Nabolom Collective Bakery, which has been cooking cinnamon twists, blueberry cheese Danishes, morning buns, snicker-doodle cookies, challah and other baked delights for almost 40 years, is shutting down Sunday Aug. 2.
The bakery, at 2708 Russell St. (at College) in the Elmwood district, put up signs Thursday announcing its imminent closure.
“Thank You Berkeley!!! For love and support since 1976,” said a sign in colorful chalk. “Sunday August 2nd will be our last day in operation. Get your favorite pastries while you still can!”
At 7 a.m. on Friday, one of Nabolom’s bakers, who asked not to be named, was busy turning out muffins from muffin tins and getting them ready to sell. The bakery was a little late in opening, a reflection, perhaps, of the collective’s sagging morale, she said.
That baker and the two other members of the collective who were present on Friday declined to say why the business was shutting down. One of them, a 19-year old woman who said she had been in the collective for four years, said she would send Berkeleyside an email later about the decision. Berkeleyside will update the story if more information becomes available.
Many long-time customers were mourning the news on Friday. A Cal student, who asked only to be identified as Phil, said he had been coming to the bakery for years. When he heard Nabolom was closing, he ordered two loaves of challah and a dozen cinnamon twists to pick up.
“It sucks,” he said. “I think it’s super sad to see them go. We really like locally homegrown brews, anything that is a little less Starbucks.”
Many patrons attributed the closure to a changing culture where worker-owned collectives with an authentic down-home vibe were getting squeezed out by bright, corporate coffee shops. They speculated that the bakery is struggling financially.
“They are just not making money,” said Cynthia Wilson, who has been playing drums at Nabolom every Saturday for 12 years with the band Friends of Old Puppy. “The corporate takeover of our country is part of it. Nabolom is a rather funky kind of place. That’s not the thing anymore, although I like it. It has so much character, but they haven’t kept the place up. It needs a paint job. I don’t know how long since the floors were steam-cleaned. It’s definitely alternative and the people who work there are delightfully alternative — dreamers of a better world.”
Deborah Robins and her husband live in the Elmwood and have been taking their granddaughter to hear Friends of Old Puppy every Saturday since she could sit up in a stroller. “The Friends of Old Puppy is the soundtrack of her young life,” said Robins. Her granddaughter likes the croissants, while her husband likes the vegan breakfast.
The band, led by ukulele player Steven Strauss, plays every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Many musicians sit in to play, and the three hours is like a community gathering, said Robins.
“This is a blow to the neighborhood,” said Robins. “It was really a throwback to a time when collectives and worker-owned businesses really exemplified what could be done instead of the corporate-owned shops that are creeping their way down College Avenue.”
Nabolom’s goods are highly praised on Yelp. While the main focus is on bread and pastries, the bakery serves brunch — both vegan and non-vegan — on the weekends.
Nabolom has faced stiff competition in recent years. There are numerous casual eateries nearby, including the Elmwood Café, Summer Kitchen Bake Shop, The Beanery, A ‘Cuppa Tea, and Espresso Roma. La PanotiQ Bakery Café, part of a chain of French bakery cafés, is opening nearby on College Avenue soon.
The Elmwood had been operating under a quota system for years in an attempt to balance the types of businesses along College Avenue, but recently Berkeley has deviated from the formula. City Councilwoman Lori Droste is currently conducting a review of Elmwood retail quotas.
The closure comes in the wake of the shuttering of two other longstanding Berkeley businesses: Oscar’s, which had been in operation for 65 years and is closing soon, and Shakespeare & Co., which shut up shop last month after 51 years on Telegraph Avenue.
Elmwood restaurant The Advocate to open in July (06.10.15)
Elmwood business quotas may change to help start-ups (01.17.12)
A’ Cuppa Tea move raises issue of Elmwood quotas (07.19.11)
Is it hard to do business in Berkeley (01.20.11)
Summer Kitchen and Elmwood zoning: A follow up (04.22.10)