FLASH CHAT: Chatting with Igor Tolkunov of Taffet’s (Gluten-Free!) Artisan Bakery & Store
Welcome to the second installment of FLASH CHAT, a segment in which I converse with workers in the Italian Market and get to know about their business and what it stands for, and how it fits into the melting pot of 9th Street.
This FLASH CHAT is with Igor Tolkunov of Taffet’s Artisan Bakery and Store, a 100% gluten-free shop that bakes all of their products daily on the premises. Taffet’s carries gluten-free bread, bagels, pasta, and even cupcakes!
Tolkunov’s passion for the products and his job was evident from his vast knowledge on all of the baked goods to the smile on his face when discussing a certain delectable gluten-free cookie!
FLASH CHAT is not quite and interview and not quite a Q & A. It is intended as an informative conversation in which I get to the heart of the businesses on 9th Street and discover what keeps customers coming back.
Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the name of your business?
Tote Better Foods, LLC, but we are known as Taffet’s Bakery.
Do you have any other locations?
Most of the income is wholesale, so a lot of locations, including New York, for example, carry our brand, but we don’t have any other locations for now. We’re working on expanding this location. We just expanded the kitchen and made it twice the size, and we’re going to increase the assortment of goods. Then we will think about opening other locations.
How long have you worked here for?
About one year. I’ve held my position here running the retail business from the beginning while the owners are running the wholesale business and expanding.
Tell me about Taffet’s – the everyday business and its appeal.
We are the only place which makes gluten-free bread. There are a lot of pastry shops, but we are the only place that makes gluten-free bread in the city of Philadelphia. We are very proud of that. We’re always working on our recipes and making sure that everything freezes perfectly, making sure everybody is satisfied. We review all of the feedback that we get.
Describe the products you carry in your store, including the fresh products as well as the packaged goods.
The fresh products are what we are most proud of. We have our gluten-free loaves of teff and quinoa bread. Everything is made fresh daily, you can buy our fresh bread every day. With the packaged goods, we focus on pasta a lot because we are in the Italian Market and everyone is looking for pasta. I don’t want to get into stereotypes, but that is true. We do get our pasta from Italy, actually, and it’s absolutely gluten-free. There is no risk of cross-contamination, so even if someone has a tough case of celiac disease, everything here can be bought with no risk at all.
What is the most popular item sold here?
The breads are probably the most popular. The teff loaves and quinoa loaves are two of our most popular sandwich loaves in the retail store. We also wholesale them to a lot of locations. We’re also making some of the sweet stuff. Our cookies are very popular with people who are gluten-free and who are not gluten-free as well. That’s probably the product that the non-gluten-free people come for. We have chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies, which are our favorite.
What is your favorite part of having your business here on 9th Street?
I like the market atmosphere. Everybody’s family here and we all help each other out. The rents are very decent and everybody knows everybody, plus it’s very friendly for customers. I’m able to give advice to people if they’re trying to find something in the market, and the other businesses do the same.
If you could embody your business with one phrase, what would it be?
“You won’t believe it’s gluten-free.”
What do you think that people like the most about this shop?
We remember our regulars and always try to meet their custom needs. If they need something sugar-free or if they need recipes modified, we try to find a balance that can be done for what they want. Many people who come here have special needs with very rare allergies and such. We are very flexible and try to be as friendly and helpful as possible. Plus, to make sure their health is not compromised we will literally try to make sure we know everybody’s face. And we are extremely careful in making sure we can fulfill their special dietary needs.
Tell me about your experience working on 9th Street.
I feel at home here. I’ve had a lot of professions in my lifetime. I used to be a teacher, an ethnologist, and I just feel at home here. I couldn’t dream of a better career. As long as I’m useful, I’m staying, definitely.
Check out the very first edition of FLASH CHAT with Paesano Philly Style’s Chris Peterman and stay tuned for more exciting news this week!