It sounded like a schmear campaign at first, but the crisis is real: a major cream cheese shortage has hit New York City bagel stores. Some of our finest bagel purveyors—Absolute Bagels, Tompkins Square Bagels, Pick-a-Bagel, Bagelsmith, Zabar's and more—all attested to the fact that they were "frazzled, frustrated and rushing to find cream cheese" after supply chain issues—caused by work shortages, port congestion and increased demand—had ensnared the industry.

But it's not just your local bagel shop: Junior's Restaurants announced that they had to shut down multiple times over the last week because they didn't have enough of the ingredient, which is the key to making their beloved cheesecakes.

Gothamist spoke to Alan Rosen, the third-generation owner of Junior's, on Thursday evening to find out how the cream cheese shortage is affecting their business, and whether or not New Yorkers jonesin' for some holiday cheesecake should be freaking out right now.

Junior's Cheesecake.

Junior's Cheesecake.

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Junior's Cheesecake.
Jen Carlson personal collection

New Yorkers are obviously very concerned about any cream cheese shortages. How has it been affecting Junior's so far? Last week we couldn't bake on Friday. We had to close down Friday afternoon. Couldn't bake Saturday. And we started up again last Sunday because we sent one of our trucks to go get a load of cream cheese at five in the morning.

Where does one send a truck to get cream cheese? It was a warehouse in Pennsylvania somewhere. So think of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, coming from Pennsylvania.

And then this week... This week, we had to shut down today and we're going to resume tomorrow and Sunday because we ran out of cream cheese [on Wednesday]. We use four million pounds of cream cheese a year. We are one of the larger users.

Wow. That's something I wanted to ask about: how much cream cheese do you typically get in a shipment? So one shipment is exactly 40,000 pounds.

Do you know approximately how many cakes you make per shipment? Here, let me just grab a calculator. It depends on the size obviously, but I can give you a ballpark. Let's see...we get about 24,000 cakes out of that. So from one trailer, that lasts us a day and a half, two days.

And how often do you get those shipments? A lot, three times a week this time of the year. Maybe four.

Right, so if you miss one—One, yeah, it's a big deal. It's a lot of cake. We can make 10 to 15,000 cakes in the day. So far, we haven't run out of cake, but where the rubber's going to meet the road is for those last minute shipping orders for Christmas. So far, we haven't shorted any of our retail customers. We're in about 8,000 supermarkets besides our restaurants. So our restaurants are fully supplied. Our retailers are fully supplied. Our last minute mail orders may get affected, but that's why I always tell people, get your orders in early.

Eric Laudonien/Shutterstock

How much of each cheesecake is made up of cream cheese? It's actually close to 85% cream cheese. That's why it's so good. Cream cheese, fresh eggs, sugar, heavy cream, vanilla.

It's not like you could substitute it. There's no alternative. Listen, there's no alternative. That's why I got upset when I saw these articles about bagels, worrying about their schmear. They can still make a bagel. We cannot make a cheesecake.

Have you ever experienced anything like this shortage before? Never. Never. I was discussing it with someone at Kraft the other day. Never. We've been around for 71 years. This has never happened.

So is this a commercial cream cheese issue as well? Because I've heard people say, well, I see Philly cream cheese—They see Philly cream cheese on the shelves, yeah, but listen, but there's not as much of it. I went through supermarket a few weeks ago, there are shortages across the board. It's not just one product, but yes, we do buy it more commercially. But it's a 30 or 50 pound box. So you'd have to ask them if the little packets are fine, I don't know. But I'm not opening up packets for 40,000 pounds a week.

So when you get these shipments of cream cheese, you're going through them incredibly quickly. Out is out. We shut down today. We shut down our baking operations today. We could not bake cheesecake. So we packed other things, we did other frosting and finishing what we could do, but we could not bake cheesecakes today. We had to send our people home. We actually told them not to come in and they're going to work Sunday. We just got a load a few hours ago, so we're going to bake tomorrow and we're going to bake Sunday. And then we're only as good as the next load of cream cheese.

Do you feel like you're like hanging on by a thread? We are. Listen, we've shut down twice in the last two weeks, two and a half days we missed.

So this could happen again next week. You don't know. Absolutely.

A photo of Alan Rosen and US Senator Charles Schumer at the reopening of Junior's in Times Square in May 2021

Owner Alan Rosen and U. S. Senator Charles Schumer at the re-opening of Junior's Cheesecake in Times Square in May 2021

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Owner Alan Rosen and U. S. Senator Charles Schumer at the re-opening of Junior's Cheesecake in Times Square in May 2021
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutterstock

This is clearly a supply chain problem. We've seen this in a lot of different industries. Has it affected you before this cream cheese shortage? Yes, it's a supply issue. Earlier in the year we couldn't get plastic domes for cakes, because we have some retails that like cakes in those domes. Now there are other companies we heard were short of corrugated [fiberboard]. We were fortunate that didn't happen to us. But the supply chain is definitely being squeezed right now and demand from what I understand...I mean our business I know is up probably over 40% this year. So you got to remember, all our restaurants are back online. All the restaurants across the country are back online. People have adopted comfort food during COVID in a big way. So our supermarket business is up a lot and so our demand is up over 43% this year.

And I'm assuming that this time of year is probably a very busy time of year in general for you? Yes, our restaurants probably go up about 25-30% and our mail order business, we do half our volume for the year in November and December.

So what can be done? I mean, you're just at the mercy of these suppliers right now. Someone said to me, what's your plan B? I said, don't have one. Punt. We just got to keep getting by.

Is there a point where it would be a crisis in terms of being able to produce? If we don't have cream cheese, we will eventually run out of cheesecake if it's for an extended period of time. Once a week we can handle for now and get by. If its more extended than that, it's going to be a problem. But listen, as soon as we get it, we mix it and blend it and then we bake it.

Is there anything else you want customers to know? Listen, get your orders in. If you want to send a Junior's Cheesecake to someone across the country, now's the time to do it. And we wish everyone a happy holiday and we hope we don't run out of cream cheese.

We do have inventory right now. So we believe, based on last year's numbers, we can satisfy everybody. But hopefully there's more demand than that, but I would hate to say no to anybody. So we're working overtime.

The last thing I wanted to ask is: is cookie dough cream cheese at bagel stores a shonda? It's disgusting. Whoever even thought of that? It's more than a shonda. It's a crime. No good person's going to make that. And by the way, half that stuff should be disappearing.