Located at 24 Infanta Street, between San Lazaro and Concordia, the Havana bakery El Biky is part of a larger dining operation that includes a cafe, bar and restaurant. Its large display cases, filled with cakes and pastries, attract those who can afford its high prices. It is simply the most chic dessert shop in Central Havana.
“It’s always been a place for the well-to-do,” says Pablo, a customer who attributes the establishment’s constant supply of products to its relationship with the politically powerful.
It opened in 2014 under the inelegant moniker “non-agricultural cooperative.” Its four partners — none of whom share the establishment’s name — began remodeling an old Havana office building that takes up a large chunk of its Infanta Street block. The “comprehensive renovation” took a year and is documented with photographs which the investors proudly use to illustrate the change from dilapidated building to pastry shop.
“Everything about El Biky is high-end,” says Pablo. “All the equipment is new, brand-name and industrial-scale. No one knows how they managed to import it.”
But even more shocking, he says, are the prices and method of payment. “Pastries were always expensive but, since currency unification, the change has been brutal.” In spite of being a state-approved cooperative, El Biky sets its prices based on the unofficial exchange rate of “freely convertible currency” (MLC). Currently, that rate is 200 pesos to 1 MLC. This inconsistency further raises suspicions that there are, among its backers, private interests linked to the regime.
That means a lemon pie for 10 MLC costs a customer 2,000 pesos. A coconut tart at 5.75 MLC costs 1,150 pesos. A chocolate peanut tart costs 1,800. The same rate applies to smaller sweets, such a 0.95 MLC chocolate éclair, 0.35 centavo marquesitas, and the 1 MLC coconut cake and cupcake slices.
“They have the nerve to put the two prices in the same display case,” complains Pablo. A telling detail regarding how El Biky manipulates currency value is that purchases are processed through a mobile money transfer app.
“If they used a POS,” he says, referring to an electronic credit card payment terminal, “they would have to charge the [lower] MLC exchange rate set by the state. But that doesn’t suit them.”
El Biky also supplies smaller businesses that sell pastries. “A little while ago one man walked out with six cakes that he’ll sell at his restaurant,” Pablo observes. The bakery is also the dessert supplier to Havana’s elites.
“People come here in cars and motorcycles with private plates, the latest models. You can tell they’re rich by the way they’re dressed. Foreigners and high-ranking military officials also come here,” he explains. “It’s not the lowlife crowd waiting in line, like the one for chicken. It’s the Cuban bourgeoisie. They sometimes buy in large quantities.”
Such opulence contrasts with the food insecurity of most Cubans, who are subject to unending shortages and do not have access to sugar, flour, cooking oil or many the other products necessary for making high-quality desserts.
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