Julia Elliott hasn’t been getting much sleep lately as she prepares to re-open Nabolom Bakery which shuttered in August 2015 after nearly 40 years operating in the Elmwood.
For the past few weeks, Elliott and her business partner, Sabra Stepak, have been on overdrive as they stripped away decades of grime from the space at 2708 Russell St., refurbished old but reliable baking equipment, updated the electrical systems, painted, and worked with two bakers to perfect recipes long loved by the community: cinnamon twists, cheese Danishes, challah, multigrain bread, and peanut butter, chocolate chip, and Snickerdoodle cookies, among other goods.
“Who sleeps?” Elliott, 48, said on Monday shortly after placing a large order with the rep from Challenge Butter. “I am working on two hours of sleep a night.”
The push is necessary because opening day is Monday, Feb. 29, at 7 a.m.
“We are doing the labor and delivery analogy,” said Elliott. “The baby is not coming so we are taking the Pitocin. The baby is coming the 29th, like it or not.”
When Elliott and Stepak throw open the doors, it will be a homecoming of sorts. In the early 1980s, Elliot’s mother, as well as her best friend and housemate Lisa Murphy, worked at Nabolom, so memories of her teenage years are sprinkled with visions of all the delicious pastries turned out by the collective. She and her friends used to come by after school to eat, hang out … and do other things.
“I used to steal the rum they used to make the fruitcakes,” she said.
When Elliott read in Berkeleyside in August that Nabolom was closing, she immediately sent an email to the collective offering to buy the business. “I am very attached to this bakery and said I would like to take over if you leave.”
The Nabolom collective, which had been operating for almost four decades, had collapsed as people pulled out and the group became more distant from its roots. Elliott and Stepak paid $80,000 to pay off what they thought was the collective’s debts and acquire the recipes. (The debt turned to be higher, but the extra was not the partners’ responsibility.)
Elliott has a long association with collectives. She was a member of the Cheese Board Collective for 12 years. However, the new Nabolom will not be a collective. She and Stepak are its owners and will make the decisions.
Plans for daily Cheese Board-like pizza
But Elliott will draw on her Cheese Board background. Nabolom plans to sell two types of Cheese Board-like pizza each day. Both will be vegetarian, one with tomato sauce and one without. There will be half-baked pizzas available to take out.
Elliott could not specify on Monday what the various toppings would be as she plans to see what looks good at the market before she decides.
In the beginning, the partners will stick closely to Nabolom favorites. They brought in two bakers, Aron Ford, who owned Nick and Aron’s on Telegraph Avenue until its recent closure, and Sasha Crehan, a founder of Sweet Adeline Bakery who also worked at Tante Marie’s cooking school. They will split the baking duties, alternating days, said Ford.
Ford also has a long history with Nabolom. There is a photo hanging in the bakery of him sitting on Elliott’s lap. She is about 13 and he is about five months old. Next to them are his twin and a friend of Elliott’s.
“We are going through the recipes, bringing them up to date, and making them precise,” said Ford, who has also worked at Acme Bread Co. and Arizmendi.
Initially, Nabolom will sell baked goods that have long been popular, said Elliott. It will stay open until 7 p.m., and will also serve soup. Eventually, she plans to add salads. At first, there will only be five kinds of cookies. She is not planning to sell the Toll House cookie because, when she priced it out, she realized it would have to cost $5. But she may roll it out on special occasions.
Nabolom is reopening just as another bakery, Le PanotiQ, on College Avenue near Ashby, just a block away, is also opening soon.
The partners have cleaned up the space. Although it is still funky, it no longer feels dirty. The bakery walls are a glossy white and the floors have been scrubbed so they no longer seem dingy. Elliott and Stepak moved the glass goods case to offer customers a better view into the kitchen. But they want the funk to continue since that seems to appeal to the neighborhood, said Elliot.
She is also relying on the neighborhood to tell her what they like and don’t like.
“If people react positively (to an item) we’ll keep it,” said Elliott. “”You vote if you buy it. That’s how people keep their item.”
Nabolom Bakery will be at 2708 Russell St. (at College Avenue), Berkeley. Connect with the bakery on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Staffing issues led to the closure of Nabolom Bakery (08.06.15)
Nabolom Bakery to close after 40 years in Berkeley (07.31.15)
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