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Rising success

Jan./Feb. 2008 California Country magazine

Acme Bread Company is one of the nation's foremost artisan bakeries, turning organic flour and a host of California-grown ingredients into more than 30 different types of bread.



Bay Area bread company wins over customers and critics

If Steve and Suzie Sullivan had listened to the crusty carpenter who was helping build their first bakery, they would have been making hot dogs instead of world-class bread.

The young entrepreneurs persevered and in 1983 opened Acme Bread Co. in Berkeley.

Their decision has meant manna from epicurean heaven for Bay Area bread lovers, who are considered some of the most discerning in the world.

Acme is one of the nation's foremost artisan bakeries, turning organic flour and a host of California-grown ingredients into more than 30 different types of bread that have impressed their wide customer base as well as critics.

The humble beginning of the bakery occurred in the 1970s. Steve Sullivan, at the time a busboy at the acclaimed Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, vacationed in Europe and fell in love with old-style bread. He returned and began to bake bread, which eventually convinced him and his new bride to open their own bakery. The business has been a steady, if not spectacular, success.

"People used to scoff at our modest growth," Sullivan said. "But then we've had that same modest, 5- to 15-percent growth per year for the last 25 years. That bespeaks a certain growth in the market. I don't think it's the same people buying more bread. More people are looking for better bread."

Sullivan said people realize that good bread is an affordable indulgence.

"Good bread doesn't cost $50 a loaf," he said. "The best bread doesn't cost that much more than the worst bread, so I think people are discovering that that's an area where they can find the best the area has to offer, without having to spend what seems like an absurd amount of money."

Acme has four bakeries: two in Berkeley, one at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Marketplace and one in Mountain View. At their main facility in Berkeley, three shifts of bakers work around the clock, seven days a week, making thousands of loaves of bread daily to meet customer demands. Everything except mixing is done by hand in the traditional way, including the baking, in their impressive hearth ovens.

Whether it's pain au levain, New York rye or a simple sourdough baguette, Sullivan said a good loaf of bread is an experience that's enjoyable on several different levels.

"It's something pretty primitive," he said. "For us, because we bake it, it's associated to some extent with the hearth, heat and fire—the sounds and smell of the crust crackling as it cools after it comes out of the oven. … When you know how something is made and it's made in a way that you feel good about, that gives an emotional boost to the experience as well."


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