- Acme Bread Company
company_name = Acme Bread Company
company_type = Private
foundation = 1983
founder = Steve Sullivan
location_city = Berkeley, California
location_country = USA
key_people = Steve Sullivan, Founder and President
area_served = California
industry = Food production
products = Bread
revenue = $14.5 million (2006)
num_employees = 168
homepage = [http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/acme_bread_company.php acmebread]
footnotes = The Acme Bread Company (also known as Acme Bread) is a
Berkeley, California-based bakerythat is one of the pioneers of the San Francisco Bay Area's "Bread Revolution",cite news|publisher=San Francisco Chronicle|accessdate=2007-09-27|title=Bread Revolution: Bay Area bakers changed how we think about our daily bread|author=Karola Saeke|date=2001-05-20|url=http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2001/05/20/CM230884.DTL] which in turn created the modern " artisanbread" movement in America,cite news|publisher=San Francisco Chronicle|accessdate=2007-09-27|title=Culinary Pioneers: From Acme bread to Zuni Cafe, the Bay Area has shaped how America eats| author=Karola Saekel|date=2005-09-07|url=http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/09/07/FDGPVEF5U11.DTL] and remains a "benchmark" for commercial handmade bread.cite news|publisher=New York Times|accessdate=2007-09-26|title= Fresh From the Baker, A New Staff of Life|author=Florence Fabricant|date=1992-11-11|url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9E0CE4D81138F932A25752C1A964958260] .
Bread in San Francisco
There have been independent retail bakeries in San Francisco continuously since the
California Gold Rushof 1849, and many restaurants make their own bread. However, in the wholesale market (which distributes bread regionally to restaurants and grocery stores) was marked by a slow decline from the early heyday, and the subsequent emergence of a new generation of artisan bakers.
Gold rush era
San Francisco is a favorable location for baking high quality bread, particularly sourdough, due to humidity and temperate climate.. Sourdough, invented in ancient Egyptcite news|publisher=Sunset Magazine|title=The bread rush; growing popularity of bread|author=Elaine Johnson|date=1994-01-01|accessdate=2007-09-27|url=http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-14890725.html] and common in parts of Europe, became the primary bread of
San Franciscoduring the California Gold Rush. Gold miners valued it for their camps because of its durability, and the relative ease of obtaining yeast. [cite web|title="What is sourdough"|accessdate=2007-09-27|publisher=Bread Bakers Forum|url=http://www.angelfire.com/ab/bethsbread/WhatisSourdough.html] Although many different kinds of starter are suitable for making sourdough, specific local native speciesof wild bacteria( Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis) and of yeast ( Candida milleri) have been recently isolated as the dominant cultures in the most prized local breads.. By 1854 there were 63 bakeries in San Francisco.. "Starter" yeasts were either carefully kept and maintained by each bakery as a "mother starter", or simply allowed to generate from the ambient air. Boudin Bakerywas founded in 1849 by Isadore Boudin, son of a family of master bakers from Burgundy, France, came for the gold trade but instead opened a bakery, where he invented the San Francisco style of sourdough by applying French baking methods to the fermented dough breads the California miners were eating. Parisian Bakers, for many years the most popular bread in San Francisco, started in 1856. In Oakland, Toscana started in 1895 and Colombo started in 1896. [cite web|publisher=Sally's Place|author= Robin Donovan|accessdate=2007-09-26|title=It's the Culture:How the 49ers Struck Culinary Gold|url=http://www.sallys-place.com/food/single-articles/sourdough.htm] . Parisian supplied San Francisco's oldest restaurant, Tadich Grill, for 141 years until the bakery was shut down. The three surviving bakeries continue to use each of their respective mother starters, developed in the 19th century.
A generation of decline and consolidation, starting after
World War II, lead to poor quality bread in San Francisco.. The mid-20th century began a "Dark Ages" for bread, as most Amercians began to eat prepackaged, sliced loaves. Beginning in the 1950s and continuing through the 1980s, there was less fresh bread available across America, leading writer Henry Millerto exclaim, "You can travel 50000 miles in America without once tasting a piece of good bread." Much of the decline paralleled the nationwide trends, both for bread and other foods, of consolidation, lower priced and frozen ingredients, reducing labor costs, and adding preservatives for longer shelf life. Mechanization requires drier dough than hand-formed loaves, leading to drier loaves that do not have the same large air bubbles and chewy consistency of good sourdough. Despite quality issues, sourdough remained popular. Today it accounts for 70% of all bread sales among the top three independent bakeries.cite web|publisher=Epicurean.com|accessdate=2007-09-27|url=http://www.epicurean.com/articles/san-francisco-sourdough.html|title=The Rise Of San Francisco Sourdough|author=Scott Clemens] .
