What we’re eating now | Takeout from Bakesale Betty
and Taste of Denmark
By Lou Fancher
Anticipating graduations, weddings, family reunions and other summertime celebrations—or simply seeking relief from the drumbeat of home-baked goods—think about Bakesale Betty and Taste of Denmark. The two popular Temescal bakeries, though stylistically quite different from each other, have both managed to maintain reduced operations during the shutdown. And both are eager to return to (the new) normal.
Bakesale Betty is a nimble, lunchtime-only operation run since 2005 by Chef Alison Barakat (blue-wigged Betty) and her husband, Michael Camp. Taste of Denmark is a collectively owned iteration of an 81-year-old community treasure and near-institution on Telegraph Avenue and 34th Street, run since 2010 by a dozen or so former Neldam’s Danish Bakery employees and investors.
Although both sustained by loyal customers, the owners reveal in separate interviews that survival during the pandemic shutdown has been far from easy. Determined to serve their communities, they’ve been relying not only on sugar, flour and sweet creamy butter, but on elbow-grease and keen eyes on the bottom line. Both have been buoyed by an abiding belief in what they do and a share a desire to return to a (new) normal and increased profitability.
At Taste of Denmark, manager Ramon Luna said cakes, especially anything featuring strawberries or chocolate, have been selling well. “We sell a lot of German Chocolate Cake, but the wedding cake situation has been slow because of the social distancing.
In the morning, the danishes go, but with businesses not open, we sell maybe 30 percent of what it was before the lockdown.”
Luna said the bakery had a high overhead even before the pandemic, but a PPP loan received after a number of attempts is helping. “We had to do a lot of cutbacks of workers.
“We have a skeleton crew now and the PPP loan has helped us to survive. It’s a $148,000 loan that we’ll use for payroll. It keeps the doors open and keeps the business surviving. It’s supposed to get you thought eight weeks.”
Since the shelter-in-place began, Luna said accommodating the daily pickups—delivery is also offered—requires strict adherence to the six-foot distance limit and allowing only six customers in the shop at one time.
A line formed outside keeps the situation controllable and peaceful, according to Luna.”That’s how we keep people safe. We’ve been here a long time as a bakery and as a cooperative for about ten years. People have been good to us, coming in and patronizing us throughout this whole thing. They ask how we’re getting by and we just tell them we’re hanging tough.”
Hanging tough at Bakesale Betty has meant shutting the doors to daily customers—and most egregious to Barakat—temporarily laying off the bakery’s 13 employees.
Knowing they are collecting unemployment and are not forced to come to work for income is the only compensation making her feel better. “We’ve been closed since March 14. We closed by choice because we had 300-400 people coming to the shop each day and thought we couldn’t responsibly handle that. We decided to close up until we felt a little bit safer, for our employees and customers.”
Eventually, Barakat, who was a savory cook at the Chez Panisse Cafe before launching her own operation, couldn’t resist a return to baking. She started making pies and strawberry shortcakes.
To prepare for selling on Saturdays and Sundays only, in two days she made 160 pies and 300 shortcakes. Her husband helped to make signs and put up plexiglass shields at the pickup station. “It reminded me of when we first started at the farmers market in Danville, which is where we met. But I miss my employees and the customers. We have a small footprint and with the number of people we see daily, we maintain social distance. We don’t want to contribute to the virus.”
Soon, chicken pot pies will be added to the menu. The take-and-bake pies ($35) are popular and “a good essential for dinner at home,” she said.
Other in-demand, signature items—a fried chicken sandwich with special house slaw served on an Acme torpedo roll, egg salad that includes sorrel, tart lemon slushies and a variety of baked goods—will work their way back onto the menu gradually.
Barakat said working almost every event at the Warriors’ new stadium, the Chase Center, since its opening—the bakery’s stands at the arena average 500 chicken sandwiches sold per game—and long hours spent at the shop have bolstered her endurance. “I also have three kids and my husband, and honestly, I didn’t get to spend time with them before. Now, we do, and it’s amazing. We actually cook together and have made dumplings a few times.”
Unable to bake for customers and looking for a lift her spirits during lockdown, Barakat instead donated pies and cookies to health care workers which she said was “a real treat.”
A fundraiser for Meals on Wheels raised $5,500 with one-hundred-percent of sales of 1,500 cookies and hundreds of pies going to the nonprofit. “I also took stuff to Oakland Animal Shelter because they were open and they’re frontline workers too. They felt so loved.” Recently, she and her husband donated $1000 to Oakland People’s Breakfast.
“The community wants to support businesses that are supporting the community,” she said. “People in Oakland, it’s important that businesses they patronize are giving back. We do it to set an example and it always comes back around. In the Bay Area, people pull together.”
As restrictions ease, the doors will be open more days while structured pickup maintains social distancing.
“We’ll have one register to ring people up and I’ll be outside taking orders from people in line. By the time they get to the door, their order will be ready.” There will not be outside seating or indoor stools; efforts made to cut down on the bakery becoming a dining destination.
Even so, Barakat looks forward to the day when a vaccine means she can greet customers by name and offer or receive hugs from regulars.
“You know, I met my husband at the very first farmer’s market I did. We both came from a place where we like to make someone’s day. Not just with food, but with learning their names, learning their children’s names. You build this cool community. With the store, people come and feel welcome.”