In fairness, one key difference between the two bars is mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which forbids the use of vegetable oil in any product that aspires to be sold in the U.S. as “milk chocolate.” The British authorities have no such compunction, which, if you haven’t tasted real Cadbury, you might think is gross. But, as Zadie Smith said, “no one else has to like it—not the Swiss or the French or the Americans—although they should all of course be given the opportunity to discover, as we have, just how good vegetable oil can taste.”
Hershey’s right to make Cadbury in the U.S. dates to 1988, when Hershey bought Cadbury’s American Division. Jeff Beckman, the company’s chief spokesman, said that the current U.S. recipe is the same one Cadbury itself used here. He didn’t add that if expats want to gripe about Hershey’s Cadbury they should direct their complaints homeward, but that was the implication. He couldn’t say whether Hershey’s legal team plans to file any further suits against other distributors or, worse, the specialty shops themselves, but he did concede that Hershey “prioritizes” such matters—which would seem to indicate the company is not going overboard here. He also said the lawsuits were filed in part due to an uptick in imports over the last several years, which have seen U.K. Cadbury increasingly available not just at Myers of Keswick and Tea & Sympathy but also quality-minded supermarket chains such as Fairway in New York (where you can find U.K. Dairy Milk and Crunchies) and Bristol Farms in Los Angeles (where I recently spotted Wispas and Curly Wurlys). In other words, someone in the import business, or more than someone, had gotten too greedy for his or her own good and provoked Hershey into no longer turning a blind eye.
“This is all about protecting our valuable brand assets,” Beckman proclaimed via e-mail. And while Nicky Perry wouldn’t use that language, she doesn’t want Cadbury available in supermarkets any more than Hershey does: “I understand that! And the bleeding supermarkets don’t need Cadbury to survive.”
Now that Hershey has brushed back what it presumably views as the biggest offenders, the chocolate-import trade may well return to something approaching the old equilibrium. At both Myers of Keswick and Tea & Sympathy, the betting runs along those lines. At the same time, however, the threat raised by Hershey has shaken both stores, wounds that may linger under the surface for a while.
Hershey “is trying to take our comfort away from us,” Nicky said. In her view, this is profoundly unfair, even cruel. “It’s a lifeline,” Nicky said. “This is a very transient sort of city. It’s not full of New Yorkers. It’s full of people from everywhere. It’s much harder to have tight ties and bonds with people when you’re living in a transient city. A lot of us are here without family. A lot of us don’t have the grandparents, or whatever it is.”
“The auntie down the block,” Sean put in. They reminisced about how people had gathered at the store, English and not, after Princess Diana died. “They wanted someone to cry with,” Nicky remembered. “I just loved that.”
“People wanted that sense of community. That’s what we’re really about,” Sean said.
This is indisputably true: Myers of Keswick and Tea & Sympathy aren’t just homes away from home for Londoners and Mancunians and Liverpudlians; they’re vestiges as well of an increasingly vanishing Manhattan—outposts of quirky civilization in an increasingly homogenized, increasingly moneyed wilderness. That isolated, endangered feeling is tangible in this patch of northwest Greenwich Village, where the narcotizing glitz of the Meatpacking District is creeping in from one side; on the other, toward Seventh Avenue on the east, the neighborhood’s fabric has been shredded by the closing five years ago of St. Vincent’s Hospital, which is in the process of being replaced in part by the kind of luxury condo building that has become a blight across the island.
Jennifer Myers, 35, who took over her father Pete’s store in 2008, is a living embodiment of that funkier, more organic New York, where she was born and raised. Her parents met through her mother’s job as a flight attendant, which came in handy during the shop’s early days, when she would fly products back from England in her luggage. Is Jennifer’s mom British, too?, I asked one afternoon at the store as we sipped tea at a small table in the back. “No, my mom is actually born in Cuba, German background, which made for interesting football matches at our house.” Though her father is retired and now often away, he is still very much present “in opinion,” as her cousin Roger put it. According to Jennifer, he maintains a patriarch’s rights regarding certain stock: “Fry’s Chocolate Cream, Fry’s Peppermint Creams—classic, old-school chocolates. He absolutely loves them, so we get cases of them, but they’re really not that popular.” The sausages and savories continue to be made to his recipes, though Jennifer and Roger have been experimenting with new items, such as a chicken-and-leek pie.
Nicky, who moved to New York in 1981 at the age of 21 with “$200 in my pocket,” started her restaurant in 1990 with a $40,000 investment, half from her father, half from a co-worker. “You could never do that today,” she said. It helped, though, even then, that she had friends in the music business; in the earliest days, Fred Schneider of the B-52s used to stand outside on the sidewalk, sipping tea from a cup and saucer as a ready-made form of celebrity endorsement.
