The crazy face cookie that launched 1,000 howls

By Lincoln Anderson

Hoping to stave off further protests over the inflammatory “Drunken Negro Head” cookies he whipped up last month, the owner of Lafayette French Pastry last week posted an apology in his store’s window.

However, the mea culpa takes a swipe at the woman who first reported baker Ted Kefalinos to Arnold Diaz of “Shame on You” — calling her a “Helen of Troy” for setting things off.

“She took a punch at me, I punched back,” Kefalinos, who is of Greek descent — hence the “Iliad” allusion perhaps — said with a laugh. He accused the woman of putting words in his mouth.

However, in the “Shame on You” TV news segment, the unidentified customer said it was Kefalinos who started things when he asked her “Would you like some ‘Drunken Negro Heads’ to go with your coffee?’”

Kefalinos said neighboring merchants, concerned about the ongoing Saturday afternoon protests by the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense, had urged him to post an apology. He said he had already been leaning toward doing that anyway.

“I had it on my mind,” he said. “But it was just what they wanted me to do.”

Possibly affected by the sign, the New Black Panthers held a shorter, smaller and quieter demonstration last Saturday than their previous two, lasting only about one hour.

In addition, Tuesday morning, Kefalinos underwent a one-and-a-half-hour training by the State Division of Human Rights that he had been urged to take by State Senator Tom Duane and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Aides to Duane and Quinn attended the training, held at New York University.

Speaking later on Tuesday, Kefalinos said they had discussed the cookie and its name, and that an attorney from the Division of Human Rights had read him a list of groups that, under law, he cannot discriminate against, including the disabled, people with H.I.V./AIDS and seniors; as well as other characteristics that he can’t discriminate against, such as race, ethnicity, country of origin, sexual orientation or gender identity and expression or religion.

“These are things I pretty much already know,” Kefalinos said. “It was just getting down to detail. … That I should ‘look before I leap’ — think a bit when I produce my products.”

The baker was also given pamphlets to study on nondiscrimination.

Asked by The Villager if he felt the training would sink in, Kefalinos said, “I hope so. You do the best you can — but you never know whose toes you’re going to step on. I asked them, ‘What if I made Christmas cookies and the atheists decided to protest in front of the bakery?’ They said, ‘How many atheists do you know?’ I said not many. …”

“And, hopefully, that’s closure,” he said.

Three days earlier, on Valentine’s Day, shortly after the New Black Panthers had departed, Kefalinos and his 80-year-old mother were doing a brisk business.

“The crowd was a little more dispersed today,” he said of the protesters, adding, “I think they hurt their cause by coming on Valentine’s Day.”

Kefalinos also took flak four years ago when he posted a sign in his window after George W. Bush was re-elected to a second term:

“I put up a little sign with a picture of the president: ‘Hey New York, Who’s Your Daddy?’”

For the next six months, Villagers tried to get him to remove the sign. Eventually, he sold it to a man who offered $10 for it — but he just put up a new one afterward, and repeated the process a few more times.

 But Kefalinos said he never talks politics to P.S. 41 students who come into the store, only asking things like “How is school?” “Did you have a nice day?” or “Do you have a lot of homework?”

The incendiary cookies that the New Black Panthers likened to “Sambo” caricatures had been kept in an area where young children would not have been likely to see them anyway, Kefalinos noted. He showed where he said he had placed them, toward the rear of his pastry case so that they would have been mostly, if not entirely, hidden from view. Meanwhile, kids usually go for cookies — which are kept, not in the pastry case, but in the adjacent cookie case — and ice cream, he noted.  

Kefalinos believes either a P.S. 41 assistant principal or an agency official came into the store recently to give it a once over.

“She was looking in every little corner of my show cases to see what she could find,” he said. “I tried to talk to her. She didn’t respond.” He says he could tell she was a school administrator or official, because “I could read the body language.”

Although he made a number of Valentine’s-themed creations for last Saturday, they were all tame — and thankfully so, after the recent cookie controversy.

Kefalinos showed a customer some petit fours with red marzipan hearts on top.

“And, of course, we have the ‘Tunnel of Love’ — it’s kind of racy,” he said with a grin, gesturing toward a chocolate log in a display case.

Then the baker pulled out a tray, showing a chocolate ganache heart with white stripes and a red cherry on top. It basically had the same ingredients as last month’s offensive cookie, which Kefalinos had redubbed an “Obama cookie” on Inauguration Day.

“It could be a bit like it [the ‘Obama cookie’] — with the dark and the light,” Kefalinos said, grinning mischievously.

Oh no, here we go again… .

Although many have questioned his intelligence for creating the “Drunken” cookies, Kefalinos, who grew up in the Bronx, says he attended the elite Bronx High School of Science. He said he enjoyed playing on Bronx Science’s handball team. On holidays and at other times during the school year, he recalled, he would help his father run the pastry shop.

After last Saturday’s protest, Doris Haskins, aided by her cane, emerged from the pastry shop, where she had been sitting for a spell in her favorite chair. A former housekeeper, she’ll turn 90 in May. The Panthers had urged Haskins, who is African-American, not to go inside, but she told them she spends her money where she wants.

Asked her thoughts about the controversial cookie, she said, “Crazy… . He doesn’t understand a lot of stuff. I mean, he’s a nice enough person. He says things to make a joke and people take offense to it — that’s the thing.”

One of the individuals who participated in the training said Kefalinos “likes to skirt the line,” noting that the baker had made “Dead Geese Bread” after Flight 1549 went down in the Hudson.

Kefalinos said the harassing phone calls he was receiving have been tapering off, though he still gets a few.

“There’s one guy who calls himself Denzel Washington,” he said. “He wanted me to personally apologize for the cookie. I hung up on him. I can’t apologize to everyone. I made a general statement.”