Blessed are the Yogurt Makers


New York’s governor has been on quite a roll lately. Andrew Cuomo, son of three-term Mario, recently rewrote the state’s byzantine tax code and jammed it through the state legislature in an unprecedented three days.

He followed this impressive feat by doling out nearly $800 million in economic development grants to the winners of a statewide contest for shovel-ready projects. The largesse was spread around numerous regions of the Empire State, winning cheers from the denizens of Long Island to the recluses holed up in the snow-capped peaks of the Adirondacks.

So what did New York’s swashbuckling chief executive do for an encore? He made sure his refrigerator is stocked with his daughters’ favorite yogurt for years to come.

According to a report in Saturday’s New York Times, Andrew was sitting in his easy chair watching TV the other night when he saw a news report about an intercity dispute in the capital region over a sewer line near a new Wal-Mart. The kerfuffle was threatening to sink the $120-million expansion of a Greek-style yogurt plant.

Fage (pronounced Fa-yeh) has been producing yogurt in Greece since 1928. In 2008, the company opened its only U.S. plant in Johnstown, NY, 40 miles northwest of Albany. Greek yogurt was such a big hit in the Mohawk Valley that in recent months Fage announced plans to double its current annually capacity of 85,000 tons in Johnstown.

Not so fast, said neighboring Gloversville, NY. The city fathers there raised a red flag when they discovered Fage also was seeking permission to build a whey pretreatment facility on a parcel of land jointly owned by Johnstown and Gloversville. The parcel is adjacent to a wastewater treatment plant both communities share.

The sticking point emerged when, in return for its approval of the whey processing facility, Gloversville asked Johnstown to change the rules for the jointly run sewer system so that future commercial development just outside their city (near where the Wal-Mart is being built) could tap into the system.

Now it was Johnstown’s turn to object. The impasse froze action on the big yogurt expansion.

Gov. Cuomo sprang into action. Well, he didn’t exactly spring — according to the Times’ report, he resolved the matter without even getting out of his easy chair.

Andrew picked up the phone and reached out to the mayors of Gloversville and Johnstown. When he had difficulty reaching these officials after hours (a task reportedly complicated by the untimely death of one mayor’s cellphone), the governor was undaunted: he called the cops and told them to find the mayors and bring them to the phone, pronto. Yes, governors can do that.

After a brief lecture from New York’s chief executive, during which he no doubt reminded his listeners the unemployment rate in Fulton County still hovers at an ungainly 9 percent, the chastised mayors capitulated and agreed to green-light the yogurt plant expansion.

Reached by the Times for comment, Andrew categorized this triumph as the latest example of his campaign to rebrand New York as a business-friendly state.

“The whole year, I’ve said we’re trying to change the perception of the State of New York from an anti-business state to a state that’s open for business,” Gov. Cuomo declared. “The last thing we should be doing is frustrating businesses.”

And so yogurt lovers throughout the Empire State breathed a sigh of relief, especially in the Cuomo household, where Mariah, Cara and Michaela are said to consume mass quantities of the thick, milky, slightly sour yet undoubtedly healthy concoction. Mariah Carey, another famous New Yorker, could not be reached for comment. We don’t know if she likes yogurt or is aware the governor apparently is a big fan of her recordings.

Nothing to nitpick here, right? A feel-good story that’s also nutritionally good for you, with a happy ending only a grinch could grumble about. What’s not to like?

Which brings us to the subject of bialys.

A few weeks ago, Andrew’s favorite newspaper brought us a shocking and utterly depressing report from Coney Island. After thriving for nearly a century, the little bakery that brought bialys to New York from their point of origin — Bialystock, Poland (also the origin of Max Bialystock of The Producers, but we digress) — is going out of business. Apparently, the rapidly changing demographics of Coney Island have rendered it unprofitable for the aptly named Bialystock bakery to produce bialys on New York City’s most famous beachfront.

What, you don’t know what a bialy is?

Bialys are thinner, toasted cousins of bagels. Instead of a hole in the middle, the center of a bialy is filled with onions. The onions always have a reddish tinge. We don’t know how they get the onions to turn red and we don’t know if eating bialys are healthy. But we do know that if bliss is healthy, bialys are the greatest health food ever invented, because once you eat one you can’t stop.

And we also know this — bialys ARE New York. These crusty little delights are as indigenous to New York City as chocolate eggcreams, nasty cab drivers and the Empire State Building.

We’re not going to pull any punches here:

Sorry, Andrew, but we’re not buying your version of the great yogurt victory. We think it had less to do with economic development and pro-business policies and a lot more to do with scoring some points with your health-conscious daughters.

When was the last time you actually touched a container of yogurt, Andrew? Do you think it’s appropriate for the governor to be picking winners and losers in the dietary wars?

Have you even considered the consequences of turning your back on the indigenous people of New York City and depriving them of one of the few authentic delicacies that shaped their lives? Don’t you remember eating bialys as a boy growing up in Queens?

What’s next, a ban on tubesteaks in Midtown? No seltzer for eggcreams? FROZEN knishes?

Huddled masses yearning to breath onions are crying out for action! It’s time to get out of your easy chair, Andrew. Authentic, indigenous New Yorkers demand authentic bialys!

Even the ones who live in New Jersey.