Photograph by Nina Smith
If you had walked by Nabolom Bakery in 2015, you would’ve been met with closed doors, and no sign of life from within the building. Now, the bakery is filled with small groups of tables and chairs, an old upright piano covered in magazines for patrons to read, and a bustling kitchen in the back.
Nabolom Bakery first opened in the Elmwood district back in 1976 as a local bakery. Just two years later, it became a collective, and stayed that way for nearly another forty years, until it closed in 2015. The closure came after the departure of several members from the collective.
According to Julia Elliott, one of the new owners of Nabolom, the bakery’s closing wasn’t completely sudden. “The bakery’s closing had been coming on for a while, from competition and loss of customers,” Elliott said.
As more collectives and locally owned bakeries opened around the East Bay such as The Cheeseboard and the Juice Bar Collective, Nabolom faced more competition, for which it was unprepared for.
Additionally, the fires in the Oakland hills had forced many customers to move, and Nabolom lost many long-time patrons.
Just months after the closure, however, in February of 2016, Nabolom reopened. Julia Elliott and Sabra Stepak bought Nabolom and became its new owners. “Nabolom held a lot of nostalgia for us,” Elliott said. “Sabra and I are both Berkeley natives, and we’d spent a lot of time in Nabolom after school,” she continued. Elliott’s mother worked at Nabolom for a couple of years while Elliott was in middle school at Willard.
As Nabolom reopened, some changes were made to the store to insure that it wouldn’t be forced to close again. One big difference is that Nabolom is no longer just a bakery, it’s a bakery-pizzeria, modelled after the Cheeseboard Collective, where Elliott worked for 12 years prior to buying Nabolom. The pizza is homemade and has daily specials, shown in some of the many handwritten signs around the store. “People want substance in their food,” said Elliott, “not just pastries.”
In addition to adding new items, Elliott and Stepak decided to cut down on the number of different pastries that the bakery had made previously. “People love abundance,” Elliott said, “but not too much.”
This decision has also cut down on waste from the bakery from unsold food. Even though there is less variety than before, Nabolom still sells a large collection of pastries. From muffins to challah, there is a variety.
The environment at Nabolom is another draw for customers. While the decorations are simplistic, the employees are helpful and friendly, greeting some regular customers by name. Adrienne Mermin, a Berkeley High School freshman, worked at Nabolom for a couple of weeks over the summer and found that the atmosphere in Nabolom Bakery was pleasant, both as a customer and employee.
“Everyone was incredibly hardworking and supportive, and by the end I felt like I was part of the Nabolom family,” Mermin said.
Although Nabolom has faced some difficulties over its long residence in Elwood, it’s moved past them to become the cheerful bakery-pizzeria that it is now. The friendly environment, with its local art, unique pastries, and homespun feeling, will be sure to bring customers to enjoy and support the bakery.