If Silicon Valley Is the Home of Hypergrowth, There’s Still Something You Just Can’t Rush—anything Perfectly Baked

Mother dough.

When it comes to cooking, the precision required of baking makes it a surefire litmus test in the kitchen. Thankfully, the owners at the helms of these three bakeries have more than passed—with delectable menus, dedicated fan bases, and operations that have risen steadily into thriving businesses.

Co-founders Anna Derivi-Castellanos and Lenore Estrada. Photo by Maren Caruso

Three Babes Bakeshop, San Francisco

Begun in 2011, Three Babes Bakeshop is now run by one—Lenore Estrada. She has shepherded the San Francisco-based business from its first days operating out of a $40/day shipping container in the Mission District, to its celebrated presence at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays and churning out pies from a rented commercial kitchen in Bayview. “That’s what made it possible to grow our business,” Estrada says of the expansion that saved them a big upfront investment and allows for a vacillating workforce in what is traditionally a seasonal business. “The week of Thanksgiving, we typically rent a giant moving truck and park it outside our facility to hold all of our boxes,” Estrada says.

Until mid-2018, Estrada ran much of this growth alongside her co-founder and best baking buddy from growing up in the Central Valley, Anna Derivi-Castellanos, who is now Director of Operations of San Mateo-based food incubator KitchenTown. Along the way, Three Babes has earned serious accolades, including Food & Wine’s roundup of “America’s Best Apple Pies.” (It’s famous for Key Lime, juicy fruit pies like Blackberry, and Pecan.) Three Babes Bakeshop also provides breakfast pastries and desserts for Google, San Francisco as well as other tech clients like Twitch and Lyft, and does weddings for pie-preferring couples. “A lot of people like pies,” Estrada concludes of the broad appeal. Indeed, Mindy Kaling and Tyra Banks are Three Babes fans.

Such impressive growth has come without a storefront retail operation… until now. As of March, Three Babes Bakeshop and its staff of 26 planned to be back in the Mission, at 2797 16th Street near Folsom. “It’s close to BART, which we’re really excited about,” Estrada says. No doubt many a commuter will be, too.

Baking Tip: “The main thing is you don’t need a lot of fancy ingredients. You just need to understand the technique, making sure you allow yourself enough time to rest and chill the dough every time you work with it. And allow [pies] to bake long enough. The fruit filling should be bubbling when you take it out of the oven.”

Typically available at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays, and distributed on the Peninsula via Good Eggs. Coming soon to the Mission.

Photo by Hana Maass

As Kneaded Bakery, San Leandro

“Food was important and central to my family growing up Jewish and being a family of eaters,” says Iliana Berkowitz, owner and head baker of As Kneaded Bakery in San Leandro. The Palo Alto native grew up on what she calls “basic bread,” but discovered a true interest in baking on her own during college and never looked back. While working full-time for a bread business in a commercial kitchen, she side-hustled with a rented space and started Bread Club, a weekly subscription program that had her baking on her days off, writing newsletters, and delivering to pick-up locations—all great training for now running her own operation.

Berkowitz has continued to grow and innovate with a model that includes selling at farmers’ markets, a wholesale bakery, and class offerings, on top of the retail shop she opened in 2018. From weekend lines out the door and a staff of four, to now serving customers five days a week thanks to a staff of 16, As Kneaded has more than filled a hole in the local artisanal bread market. “I am of the opinion that bread can be for anyone,” Berkowitz says of what sets her apart. “I give away my sourdough starter; I’m not proprietary whatsoever.”

As Kneaded’s anything-but-basic bread menu offers a variety of sourdough, Challah, sweet baguettes as well as smaller seasonal items she credits to the creativity of her staff (such as sweetbread pudding with revolving ingredients like salted caramel pecan or cranberry walnut). “People go crazy about our sticky buns and our Bostock,” Berkowitz says of the thick cut of Challah topped with seasonal jam, in-house almond frangipane, sliced almonds, and a drizzle of simple syrup—she sold $15,000 worth of it last year.

Baking Tip: “Bread is something that it takes a really long time to nail. You have to make it every week to really learn it. It’s important to me that it is a craft. Keep doing it. Stick to it to be able to notice the small changes over time.”

Typically available at the San Leandro retail shop and sold around the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula at Bianchini’s Markets, Draeger’s Market Los Altos, Roberts Markets, and more. And the online shop is open!

Photography by Tian Mayimin

Little Sky Bakery, Menlo Park

“I think it’s really completely unexpected,” Little Sky Bakery founder Tian Mayimin says from her home in Menlo Park, where she kicked off her business in early 2017. “When we moved in the fall of 2016, I didn’t know how to bake.”

Yes, you read that correctly.

Before turning to bread, Mayimin started and ran a juice and health-food company in Shanghai. A three-time Harvard graduate, she also practiced antitrust law in D.C. But it wasn’t until she and her husband, a professor at Stanford, moved to Menlo Park and a friend passed along a century-old starter, that Mayimin embarked on her next food company. “I love making products and seeing people eat or use those products,” she says. “Who wouldn’t want a warm loaf of bread delivered to them?” So Mayimim printed and delivered 800 postcards to neighbors—and one placed an order. “It was amazing,” she says with true appreciation.

She also started selling at local farmers’ markets, like Downtown Palo Alto. “I showed up with maybe 30-40 breads and sold out in 20 minutes.” While she would love her next step to be opening a retail shop, the markets allow her to test new products, such as sourdough scones and cakes like the lemon poppyseed shown here. She also takes each customer’s tastes into account before recommending staples from Little Sky’s loaf lineup, like Bulgur that uses the entire wheat berry, Olive Rosemary, or fan favorite Raisin Walnut. Maymin rattles off other ingredients like fennel, sesame seeds, and blueberry powder from recent recipes, which circles back to her main focus on product. “We are doing micro variations on flavors all the time,” she says.

Her focus also now includes her 10-month-old daughter, so thankfully she has the assistance of two other bakers. Because after a typical weekend at market, Little Sky sells not dozens, but hundreds of loaves. “Thousands of people are eating the bread during the course of a weekend,” she says. Talk about breaking bread.

Baking Tip: “Definitely get a scale, a thermometer, and a clock. Those things enable a total novice like me to become a professional baker. And be carefully paying attention. If you get a really good recipe book and look up videos of how it should look and try to be detail oriented about it, you can come surprisingly close.”

Typically available at farmers’ markets in Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, Mountain View, and coming as soon as possible to Saratoga and Los Altos. Check online for expanded delivery options.

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