Save for Dominique Ansel, Allison and Matt Robicelli are arguably NYC’s most infamous bakers—consistently catapulted into public consciousness for their headline-baiting creations (i.e, Nutellasagna), Allison’s enormously entertaining online tirades, and the pair’s tendency to regularly divulge far more than is strictly necessary about themselves, such as Matt’s particular penchant for eating tacos on the toilet (if that charming mental image wasn’t already burned into your brain, you’re welcome).
They’ve also habitually positioned themselves as Brooklyn’s biggest boosters, opening not one, but two separate shops in their home base of Bay Ridge, fashioning their cookbook as an extended love letter to the borough, and plumbing Kings County’s history for inspiration for cupcakes like the Egg Cream (frosted with Fox’s U-Bet syrup), and yes, the Breukelen, an apple cake speared with stroopwaffle pieces. And yet, after 30-some odd years of living and loving in Brooklyn, the Robicelli’s have finally taken a cue from the mass exodus of city-weary chefs around them and are electing to close up their shop right after Christmas Eve, and hightail it to the kinder climes of Baltimore.
The following is an unedited transcript of our conversation (since there’s little point in extracting one or two quotes when it comes to Allison), in which she outlines plans for Robicelli’s wholesale business, explains why she and Matt really really hate their jobs, and expresses her desire to live in a neighborhood that smells entirely of incense.
“We’re leaving the wholesale department, so no worries. We picked up a huge distributor this past year, so we’ve been sending stuff as far as Montauk and Philly. But we can’t live here anymore. The costs of everything just got to a point where we had to ask ourselves ‘Is this really worth it? Is this what we want from our lives?’
“We hate our jobs. HATE them. And we didn’t used to. So we’re closing the shop on Christmas Eve, going back to wholesale only in NYC, which allows us to work more closely with our clients and better suit their needs. I’ve had awesome client meetings almost every day these past two weeks.
“We’ve been working with brands on developing recipes, working with another company across the country on a new product line. I’m starting to write again. I’m teaching organic chemistry through cooking at John Jay, and taking more units next semester. People like me who have ADHD don’t do well in a box.
“As for Baltimore—nothing is signed yet, but it’s in progress. We have a developer and a partner. But we are 99 percent certain that we will be moving out of NYC within the next year. I can’t keep telling my kids they can be whatever they want when they grow up, then have them look at their parents working 60-70 hours a week to pay their bills. To have them know they’ll have to work on Wall Street to have a good life, or else work two or three jobs.
“The city we grew up in is gone. And if it’s coming back, it won’t be in time for them. Meanwhile, when I went to Baltimore, I found countless art spaces, independent booksellers, record stores, comic book shops, music venues… there is a whole fucking neighborhood that smells like incense! It’s exactly like the Village was in the 90s.
“Even when we were in the dicey areas, the people were nice! Some homeless guys helped stopped traffic so my kids could safely cross the street. It’s just full of imagination and possibility. I miss that feeling. I felt it dying in me a little more every single year. But we’ll still be coming up once a week to take care of the wholesale business, so no one will even have a chance to miss us. In fact, you may actually get a chance to see us now! I miss having friends!
“We’re starting distribution to Philadelphia next week. We’ve been seeing a huge increase in wedding catering since we do dessert buffets and that’s getting trendy. We’re working on a pilot cafe with a major hotel. There’s just a ton of stuff that we like more than having a store, and we want to get back to that. We both kinda felt pressured into opening a shop, because ‘that’s what you’re supposed to do.’ And it was fun for a bit, but it’s not for us. We’re B2B [business-to-business] people. And I need time to get back to my writing and working on all my other ridiculous ideas.
“We are very, very happy people today. And Matt is excited that we might actually be able to get a dog. Currently we only have an imaginary dog.”