its seasonal menus, completely organic ingredients, and French-inspired pastries. Rubin, always a baker at heart, still gets up at 5 every morning to bake his favorite pastries in the kitchen, but admits that he is exhausted. Running the business side of City Bakery has taken its toll on the fifty-seven year old baker as he struggles to decide what’s next. “The trick is to figure out how I make a transition where if I don’t want to run the bakery anymore. That question is like a knife in my gut. It’s super hard to think about.” Rubin said.
Despite his doubts about his future as owner of City Bakery, Rubin rejoices knowing the City Bakery has become special. “The greatest thing that I can say about the bakery is that the bakery belongs to New York City. It became an institution, something that people from all around the world come to. It has become part of the city in the most legitimate way; it belongs to the city.”