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Photo by Rebecca Farrell GomezPastries from Starter Bakery; Kouign-Amann on right | Photo Credit: Frank Wing.

When I moved to Oakland last winter, I moved to a city ruled by Starter Bakery. You won’t find a storefront for this purveyor of pastries and breads, but as owner Brian Wood explained, “On any given day, we’re making at least 60 different products going to 85 different customers all over the Bay Area.”

Those wholesale orders comprise the majority of Starter Bakery’s business, but they also maintain a stalwart presence in the East Bay community at Oakland’s farmers’ markets.

All that delicious dough is generated from their facility in Oakland. Wood granted me entrance to take a peek behind the scenes of Starter Bakery. In one nook, two substantive walls of assembled boxes stood waiting. By the time the bakery closes at 1:30 am for a few short hours a day, those boxes will have been filled and made ready for early morning deliveries.

Temescal Farmers' Market | Photo Credit: Starter Bakery

Of course, nearly every one of those orders includes Kouign-Amann. Much has been written about this Breton baked good, and for good reason. Hazelnut, chocolate, and seasonal fruit fillings may adorn the pastry, but plain is tantalizing on its own.

I was so enchanted with my first Kouign-Amann, by which I mean first several, that I now take out-of-towners to cafes that serve them as part of the essential Oakland experience. I hope Wood’s creations with a s’mores version and an all chocolate one, from the butter to the dough, find their way to my local café soon.

Owner Brian Wood of Starter Bakery in Oakland, CABrian Wood, owner of Starter Bakery. Photo by Rebecca Gomez Farrell.

Wood, inspired by tasting his first Kouign-Amann in New York in 2005, studied the process for an article in the trade magazine, Modern Baking. Afterward, he mused, why not open a business specializing in them? We are the lucky beneficiaries of that decision. But does it please true Bretons? Wood answered, “A few have come to the bakery or to the markets, and they all tell me it’s an authentic product. One guy flew out from Salt Lake City to try it!”

I asked Wood which of his other baked goods he thinks should get more attention. I expected him to name the hazelnut crème twice-baked croissants, perhaps. But no, Wood threw me a curveball and selected… the bran muffin! After sampling it, I could understand why. Its deep brown-sugar roots maintain moistness while coming across as quite light for a muffin that often achieves the density of a brick.

Starter bakery in Oakland CA owner Brian Wood Making pretzels at Starter Bakery. Photo by Rebecca Gomez Farrell.

Wood, a former instructor at the San Francisco Baking institute, has an extensive background in pastry-making, including contributing to and managing the production of the textbook Baking and Pastry: A Professional Approach. I wondered whether the rest of Starter Bakery’s employees have similar levels of experience. He again surprised me, saying “It’s a mix.”

Some employees have professional cooking school training or are undergoing internships, but “I have people who’ve never worked with food. We work with them to train them to gain new skills.” To be successful, all potential Starter Bakery employees must “have a desire to want to work with food, to learn, and to challenge themselves. If someone has the passion to show up and apply themselves, they can really learn a lot.”

I’ll leave you with a final question for Wood. What has surprised him most about Bay Area residents’ tastes since opening shop? “I’m amazed at how hungry they are! It’s insane. Last year, we sold over 200,000 pieces of Kouign-Amann." No comment on how many of those I consumed.




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