Founding baker and CEO Brian Wood of Starter Bakery, the successful twelve-year old wholesale, farmers’ markets and online bakery based in Berkeley, CA, announced an expansion into retail with their first flagship store in the heart of Oakland’s Rockridge district on College Avenue. The bakery opened on March 5, 2023 after a two-year building process. “I always wanted to create a space to welcome people in and to highlight our baked goods,” he says. “The communal aspect of our own bakery cafe is gratifying, and we can focus on a high touch experience for our guests,” said Wood.
Starter launched with an expansive menu of the new pastries (including Cardamom Pistachio Twist, Pecan Sticky Buns, and Coffee Milk Jam Brioche) and re-worked favorites, including breads, Viennoiserie, cookies, pies, quiche, and an expansion of all day sandwiches and salads, with counter service and seating. Breads and pastries are baked fresh throughout the day. RoastCo., a small batch roaster in Oakland is the coffee partner – and in addition to espresso drinks, the bakery is offering brewed coffee with either a medium roast or dark roast.
From Wholesale to Retail
The modern bakery represents growth and opportunity for Wood.
Wood says that when you’re making things at wholesale scale there’s only so much you can do and keep it affordable. Opening a new direct-to-consumer shop “allows us to be a lot more creative,” Wood says, and “spend more on ingredients, as our markup is only once, like with our Farmer’s Market’s spots. The chocolate we now use for our chocolate croissant and chocolate babka is single-origin Colombian dark chocolate and there is a third more of it in the chocolate croissant for example.”
Newly Developed Recipes
The bakers ran 37 trials to achieve the Starter team’s ideal version of the croissant for the new bakery.
Starter’s baking and pastry team have developed new and enhanced baked goods that are only available at the Bakery. For example, significant development work has gone into the classic Butter Croissant. “While we always use a high fat European style butter for our croissants, for this reformulated one we are using Plugra, an even higher fat European-style butter with a different flavor profile, and more of it, adjusting the fermentation profile, and adding a new lamination process, allowing the very buttery taste to shine,” Wood said.
Starter has been a longtime bread and pastry supplier to some of the area’s top cafes (Philz Coffee, Farley’s, Souvenir), restaurants (ACRE Kitchen & Bar and Michelin-rated True Laurel) and specialty stores like Berkeley Bowl, Bi-Rite, and Whole Foods. Starter Bakery is best known for introducing the Bay Area to the kouign amann (aka butter cake) pastry from Brittany, France, which debuted in 2010 at pop-up series. Wood grew the bakery from there, and eventually opened a 10,000 square-foot factory in a former brewery in industrial west Berkeley in 2018 with one-hundred employees.
Brian continues to be the primary product developer at Starter Bakery. In an industry where staff turnover is high, Starter Bakery’s staff turnover is very low. The bakery provides continuous opportunities for staff advancement and education. Employees enjoy full benefits including medical, dental and 401(K). Now there is a small but focused product development team who are always striving to not only expand the product line but to continually improve existing products. “It's actually now a space for people that have been working at the bakery for years to have the opportunity to expand into and to learn new things,” says Wood.
The new Starter Bakery retail cafe is located at 5804 College Avenue in Oakland and is open for breakfast and lunch, to eat-in or take-away from 8 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon, Wednesday to Sunday.