“There’s a lot of difference between New York now and New York then,” Sean said. “The idea of coming to New York and being able to get your toe on the ladder and do something like this—you can’t afford it now unless you’re some trustafarian.”
There’s a lot of difference between England now and England then, too. Back home, both Tea & Sympathy and Myers of Keswick might be just as quaint as they are in Manhattan, long since turned into wine bars or Tescos. “Stores like this don’t exist in England anymore—they’re few and far between,” Roger said as he finished with his sausages and cleaned up. “It’s a one-stop shop people are liking now. Back in the day, it used to be a butcher, a baker, a fishmonger, a sweetshop. Now they just go to the supermarket. Even in my small little town of Keswick, my father had a butcher shop, but he closed it eight years ago because people prefer the one-stop scenario. Why would you go park the car three times when you can just go to the supermarket? Convenience, isn’t it?”
End of an Empire
One more subject where there’s a lot of difference between now and then: Cadbury itself. The company, which dates back to 1824, had been beloved by generations of Britons not just for its chocolate but also for its family-run, Quaker-inspired do-gooderism, most famously the model factory and utopian workers’ village the company built in a then sylvan spot outside Birmingham in the late 19th century. Still on the field-trip circuit for English schoolchildren, Bournville is the factory town Charles Dickens might have designed had he ditched writing to become a chocolate baron, and it’s easy to imagine Cadbury’s creative benevolence was on Roald Dahl’s mind when he first conjured Willy Wonka. As it happens, Hershey’s founder, Milton Hershey, who was raised by a Mennonite mother and educated by Quakers, was himself inspired by Bournville when, in 1903, he built the worker-friendly company town that bears his name in Pennsylvania. Though public, the Hershey Company is still controlled by the trust that runs a school for orphans that the childless Milton founded and to which he left the bulk of his estate. So one and a half cheers for Hershey, the ostensible villain in this piece.
Scrumptious Cadbury product lines atop a case of sausages and meat pies at Myers.
As for Cadbury, after four generations of family rule, it was long ago sucked into the maw of the global economy: in 2010, following decades of mergers, acquisitions, and deacquisitions, the company was bought by Kraft, the American food giant that made its bones with Velveeta, in a hostile takeover worth $19 billion. So, yes, the chocolaty totems of British childhood that expats have been manning the barricades for are, in fact, manufactured by a U.S.-owned company; the Dairy Milk bar, the Crunchie, and the Flake are now brothers and sisters in a vast corporate family that also includes Lunchables, Oreos, Tang, and Miracle Whip. It gets worse: Kraft spun off its overseas operations in 2012 as an entity called Mondelez International, “mondelez” being a made-up word that was apparently coined to suggest worldwide domination, along with deliciousness, to the ears of Romance-language speakers. For Brits and Americans, the name seems intended to carry with it some shred of Continental sophistication, though the headquarters are in Deerfield, Illinois.
Whether under the Kraft or Mondelez banner, American stewardship of Cadbury has resulted in one blunder after another: a factory in Keynsham shuttered after the company had promised during the takeover to keep it open; the Dairy Milk bar downsized in all but price; an ad campaign for a new bar, Dairy Milk Bliss, withdrawn and apologized for after the slogan, “Move over Naomi, there’s a new diva in town,” was attacked as racist for comparing the model Naomi Campbell, who is black, to chocolate; the discontinuation, last year, of chocolate coins for Christmas, a beloved stocking tradition. (Imagine how Americans would feel if Peeps were discontinued for Easter; then imagine if Peeps actually tasted good.) This year—the most egregious offense of all—Cadbury has changed the coating on its Creme Eggs from the traditional Dairy Milk to something called “standard cocoa mix chocolate,” or, in the weasel-speak of a Cadbury mouthpiece, “similar, but not exactly Dairy Milk.” That’s a move better suited to J. K. Rowling’s Dolores Umbridge than Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka. The Guardian captured the general tenor of public reaction in Britain when it proclaimed the new shell “disgusting, foul, vomit-inducing.”
I happened to be at Carry On Tea & Sympathy when Perry opened up her first shipment of the new-formula Creme Eggs for Easter. (As of early March, the Cadbury was still flowing, fingers crossed.) She’d ordered only the Minis. “I canceled the big ones out of fury over them changing the chocolate!” she said. “They’re doing terrible things!” She unwrapped one of the Minis, took a bite, and made a face. “This is American chocolate. This does not taste the same! There’s a definite slight aftertaste.”
She asked the young man at the register, Andy Stuttard, who arrived in New York not long ago from Yorkshire, if he’d tried one. He had. “It’s awright,” he said blandly, sounding unconvinced.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the location of the shuttered Cadbury factory. It was in Keynsham, not York.