[Update: Bacano Bakery CLOSED permanently in April 2016]
By Vic Dolcourt
Laverne Matias and Elan LaLonde, co-founders of Bacano Bakery in Emeryville, California, are accomplished professionals from both the corporate and nonprofit worlds, whose vision it is to create something that provides a benefit to the public while eventually becoming profitable. Their focus is on the well-being of their staff and the satisfaction of their customers, their highest priorities.
“What does Bacano mean?” I asked Elan. “It’s Columbian and Brazilian slang, and translation is inexact, but it means ‘really nice, cool, best buddy’. It is how we think of our customers and what we want our bakery to be for them.”
They hoped the bakery would be in their central Oakland neighborhood, near Lake Merritt, but were willing to wait for the right opportunity for a great location. In the meantime, after an enjoyable round of research visiting a number of farmers’ markets, they zeroed in on the concept of a gluten-free bakery as a vendor. They created a business plan and went to work trying to find a farmers’ market that would serve as the launch.
Farmers’ markets are not as casual as they seem
Laverne and Elan learned in their research that successful farmers’ markets are very well managed enterprises that require business acumen and perseverance to penetrate. A farmers’ market sponsor wants just the right mix of both farmers and related vendors, and the right mix of products. In addition, the farmers’ market sponsor selects vendors who have staying power in their business and show up regularly. As a result, there are very few vacancies for new vendors and it is hard for someone new to find placement.
Laverne and Elan decided it was worth the effort and patience it takes to get a spot in each market. The pair were well-qualified to embark on this endeavor; Laverne has extensive experience in large-scale natural and organic baked goods, having risen to general manager, and Elan has experience in marketing and customer-facing operations.
In June 2012, the Agricultural Institute of Marin (AIM) interviewed Laverne for a potential placement at the Grand Lake Farmers’ Market in Oakland by Lake Merritt. Laverne, the creative director for Bacano’s recipes, submitted nine different baked products for evaluation. AIM liked what they saw, and two weeks later Bacano Bakery began selling six to eight products regularly at the Saturday market.
Since then, Bacano has added Sundays at the Temescal Farmers Market in Oakland’s Rockridge district and the Clement Street Farmers market in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond. The menus are ever changing and seasonal; however, typical Saturday and Sunday menus now include approximately 24 different items ranging from breads to sweet and savory pastries. Bacano also places products at a number of grocery stores and cafés throughout the Bay Area.
A menu for many tastes
“One of the best things about a farmers’ market is that we get a chance to talk to our customers firsthand, and Laverne turns their requests into what we offer,” said Elan. “Some of our customers tell us that they need dairy free, others on a paleo diet want grain free, still others want completely sugar free and a number of our customers are vegan. Many of our customers are also gluten free. We also bake a number of our products the traditional way with lots of butter and eggs and sugar! The bottom line is that we strive to have something on our menu for each of kind of customer.”
“All of our breads and pastries are gluten free and baked in a dedicated gluten-free facility, but that is only the start. We don’t use flour mixes; rather, we formulate our own flours from ancient grains and nuts. Many of our sweets are made with natural sugars like honey, maple syrup and coconut nectar. Our breads and pastries have to be delicious and without compromise because many of our customers can eat gluten and compare our products to conventional baked goods.”
“But the main reason farmers’ markets came to be were the farmers themselves,” Elan related. “A number of these farmers are our suppliers and have become our friends. We like to buy fresh, local and organic. Our relationship with the farmers gives us access to the very best and freshest ingredients, which are so important to many of our customers – they want to know where their food is coming from and what is in it.”
Production expansion and a retail location
Bacano initially produced baked goods for the farmers’ markets, grocery stores and cafes in rented kitchen space that was available for only two days per week. As Bacano grew, this kitchen finally became the upper limit to the ultimate size of the business. Needing to expand, the partners identified a location in an appealing Emeryville neighborhood on 65th Street west of San Pablo Avenue. After a seven-month remodel, Bacano opened its new dedicated bakery co-located with its new retail café. There is opportunity now to grow both parts of its business – production baking in the rear and retail sales in the front.
“In addition to bakery treats, we’re working to add more and more café fare like soups, salads, pizzas, pot pies and sandwiches,” Elan said. “One of our diners recently told us in an online review that they’d been to our café several times before they found out what we served to them was gluten free and they loved it. That is a compliment.”
Future plans maintain connection to farmers’ markets
“Scale is important to a thriving business,” said Elan when I asked him what is next for Bacano. “Now that we have a kitchen that doesn’t limit our production, we can reach more cafés and more markets. But the benefit we get from farmers’ markets is almost incalculable, and we’ll consider future opportunities to be in more farmers’ markets. The public is most vocal at the markets, and our employees get direct feedback from our customers. A baker loves to hear directly from a customer that the product is sensational or beautiful. That positive feedback really drives our overall quality and attention to detail.”
You can find Bacano’s weekly bill of fare on their website, which also lists the markets and cafes that sell their baked goods. Visit their Facebook page for updates and photos of the most recent delectable creations.