‘People still want treats’: Bay Area bakeries surprised at success during pandemic – San Francisco Chronicle

Restaurant News

On Mother’s Day, a line starting at Boichik Bagels stretched down College Avenue, just north of Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, past all the other businesses and into residential Berkeley.

Admittedly, there was a technical glitch in the ordering system that brought hundreds to the 6-month-old bagelry at the same time. But it didn’t change the fact that so many people wanted Boichik’s chewy, malty bagels that the shop sold out at 9:30 a.m.

“Yes, we are sold out already,” owner Emily Winston said to hopeful customers over and over on the phone, pacing in circles with a red bandanna wrapped around her face.

The coronavirus has been devastating for the Bay Area’s restaurant industry, but one sector seems to be doing a little better than the rest: bakeries. Familiar lines at hot spots like Devil’s Teeth Baking Co. in San Francisco and La Fournee in Berkeley look even longer now because of the 6 feet of space between each party. Bakery owners say it’s logistically simpler for them to adapt their businesses to takeout- and delivery-only models than it is for restaurants. Plus, bakeries specialize in something many crave right now.

Riley Reese picks up his order at Boichik Bagels in Berkeley.

“People find comfort in carbohydrates,” said David Kreitz, co-owner of San Francisco bagelry Daily Driver.

Certainly, there are exceptions. Pleasanton chain Specialty’s Cafe & Bakery permanently closed all 50 of its locations Tuesday because of the challenges operating during the coronavirus.

Yet Daily Driver, which opened in June in Dogpatch and then opened a second location in the Ferry Building, has not only avoided layoffs but has hired more employees during shelter-in-place. Business for its wood-fired bagels and house-made butter and cream cheese, sourced from local dairies, has been steady, and the coronavirus hasn’t halted Daily Driver’s plans to expand with two more locations in the near future.

Bagels ready for the oven at Boichik Bagels in Berkeley.

Since Daily Driver was already driving bagels to its Ferry Building outpost and some wholesale locations, it was easy to convert routes to an in-house delivery service, which also hits the North Bay, South Bay and East Bay on certain days. That means not paying steep fees to a third-party service like Uber Eats.

Several other bakeries, including Berkeley’s Cupcakin’ Bake Shop and San Francisco’s Frena Bakery, which specializes in Israeli baked goods, have similarly eschewed third-party delivery apps and handled the driving in-house. Unlike restaurants serving hot meals, they don’t have to fret about temperature as they roam the Bay Area.

Matcha, mango, blueberry and ube coconut mochi donuts at Third Culture Bakery. The Berkeley bakery is still open during shelter-in-place for curbside pickup and shipping mochi muffins nationwide.

Bakeries also can turn to nationwide shipping in a way that’s tough for restaurants. Third Culture Bakery co-owner Wenter Shyu has been amazed to see the demand for mochi muffins all over the country — so far, his Berkeley bakery has shipped the chewy muffins, which are made of glutinous rice flour, coconut milk and pandan, to 42 states.

“Bakeries always bring a sense of joy and cheerfulness,” Shyu said. “What I realized since the closures is that people still want treats and people still want to feel some kind of normalcy.”

During the first week of shelter-in-place, Third Culture lost 80% of its usual revenue. The bakery, which also has a retail shop, typically sells 55% of its goods wholesale to coffee shops, which largely haven’t reopened. Shyu furloughed about half of Third Culture’s employees — but by mid-May, he was able to bring them all back.

Freshly baked croissants seen in the display at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse in San Francisco before shelter-in-place. The retail bakery is currently closed, with Mr. Holmes shifting to at-home baking kits sold online.

San Francisco’s Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, which is best known for croissant-muffin hybrids injected with fun fillings such as horchata-cajeta or cocoa cream, also made a rapid jump into e-commerce, but went in a different direction with at-home baking kits.

CEO Aaron Caddel shut down the retail and wholesale operations on March 17. Within 24 hours, his team developed an online store and a basic starter kit for baking bread at home, which contained ingredients, instructions and a QR code to watch a video demonstration. They shipped test kits to themselves to make sure they worked and launched the website March 21.

“We started a new arm of a business out of nowhere,” Caddel said. “The fact that we have built some recognition as a bakery and we have a good Instagram following allows us to make that pivot and for people to grasp onto it.”

The kit was an immediate hit — Caddel thinks they tapped into both people’s newfound boredom and survivalist instincts, as shoppers were noticing bread and flour disappear from grocery store shelves. The bakery created more kits, such as for brioche, bagels and chocolate chip cookies, with more ideas on the way.

“We’re opening the book and telling you all of our secrets,” said Caddel, who has 65% of his team back but hopes to rehire everyone else within the next few weeks.

Gluten-free bread is the specialty of Palo Alto bakery Misfits Bakehouse, which is selling more baked goods than ever during shelter-in-place.

One of the biggest success stories is Misfits Bakehouse, the gluten-free and paleo bakery in Palo Alto that makes baguettes, pita and rolls far fluffier than store-bought alternatives. Owner Mina Makram feared the worst when shelter-in-place began, warning his landlord he might not be able to make rent. When customers came out in droves the next week, he worried they were stocking up and wouldn’t be back for several weeks.

But he was wrong. He has built a loyal following over the past few years — many regulars are immuno-compromised and tell Makram they appreciate his longtime focus on dietary needs.

Now, his takeout business has doubled, his shipping business has grown by 150% and he’s thinking about hiring.

“We’re growing at a time when it’s unthinkable to even consider growing,” he said. “It’s very humbling and I’m completely grateful.”

Janelle Bitker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @janellebitker

Source: Thanks https://www.sfchronicle.com/restaurants/article/People-still-want-treats-Bay-Area-bakeries-15284763.php