Some small producers from
the Gold Rushera kept the sourdough tradition and continued to produce bread. Steven Giraudo, an artisan baker who immigrated from Italy in 1935, took his first job in America at Boudin, then bought the bakery out of bankruptcy in 1941.cite news|publisher=San Francisco Chronicle|accessdate=2007-09-27|url=http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/05/10/BUGITCMI9J1.DTL|title=Rising at the wharf|Owners of historic Boudin Bakery, home of the original San Francisco sourdough bread, to open flagship store|author=Pia Sarkar|date=2005-05-10] He later sold it to a larger company, but after a series of ownership changes the bakery was bought back by two of Giraudo's sons through their investment bank. The Giraudo family bought Parisian, transferring it to the San Francisco French Bread Company of Oakland, Californiain 1984. That company was in turn acquired by Interstate Brands Corporationof Kansas City, Missouriin 1993, which went bankrupt and shut down Parisian in 2005.cite news|accessdate=2007-09-27|publisher=San Francisco Chronicle|title=Sour Ending:Parisian bread becomes toast as label's owner closes bakery|author=Carl Nolte|date=2005-08-20|url=http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/08/20/BAGJCEASE41.DTL] .
Despite their history, the old bakeries that survived are not small, and are not "artisan" operations in the common sense. The top three bakeries employ 1,000 people and make sixty million "units" of bread per year (mostly loaves) that they sell in more than 4,000
Northern Californiaoutlets, as well as airports and supermarkets throughout the United States. Boudin operates 32 retail outlets, mostly as coffee shops, including notable branches at Disneylandand Fisherman's Wharf. San Francisco Sourdough Bread Company bought both Colombo and Toscana, and replaced the hearthovens used for handmade sourdough with high capacity ovens. Before its demise, Interstate was making 217,460 loaves of bread and 71,540 rolls a week from the Parisian factory in San Francisco, as well as Wonder Bread, Twinkies, and Ho Hossnacks from a sister factory nearby.
Artisan bread movement
The Bay Area's artisan bread movement represents a return to small production of handmade loaves. [cite news|publisher=Boston Globe|title=A rising Revival in San Francisco|date= 1988-03-13|author=Sheryl Julian|accessdate=2007-09-27| ur=http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_product=BG&p_theme=bg&p_action=search&p_maxdocs=200&p_topdoc=1&p_text_direct-0=0EADEE4E8F63B184&p_field_direct-0=document_id&p_perpage=10&p_sort=YMD_date:D&s_trackval=GooglePM] The artisan bread movement was in some ways a return to older techniques styles, but in some ways a shift. Unlike the Gold Rush bakers, they were based on French and Italian techniques, and very crusty. Among the hallmarks of the new artisan breads, loaves are exposed to
steamwhile baking (a technique developed in Vienna, Austria), creating a shiny surface that may be crusty or chewy, while keeping the interior moist. "Rustic" breads use whole grainflours, including ryeflour and whole wheat. Breads are "scored" with decorative cross-cuts, along which the bread cracks while rising and baking to allow steam to escape. Scores are made in distinctive styles that identify each bakery.
The first of the many new companies arose out of the
Tassajara Zen Mountain Centernear Carmel Valley, California, a group of monks derived from the San Francisco Zen Center(which owns Greens Restaurant) that began baking bread in 1963 and operated a bakery in San Francisco's Cole Valleyfrom 1976 to 1992. A pastry shop, Just Desserts operated the bakery from then until 1999. [cite news|accessdate=2007-09-26|publisher=San Francisco Chronicle|title=Staff of Life Not Enough For Tassajara: S.F. bakery falls flat, quits making bread to become another outlet for owner Just Desserts | author= Peter Sinton | date=1999-04-10|url=http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1999/04/10/BU97721.DTL&type=travel]
Cheese Board Collectiveopened in 1967 in what would later be known as Berkeley's "Gourmet Ghetto", and became a worker-owned cooperativein 1971. In 1971 Alice Watersopened seminal California Cuisinerestaurant Chez Panisseacross the street, choosing the location to ensure a supply of fresh bread.
