5804 College Ave. (near Birch Court), Oakland
Wednesday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. starting March 4
“It was always part of the plan to open our own place,” Starter Bakery founder Brian Wood said. “It just took a little bit of time.” By “little bit,” the founder of the ubiquitous baked goods supplier means 12 years, but on Saturday the wait is over: After a decade-plus as a pastry and bread supplier to some of the area’s best restaurants and markets, Starter is opening a storefront as of Saturday March 4, an airy Rockridge shop and sit-down cafe that brings Wood’s full vision for his business to life.
You’ve read about Starter in these pages a number of times before. Founded in 2010, Starter’s Berkeley production kitchen has churned out buttery croissants, traditional kouign amann and crusty breads sold at local farmers markets and to wholesale customers across the region. Seeing Starter’s blue, sans serif logo at a business is a subtle message that the restaurant or market prioritizes reliable, locally made baked goods over mass market offerings; a stamp of quality, if you will.
But though you’ve probably already had a Starter pie, pastry, cookie or bun, you haven’t had what’s on offer at their shop. “When you’re making things at wholesale scale,” Wood said, “there’s only so much you can do and keep things affordable.” The Rockridge storefront is a direct-to-consumer operation “that allows us to be a lot more creative,” Wood said, and also to splurge a bit on ingredients, as their products are only getting marked up once, not the double markup of the wholesale game. That means a new, much-iterated croissant recipe that uses an upscale European butter, chocolate croissants with more chocolate in every bite and other tweaks to its wholesale standbys.
Inside the lair of the Kouign-Amann: Starter Bakery in Berkeley
Berkeley’s Starter Bakery is opening a storefront in Rockridge
That also means a slew of new offerings. On the sweet side, there’s a pecan sticky bun with a perfectly gooey-but-not-mushy center, cardamom buns and seasonal kouign aman. On the savory side, there are slices of quiches similar to the full-sized ones Starter currently sells some grocery stores, and a concise list of “composed” sandwiches like one with turkey, brie, fig compote and spinach on a croissant or a fresh mozzarella and olive tapenade on ciabatta. (You can peruse the full opening menu at the bottom of this story.)
Eventually, there will also be grab-and-go salads, but one needn’t go far to enjoy any of these treats (or a coffee, made with beans from Oakland’s RoastCo). There’s counter seating across its huge front windows, and low tables and stools dot one side of the 2,000-square-foot space, which was last home to Jules Thin Crust.
A little less that two years after Wood signed the lease on the building, architect Hallie Chen of Caha Design has transformed the former pizza spot into a light and loft-like space that mixes textured and rough-hewn tiles with wood (the same counter that Jules used, Wood said, just planed down and resealed) and a little bit of that Starter blue here and there. It’s warmer than the third-wave-coffee house/operating theater aesthetic so popular in the area, but neutral enough to create a canvas for Starter’s goods.
And the goods don’t have far to travel to hit the counter and dining room. While Starter will continue to serve its wholesale clients with its Gilman St. bakery, the food for the shop will all come from a gleaming kitchen at the back of the space. “We’ll be baking and bringing things out all day,” Wood said, a nice change from the morning bake, get-there-before-noon-for-anything-good-ness of many of the Bay Area’s line-attracting bakeries.
You might be inclined to wait to visit Starter until after opening day, thus avoiding the inevitable crowd, but that could be a mistake. To celebrate Saturday’s grand opening, the restaurant will be holding hourly raffles for gift cards and Starter Bakery-logoed hats and t-shirts.
Perhaps more exciting, there will be free cups of drip coffee on offer for all customers, complimentary tastes of Starter goods for those waiting in line, and a grand prize giveaway. It’s a celebration of a dream in the making for over a decade. “I’m just excited to get it up and open,” Wood said. “It’s been a long time. We’re ready.”