Expansions to Los Angeles and South Korea, launching a coffee roasting business, closing three high-end restaurants, a unionization effort, and the divorce of its founders are just part of what is covered in a new article in the New Yorker about the Tartine Bakery.
“In Silicon Valley in the early 1920s, startups followed a new business rule: grow or die. But how much could an artisanal bakery grow?” asks the subtitle of this new New Yorker play by Anna Wiener. The piece focuses on how the finances and fate of Tartine Bakery and the Tartine brand have been tied up in recent years with a private equity firm, CIM Group. And in contrast to the union-driven narrative of founders Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Preuitt being gajillionaires, the play describes how Tartine struggled to survive over the past decade and how expansion into other cities was only possible through the cultural prestige that a locality in Tartine brings to a new development – that value worth things like free rent.
The story of Tartine’s path from artisanal bakery and confectionery at 18th and Guerrero to an internationally known brand is not a smooth one, and it seems it has been especially difficult for Robertson and Prueitt, who reportedly divorced in 2020 after more than two decades of baking. running a business and writing books together.
The couple bought a new home in the Castro in 2015, part of which they exhibited to Eater in early 2016. But, as The New Yorker reports, they had to sell the home shortly after the Eater play was published, after the company widely reported The deal to merge with Blue Bottle fell through in late 2015. The Manufactory Tartine opened in 2016, but that was also the year Bar Tartine closed — and Prueitt now says Bar Tartine, for all its fame and delicious food, never made a profit.
Fast forward a few years, and a new Tartine factory, three times the size of SF, which opened in downtown Los Angeles, abruptly closed after less than a year in business, four months before the pandemic began, in December 2019.
“We are perceived as something bigger than we are,” Prueitt tells the New Yorker. “There isn’t there. It’s a water sandwich.”
Tartine partner Bill Chait said something similar when he began the unionization effort among bakery and manufacturing workers, saying Tartine is “not a conglomerate” and despite rapid expansion, he said the company still couldn’t sustain salaries of $25/hour.
Many Tartine workers were earning close to the SF minimum wage of $16/hour, and the perception that the company was making money as these workers passed by was a major source of union sentiment.
Meanwhile, the Tartine Manufactory has yet to return to full service since the start of the pandemic – it’s only been open as a daytime cafe, with no dinner available since early 2020. The bakery now has six locations in Seoul and five in Los Angeles, with the newest in the historically Black West Adams neighborhood. The New Yorker did not get a full answer on Tartine’s exact relationship with CIM, but notes that CIM has an interest in all five Los Angeles bakeries and one in San Francisco. And Prueitt would just say that Tartine, as a company, remains in debt and is “fighting” not to sink any further.
Still, the company remains ostensibly independent, after many other local food companies sold out to large multinational corporations. As the New Yorker notes, around 2019, “many [Bay Area] small businesses seemed to be looking for a way out; a number of large local companies had sold to multinational corporations (La Boulange to Starbucks, Annie’s Homegrown to General Mills, Lagunitas to Heineken… Anchor Brewing to Sapporo, Blue Bottle to Nestlé, Cowgirl Creamery to Emmi).”
And people are still lining up to buy bread and pastries outside of Tartine on a regular basis – a line that has basically been a permanent fixture on 18th and Guerrero for the better part of the last 20 years – even after so many people have learned to make their own bread. of yeast in the last two years.
When bakery and real estate collide [The New Yorker]
Previously: Tartine workers vote to unionize in close vote 93-90
Photo: Carl Collins/Wikimedia