In 1970 Narsai David, now food and wine editor of KCBS and a nationally-syndicated food writer, opened a highly successful catering business and restaurant, Narsai's, in
Kensington, California. Narsai's became renowned for its breadmaking. David explained his philosophy: "Using nothing more than flour, water, salt and yeast, you could bake a loaf of bread in as little as three hours—or you could take 24 hours. The one that takes 24 hours has developed a much more sophisticated flavor. Take two to three hours and the bread tastes like flour and water."
Origin of Acme
FounderSteve Sullivan grew up in Los Gatos, California, and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeleyin 1975, intending to major in rhetoric.cite news|publisher=San Jose Business Journal|accessdate=2007-09-26|Date=1999-04-09|title=Breadmaker has seen plenty of dough pass through his doors|author=Sara Hazlewood |url=http://sanfrancisco.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/1999/04/12/smallb2.html] He earned money as a busboyat Chez Panisse. While riding his bike through England during a summer trip to Europe he bought "English Bread and Yeast Cookery", Elizabeth David's 1977 book on breadmaking and bread history.cite news|publisher=The Monthly|accessdate=2007-09-26|url=http://www.mindfully.org/Food/2006/Bay-Area-Bread1nov06.htm|title=Upper Crust:The San Francisco Bay Area has led us back from mass-manufactured sliced loaves to artisanal bread-baking at its finest | author=Andrea Pflaumer|date=2006-11-01] Excited by the book, and wanting to recreate the bread he had enjoyed in Paris, he began experimenting with baking for himself. In 1979, when Chez Panisse's then-supplier, the Cheese Board Collective, could not keep up with its demands, Sullivan became the restaurant's in-house breadmaker.cite news|publisher=New York Times|accessdate=2007-09-27|title=Fare of the Country; San Francisco's Own Bread| url=http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0DE0D81430F932A35752C1A961948260&sec=travel&spon=&pagewanted=3|author=S. Irene Virbila|date=1987-11-01|] However, his breadmaking and the restaurant's food preparation were both competing for the restaurant's limited physical space. In 1983 he left, with the restaurant's encouragement, to open his own company, Acme. Jeremiah Tower, then head chef, encouraged Sullivan to study breadmaking at Narsai David's bakery. He and wife Susan launched Acme with approximately $180,000 of seed capital, half funded by Doobie Brothersguitarist Patrick Simmonsthrough a leasebackarrangement.
Steve and Susan Sullivan took a honeymoon in France the year before starting the business. During their visit to a winery in Bandol, the son of the owners suggested they make their mother starter from the natural yeast of
wine grapes. On returning home, he made the starter Acme continues to use in all of its bakeries by collecting unsulfered Cabernet Sauvignonand Zinfandelgrapes from a vineyard his father owned, and adding them to a flour and water mixture.
Many other artisan bakers have followed in the steps of Tassajara, Cheese Board, Narsai's, and Acme, often started by veterans of other local bakeries and of Chez Panisse. Semifreddi's Bakery was opened in Kensington in 1983 by Eric and Carol Sartenaer, who had worked together at the Cheese Board Collective. In 1989 former Chez Panisse
pastry chefDianne Dexter and her husband David started Metropolis Baking Company, hiring a head baker who had worked at both Acme and Semifreddi's. La Farine Bakery was bought by Jeff Dodge, who had worked with Acme for six years. Glenn Mitchell, who had baked with Simmons at Chez Panisse, started Grace Baking Co. at the "Market Hall" food emporium in Oakland, Californiain 1987. Craig Ponsford founded Artisan Breads in Sonoma, Californiain 1992. The Cheese Board helped set up a sister cooperative, Arizmendi Bakery, in 1997 in Oakland, and another in San Francisco's Inner Sunsetin 2000. [cite web|url=http://www.arizmendibakery.org/about|accessdate=2007-09-27|title="About us"|publisher=Arizmendi Bakery] Other notable brands with wide local distribution include the French-Italian Bakery in San Francisco's North Beach (which distributes primarily to restaurants), The Bread Workshop, and Noe Valley Bakery.
All told there are at least 65 "Microbakeries" in the Bay Area,, including than the original bakers (Boudin, Colombo, and Toscana), collectively making approximately 2.4 million loaves of bread per week All are small locally-owned operations that distribute locally, except for the "big three" and Grace Baking, which was purchased in 2002 by
Maple Leaf Foods, a Canadian firm, and distributes nationally to Safewayand Costco. Grace maintains quality standards by baking the bread only partly, with final baking at the point of sale. Recently, Artisan and Boudin have entered into a distribution arrangement.
