No sufganiyot but the miracle of Grand Bakery may yet last

Despair not, kosher families of the East Bay. Grand Bakery, a beloved Oakland institution, may yet survive.

Just two weeks ago, things weren’t looking good for the shop. Owner Bob Jaffe announced he was retiring on Dec. 23 after 18 years running the bakery, and he said efforts to find a buyer who would keep it a kosher business hadn’t panned out.

Since then, he said he’s realized the transition doesn’t have to be seamless; if he does find a buyer, there will be a gap between his last day and the new owner’s first.

Grand Bakery owner Bob Jaffe

“That’s taken the pressure off my shoulders. So now I’m going through the process, meeting with people and vetting them, hearing their stories,” Jaffe said. “I’m pretty confident there will be a well-run kosher entity here.”

The gap will mostly be to get things up to building codes.

“There’s a lot of moving parts, things that were grandfathered in,” Jaffe said, adding that the bakery would need a hood with fire suppression, new flooring and a handicap-accessible bathroom.

The bakery’s possible survival will come as a huge relief to members of the kosher community of the Bay Area.

Rabbi Gershon Albert of Congregation Beth Jacob, an Orthodox synagogue in Oakland, who was interviewed by J. before Jaffe was confident he’d find a buyer, was worried for his family and his congregation.

“My wife cooks challah often, but when she doesn’t, that’s where we go,” Albert said. “We’re going to feel the impact if it closes.” His synagogue gets food for many of their kiddushes from Jaffe.

Albert called Grand Bakery “a safe haven for when you don’t have time or energy to bake.”

And what about that most important of family functions? “Bob is the only person who can make a kosher pizza and birthday cake on short notice,” the rabbi said.

Of course, there are other sources of kosher baked goods in the area, but none with seating and a café feel.

“There are other kosher challahs being sold elsewhere, like Oakland Kosher Foods and locations of Semifreddi’s,” Albert said. “But for many in my shul who grew up here or have lived here a long time, it would feel like a loss of part of their own home. ”

And Jaffe knows it. “You can get challah and some catering elsewhere, but this is a place people can come and swap stories and sit and talk to me about sports or Judaism,” he said. “It’s an old-time place. … I’ll still take an I.O.U. and a handshake.”

He remembers one Yelp comment that complained he was too chatty. Jaffe’s response? “You want it the same as everywhere else? Good, go to Starbucks.”

The atmosphere is almost as  important as the products being kosher. When he bought the bakery 18 years ago, he coined  a motto: “You’ll buy from us because you want to, not because you have to.”

That’s certainly true for Mark Snyder of Oakland. His family doesn’t keep strictly kosher. Nevertheless, they’ve been loyal customers since before Jaffe bought the business.

“I stop in a lot for bran muffins or challah rolls in the morning,” Snyder said. “Any time that I have to buy anything baked for a meeting or to take to work, I always go to Grand Bakery.”

When Snyder mentioned to his son that it might be closing, his son said, “Oh my God, I’ve been going there all my life.”

Where would Snyder go for his morning bran muffin if the Grand Bakery disappears? “No idea,” he said. “There’s a bakery across the street, but it just doesn’t seem right to go there.”

Whether or not Jaffe finds a buyer, Grand Bakery will be closed starting Dec. 23, two days before the start of Hanukkah. That means no Grand Bakery sufganiyot this year. When he first bought the bakery he’d never heard of the Israeli jelly doughnuts important to so many families’ Hanukkah celebrations, but 18 years later he gets it.

“People come in and say, ‘Yes, this is the real thing,’ ” Jaffe said. “So I’ve been disappointing a lot of people in phone calls this year.”

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is director of news product at J. He previously served as assistant editor and digital editor. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @davidamwilensky