David Morris

In an attempt to increase his business, the owner of the Bread Garden Bakery on Domingo Avenue has put a sign in his store window alerting people that Peet’s Coffee, his next-door neighbor, is selling day-old pastries.

David Morris put up the sign on Tuesday February 23 as a way to lure customers to buy their pastries from his store, rather than Peet’s.

“I have a competitive advantage over Peet’s,” said Morris. “My bakers start work between 1 and 2 am. Peet’s baked goods have already been delivered by then. They basically are in the business of selling day-old goods. Mine are fresher.”

Morris is hoping to make enough of a nuisance of himself that Peet’s will take out its pastry case – or use Bread Garden products rather than those cooked at a contract bakery.

Peet’s declined to comment on Morris’ sign – or the contention that its pastries are a day old.  Stacey Lawrence, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail that Peet’s  provides “freshly baked goods and “is committed to being a good neighbor” to the Bread Garden.

This is not the first time that Morris has used signs to alert the community to the state of his business. In July 2009, he posted a notice in his store telling customers that business had dropped so much that he was considering not renewing his lease. He asked for recommendations about other towns he might relocate to.

The notice prompted Berkeley City Councilman Gordon Wozniak to intervene. Wozniak, who says he is “addicted” to the bakery’s morning buns, tried to drum up business for the Bread Garden by introducing Morris to the manager of the Claremont Resort and representatives from Peet’s. The Claremont agreed to use Bread Garden products in its restaurants, but Peet’s did not offer anything specific.

The Bread Garden opened in 1974. When Peet’s Coffee moved next door in 1980, Alfred Peet decided not to sell pastries so the two businesses wouldn’t compete, said Morris. For years, people would stop by the Bread Garden, pick up something to eat, and then go to Peet’s for coffee.  That changed a few years ago when a new corporation acquired Peet’s and put pastries in all the stores.

Morris saw an immediate decline in sales. And, as more and more bakeries opened up – there are now 22 in Berkeley — and people started buying bread at grocery stores, the Bread Garden’s business suffered, said Morris. That’s when he put the first sign up at the store.

The Bread Garden wasn’t profitable in January 2010, but it lost less money than it did in January 2009, which makes Morris optimistic. He has arranged a one-year extension on his lease and hopes that 2010 will be a better year.

But he still smarts when he sees all those people buying what he considers are  inferior pastries from Peet’s, which is why he stuck up a new sign in the store window. It reads, “Prefer Day-Old Pastries? Buy Your Pastries at Peet’s. When the Bread Garden’s bakers start baking today’s pastries around 1 a.m., Peet’s pastries for today have already been delivered — theirs were baked yesterday!”

It remains to be seen if Morris’ guerrilla tactics win or lose him customers. Although many expressed concern last summer that the store would close, and even helped Morris get his products stocked at Star Market, others were bothered by the tone of his appeal.

“I was totally annoyed and offended,” said one customer whose sons love the bakery’s pizza bread. She did not want her name used. “Every communication blames the neighborhood. It makes me feel like I am getting scolded.”

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...