Although they represent a return to older ideals of craftsmanship, modern San Francisco breadmakers do not generally try to recreate old-style bread. Instead, the bakeries compete to develop signature loaves and to develop unique shapes, flavors, and styles. Oven technology is greatly improved. Because sourdough is even more sensitive to
ambient weatherthan other bread, bakeries are heavily dependent on climate control, refrigeration, and meteorological measurements and predictions to maintain ideal temperature and humidity conditions, giving them a consistency that would have been impossible during the Gold Rush.
Technically competitors, the various commercial bakeries keep cordial relations and openly share information, mirroring an international culture of collegiality among small bakers. When Ponsford opened Artisan in 1992, Grace, Acme, Semifreddi’s, and Metropolis, all shared advice and information.cite news|accessdate=2007-09-27|date=July, 2007|publisher=Modern Baking|title=Craig Ponsford continues baker generosity|url=http://modernbaking.bakery-net.com/article/17325] Ponsford went on to lead the industry association, the Bread Bakers Guild of America.
Specialty bakers are not the only source of artisan bread in the Bay Area. Large grocers such as
Safeway, Whole Foods, and Andronicoshave in-store bakeries that produce sourdough, baguettes, and rustic breads in their Bay Area locations. A number of local restaurants make bread for their own use and also retail sale. Among these is a San-Francisco based chain, Il Fornaio, that licensed a breadmaking concept from Milan, Italy, and has spread internationally and distributes to supermarkets. Restaurateur Pascal Rigo has opened a string of restaurants and patisseries under the umbrella "Bay Bread."
Acme sells bread (including
baguettes and batards, rolls, pastries(chocolate and plain croissants), and croutons. [cite web|url=http://www.ferryplazafarmersmarket.com/markets/artisans/artisan_94.php|publisher=CUESA|title=Acme Bread Company |accessdate=2209-09-27] The primary products are made in either sourdough or "sweet" white bread, but other dough styles are offered such as multi-grain and "walnut levain". Loaves are sold only whole and not sliced.
Acme operates four bakeries. It opened a wholesale-only bakery in Berkeley in 1989, a bakery in Mountain View in 1996, and a bakery and retail outlet in San Francisco as part of the 2004
Ferry Buildingrenovation. The main Berkeley bakery runs 24 hours per day in three shifts, seven days per week. The San Francisco location bakes only during daytime. [cite web|accessdate=2007-09-26|url=http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/acme_bread_company.php|title=Acme Bread] The larger bakeries each produce 60,000 or more loaves of bread per week.cite web|url=http://www.flavornotes.com/revsourdough.html|accessdate=2007-09-27|title=A Sourdough Quest|author=Robert Rich|date=February 2003|publisher=MV Voice]
Acme's sourdough loaves take 35 hours of work before baking. First, yeast from the mother starter is blended with additional flour and water to create a 60-pound "sponge", which is kept refrigerated for 12 hours. The sponge is then blended with 240 pounds of additional flour and water, and salt, then hand-formed into loaves. Bread is baked in a large brick oven with a rotating slab and steam humidifiers to keep optimal humidity and produce the crust.
Acme does almost no marketing. It has reserved the domain acmebread.com but does not maintain a website. It has no salespeople or marketing staff. Although it conducts a successful retail sales operation at its San Francisco and Berkeley bakeries, more than 80% of total sales are to the wholesale market, primarily local restaurants and markets. Boulevard and Farallon, two
fine diningcustomers, each spend approximately $60,000 per year on Acme bread. [cite news|publisher=San Francisco Chronicle|accessdate=2007-09-27|url=http://0-www.sfgate.com.mill1.sjlibrary.org/cgi-bin/blogs/sfgate/detail?blogid=26&entry_id=16921|author=Michael Bauer|title=The high cost of bread|date=2007-05-25] . The successful Ferry Building retail shop, though the most visible to tourists and residents alike, is a relatively small part of Acme's overall operations. [cite news|publisher=San Francisco Business Times|accessdate=2007-09-27|Friday, February 24, 2006|title=Kitchens catch fire|author=Ryan Tate|date=2006-02-24|url=http://sanfrancisco.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/stories/2006/02/27/story1.html?page=2]
* [http://www.ferryplazafarmersmarket.com/markets/artisans/artisan_94.php CUESA] - official Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market siteBakers:
* [http://www.metropolisbaking.com metropolisbaking.com] - Metropolis Baking, official site
* [http://www.artisanbakers.com artisanbakers.com] - Artisan Bakers, official site
* [http://www.arizmendibakery.org arizmendibakery.com] - Arizmendi Bakery, official site
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