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Charles Farriér lives the fantasy that any gastronome-slash-office-drone dreams of: One day, a homemade vanilla bean bourbon cheesecake he brought to an office potluck for his law firm colleagues earned rave reviews, prompting a coworker to suggest he go into professional baking.
He took that advice and created Crumble & Whisk, which started as a mini cheesecake cottage enterprise sold at Bay Area farmers markets. Nine years later, he’s opening his first brick-and-mortar shop in Oakland’s Laurel District.
Before his stint in the corporate office, Farriér, an Oakland native, had been enamored with cooking. His father, who cooked for his household of seven kids, taught him the ways of fresh ingredients as well as recycling scraps into new dishes. Fatherly advice, along with regular Saturday morning viewings of Jacques and Julia Cooking at Home and Martha Stewart’s baking show on KQED, helped shape Farriér’s culinary view from a young age. (He’s frustrated, he said, with today’s barrage of game show baking programming a la Cupcake Wars and Cutthroat Kitchen. “Now all of these shows are competitive,” he lamented. “Nobody wants to teach the art and technique of how to bake anymore.”)
Years later, Farriér graduated from culinary school and spent time working in the kitchens of the Purple Plum and Blackberry Bistro, but eventually left the business for an office job…until that fateful potluck rekindled that spark. After some time spent experimenting in the kitchen, Farriér developed a slate of mini cheesecake flavors including beet and berry, pineapple sage and, of course, the vanilla bean bourbon that started it all. Soon, he was attracting crowds at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco and the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland.
In time, he also caught the attention of San Francisco-based culinary incubator La Cocina and luxury kitchenware retailer Williams-Sonoma, which struck a deal to sell his personal-sized cheesecakes. La Cocina, and a successful Kiva campaign, helped Farriér secure his new space at 4104 MacArthur Blvd., which he hopes to open in August.
Farriér doesn’t mince words when it comes to the byzantine process of opening a store in the Bay Area. “A lot of expenses arise that you have no control over,” he said. While he anticipated costs for employees, ingredients and other expenses relating to having one’s own bakery, there were a number of unwelcome surprises.
“We had a lot of plumbing issues at first, then the gas line had to be fixed, all of which I’ve spent thousands of dollars to get fixed,” he said.
“And just yesterday, I had to get our sewer line fixed, which cost around $1,600.” Realizing that it’s uncommon for big banks to hand out loans to small businesses, Farrier has launched another fundraiser in recent weeks to help cover some of his construction costs.
If you think that all this has Farriér a bit stressed, you’re not wrong — but, luckily, his greatest anti-anxiety tool is built into his business. “Baking is actually relaxing for me, giving me a sense of peace and creativity,” he said, disputing the notion of a rigid and fussy discipline that lacks the innovative improvisation of cooking.
“Baking does have flexibility where you can kind of go off the beaten path and do fun things. Once you learn the technique, you can go wild building flavor profiles.”
You’ll see some of that wildness in Crumble & Whisk’s opening menu, which will include Farriér’s signature cheesecakes, mini and full size, in flavors like strawberry fields, maple pecan crumble and chocolate marble. He’ll also offer his best-selling vegan cheesecake made with vegan cream cheese and tofu, tinged with a touch of lemon and vanilla bean paste.
Farriér also plans to expand his menu to feature an array of goods outside of the cheesecake realm. House-made cinnamon rolls, bourbon pecan coffee cake, banana orange blossom and green cardamom loaf cake and banana pudding will all grace the menu on opening day. Be on the lookout for fruit turnovers with homemade seasonal jams, puff pastry cheese danishes and scones.
In addition to dessert items, Crumble Whisk will also offer a sizable savory menu, including a croque monsieur packed with ham, fontina, gruyere and whole grain mustard; an egg salad open-face sandwich studded with fried capers and pickled onions; and a savory cheesecake breakfast box with Acme bread, pickled vegetables and pepper jelly care of Oregon-based Kelly’s Jelly. Farriér will also offer thirsty patrons cold brew chai with oat milk and house made carrot and orange juices.
It’s this fun stuff — developing the menu, creating new dishes — that keeps Farriér going as he hustles to open his new restaurant. When asked what advice he would give to young bakers who, like Farriér, want to go into his field, he recommends building your craft first, as well as understanding that you’re not going to get rich overnight. The most important thing, though, is taking care of your customers and making sure they keep coming back, he said, as “they are the ones who help keep the lights on and keep the business afloat.”