The Secret Reason Philz Pastries Taste So Good

If you buy a pastry at most coffee shops, you’re probably expecting something bland and functional. Maybe you need a quick bite on the way to a meeting, or just something to cut the acidity of your pour-over coffee.

If you take a pastry at Philz Coffee, though, you’ll notice something different about their baked goods. They’re fantastic. I discovered their kouign amann, and I can’t stop ordering it.

It turns out there’s a good reason Philz’ pastries are so tasty. They have a secret.

kouign amann
kouign amann at Philz

The Starter Bakery Alliance

Why are Philz’ pastries so tasty? It turns out that, at least here in the San Francisco Bay area, the local coffee chain gets them directly from another Bay Area institution, Starter Bakery.

Based in Berkeley, Starter has been a Bay Area baked goods powerhouse since 2010. When I researched my article about Philz kouign amann, I found a piece in the New York Times that mentioned how Starter brought the decadent pastry to the Bay Area.

It turns out that the pastry I was eating at Philz wasn’t just inspired by Starter Bakery’s wildly successful kouign amann–it was the exactly same pastry the Times originally raved about!

A Secret Partnership?

Despite this baking prowess, Philz doesn’t exactly make it super clear that their pastries come from Starter. You won’t see many references to the partnership in Philz stores.

I originally discovered it when I was looking at an obscure PDF on the Philz website. In small print, it lists the supplier for the majority of Philz pastries as Starter Bakery.

List of Philz suppliers, snippet
The secret PDF

I was surprised and pleased to see this. But I didn’t want to assume it was definitely true. It seemed like a cool secret that might still be accurate or might not.

Then, on a recent visit to a Philz store in downtown San Francisco, California, I saw the clincher–a stack of Starter Bakery boxes being delivered to the coffee shop.

Starter Bakery boxes at Philz in San Francisco
Starter Bakery boxes at Philz in San Francisco

Great News for Pastry Fans

This secret alliance is great news for pastry fans. You can walk into nearly any Philz in the Bay Area and buy a world-class pastry to go with your Ice Coffee Rose or other Philz drink.

Philz pastries are also relatively inexpensive, given their origins. 

So why the secrecy? Philz pastries are listed as a “regional item” on their website. As the chain expands, it likely plans to purchase baked goods from other local suppliers in different geographies. It may already do this at non-Bay Area locations.

Philz probably doesn’t want to trumpet its local alliance with Starter too loudly. Starter Bakery is a small company, and they’re unlikely to supply baked goods to Philz locations around the globe if the chain scales up.

For that reason, Philz appears to be keeping the Starter Bakery alliance a local secret. If you’re in the Bay Area, you can get these amazing pastries at Philz. In other places, you’re likely to get something from a different supplier.

Whatever the reason, we don’t mind. Here in the Bay Area, we’ll keep munching on our secret Starter Bakery pastries, sipping our gingerbread pour overs, and enjoying the Bay Area’s special pastry status.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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