Tartine Bakery’s tumultuous final years get ‘The New Yorker’ treatment
Expansions in Los Angeles and South Korea, the launch of a coffee roasting business, the closure of three high profile restaurants, a union 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 the Silicon Valley of the early 1920s, startups followed a new business rule: grow or die. But how big was it for an artisan bakery to grow?” ask for the subtitle this new New Yorker room by Anna Vienna. The article focuses on how the finances and fate of Tartine Bakery and the Tartine brand have been linked in recent years with a real estate private equity firm, CIM Group. And contrary to the narrative pushed by union workers about founders Chad Robertson and Elizabeth Preuitt being billionaires, the article describes how Tartine has struggled to survive over the past decade and how expansion into other cities has not. been made possible only through the cultural cachet that a Tartine location brings to a new development – that cachet being worth things like free rent.
The story of Tartine’s journey from 18th century artisan bakery and pastry and Guerrero to an internationally renowned brand is not straightforward, and it appears to have been particularly difficult for Robertson and Prueitt, who would have divorced in 2020 after more than two decades of cooking, running a business and writing books together.
The couple bought a new house in Castro in 2015, part of which shown to Eater in early 2016. But as The New Yorker reports, they had to sell the house shortly after that Eater piece went live, after the company’s widely reported deal to merge with Blue Bottle fell through. end of 2015. Tartine Manufactory opened in 2016, but that was also the year Bar Tartine closed – and Prueitt now says that Bar Tartine, for all its fame and delicious food, never achieved a profit.
Fast forward a few years and a splashy new toast factory, three times the size of SF, opened in downtown Los Angeles. abruptly closed after less than a year of activity, four months before the pandemic even started, in December 2019.
“We’re seen as something bigger than who we are,” Prueitt told The New Yorker. “There’s none there. It’s a water sandwich.”
Tartine partner Bill Chait said something similar when the effort to organize bakery and manufacturing workers began, saying Tartine was “not a conglomerate”, and despite expanding quick, he said the company still couldn’t afford $25/hour wages.
Many Tartine workers earned near SF’s minimum wage of $16/hour, and the perception that the company was rolling in dough while these workers scraped was a major source of union sentiment.
The Tartine factory, meanwhile, has still not resumed full service since the start of the pandemic – it has only been open as a daytime café, with no dinner available since the start of 2020. The bakery now has six locations at Seoul and five in Los Angeles, the newest being in the historically Black West Adams neighborhood. The New Yorker didn’t get a full answer on Tartine’s exact relationship to CIM, but it does note that CIM has an interest in all five bakeries in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco. And Prueitt would only say that Tartine, as a company, remains in debt and “struggles” not to sink further.
Yet the business remains ostensibly independent, after many other local food businesses have sold out to large multinational corporations. As the New Yorker noted, circa 2019, “many [Bay Area] small businesses seemed to be looking for an exit; a multitude of large local companies had sold to multinationals (La Boulange to Starbucks, Annie’s Homegrown to General Mills, Lagunitas to Heineken… Anchor Brewing in Sapporo, Blue Bottle to Nestlé, Cowgirl Creamery to Emmi).”
And people are still lining up for bread and pastries outside Tartine – a line that has essentially been a permanent fixture in 18th and Guerrero for most of the past 20 years – even after so many people have learned to make their own sourdough bread in the past two years.
When pastry and real estate collide [The New Yorker]
Previously: Tartine workers vote to unionize in close 93-90 vote
Photo: Carl Collins/Wikimedia