A lighted sign outside the Alois J. Binder Bakery has long been a beacon for lovers of New Orleans po-boy bread. When the bulbs along its edge flashed, it was the bakery’s signal that loaves of hot bread were available inside.
Now that sign is gone, and the future of one of the great bakeries of New Orleans is in doubt.
The retail bakeshop attached to the Alois J. Binder Bakery in Faubourg Marigny has been closed for several weeks, and the bakery’s phone number has been disconnected.
The bakery’s distinctive, long po-boy loaves were still being delivered to grocery stores as of last week, but this week, those deliveries abruptly stopped.
Proprietors of the family-run bakery could not be reached for comment.
Late in 2017, the city sued the bakery for back taxes from 2014 to 2016, court records show. On June 19, a court ordered the bakery to pay $50,342.
Some of the bakery’s grocery store customers said deliveries ceased without notice this week. The bakery’s production facility, attached to the bakeshop, appears to be idle.
Within the tightly knit New Orleans baking industry, other local operators say they saw warning signs for several months that Binder’s would shut down.
“We’ve been hearing from people, customers, trying to find a new supplier,” said Jason Gendusa, operator of John Gendusa Bakery in Gentilly.
Sandy Whann, president of Leidenheimer Baking Co., has fielded similar calls.
“I know it sounds odd for a competitor to say this about another bakery going out of business, but New Orleans has been known as a baking city for so long, and to see another one go is really sad,” said Whann.
Leidenheimer has bought other former competitors in the past, including the Angelo Gendusa brand and Reising's, which Leidenheimer keeps in circulation, baked in its Central City facility and distributed alongside bread bearing the Leidenheimer label.
Whann said he tried to do a similar deal with the Binder family to keep its brand around when he heard the bakery might shut down. But he said he had no success.
The Alois J. Binder Bakery has long been part of the firmament of New Orleans food culture. While its bakeshop was a neighborhood spot for doughnuts and pastries, shoe soles and cakes, Binder has been best known for its po-boy loaves, part of a traditional style carried on by only a few local bakeries now.
Thin-crusted and airy within, the long loaves are durable enough to contain all the gravy, mayonnaise, fried seafood and sausage links New Orleanians can pack into them.
In local parlance, these loaves are called French bread, though scholars have made the case that the style is closer to German and Austrian baking traditions, as the family names of some local bakeries suggest.
In recent years, the Alois J. Binder Bakery name had been a more common presence on grocery shelves than in restaurants. It has been a staple for home cooks wanting to make po-boys from Sunday’s roast or to sop up the red gravy from a hearty dinner.
Some have been watching the declining prospects of Binder with something close to despair.
“I’m devastated,” said Sue Hall, who lives a block away from the bakery on Touro Street.
She frequently visited the bakeshop for bread, used breadcrumbs from its loaves for her meatloaf, and at the holidays, bought vol-au-vent puff pastry shells for her oyster patties.
“These are neighborhood places, and we need places like this,” Hall said.
Another neighbor, Pat Galloway, said the bakeshop, with its highly local product line and the personalities of its staff, represented a slice of New Orleans life.
Karen Terranova, proprietor of Terranova Super Market in Faubourg St. John, said deliveries of Binder bread stopped this week. The store now stocks similar long loaves from John Gendusa in its place, but Terranova worried that some of her customers would be upset by the change.
"People stick with the names they know here," she said. "New Orleans people have their favorites, and that's hard to change."
Earl Lacour, manager of the Canseco's Market just across Esplanade Avenue from Terranova, said deliveries of Binder bread stopped "out of the blue."
Robért's Fresh Market, the local grocery chain, also stopped receiving deliveries, a company manager confirmed.
The Binder bakery facility holds down the corner of North Rampart and Frenchmen streets, in the Marigny but a few blocks removed from the neighborhood’s burgeoning nightlife strip.
The bakeshop itself had long felt like a time capsule of old New Orleans baking traditions, though now, seen through its storefront windows, it appears deserted. Bakery cases are empty. And the flashing sign for hot bread that once jutted over the sidewalk is gone.
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