Remembering Kathleen Weber of Della Fattoria, ‘The Community Caretaker and Bread Mother’

The local community paid tribute to the beloved baker and restaurateur at a celebration of life in Petaluma.

As my family arrived in Petaluma on a sunny Sunday January 26, it was no surprise to see a large crowd stretching outside the front door of Della Fattoria. We parked a few blocks away and walked down the alley that runs behind the bakery and café. We were thankful that Alethea Bermudes, director of operations, was at the back door. She hugged us, and ushered us inside. The speakers had just started recounting treasured memories of a woman who truly changed my life.

Almost eight years earlier, Kathleen Weber had contacted me to ask whether I could help her with recipe testing and writing for her book Della Fattoria Bread. At the time, with a newborn on my hip, I was convinced there was no way I could take on this project. I was sleep deprived and anxious. But my husband encouraged me to meet with Kathleen and hear what she had to say.

We met in the café, then located in the spot that is now the bakery. It was busy, but I picked Kathleen out right away. She sat at one end of the community table, saying hello to guests and peeking at plates as they went by. The communal buzz of the room was infectious. There were interruptions during our meeting but never once did I feel that Kathleen wasn’t paying close attention. Within minutes, there was a genuine connection between us: I knew this was a book I needed to do.

Over the next year, I worked from home and made trips to the Weber Ranch to pick up supplies and learn from Kathleen, about bread and about life. She had a confidence in me that I struggled to find in myself. Kathleen’s magic extended beyond her wonderful baking — it also manifested itself in her ability to see you for you.

From my vantage point at Kathleen’s memorial, I could just barely see the stage. In the gorgeously eclectic room decorated with countless hearts — a room that was the essence of her dreams lovingly executed by her family — I could see many chefs, bakers, and vendors I recognized and, no doubt, many others that I did not, along with musicians, artists, shopkeepers, teachers, and tradespeople. The room was filled with many interconnected relationships. This was Kathleen’s tribe, all on an equal footing with no preferences; no hierarchy. It was a mix of people with as many differences as similarities, all united by Kathleen — “the community caretaker and bread mother” — in the words of Ken Savano, Petaluma’s chief of police.

Through the stories of Kathleen’s friends, we learned of her years as a student of the theater and her meeting and marrying the singer-songwriter Ed Weber. We heard of the growth of her children Elisa and Aaron, and how her family became integral and essential to her business. As I listened to these stories, I could see Kathleen shaping dough, loading her car with countless loaves, or just catching someone’s eye and smiling. The tales exemplified her vitality and her love of family, life, work, and all things bread. She had the ability to make everyone feel special. As the newsletter announcing the celebration of her life said, she was “delightfully insightful and [had a] wicked sense of humor.”

Franklin Williams, painter, sculptor and friend since the 1960s, said Kathleen had the “wisdom to combine old and new”. He remembered dancing and laughing with her until they were both exhausted. Lorenzo Leoni, baker-turned-attorney (son of Nancy Leoni, owner of iLeoni cookware and housewares), pointed out that “there was no work-life balance for Kathleen.” Life and work were happily intertwined with never a need for separation.

Kay Baumhefner, formerly of the Opera Café in Petaluma, said that Kathleen was always “finding more ways to deliver. Her dream was to provide and she did that in so many ways.” She urged the room to live by Kathleen’s example. “Kathleen showed up for her life. May she continue to inspire us.” The reaction was heartfelt and filled the room as Baumhefner enthusiastically resounded what we already knew: lucky us for having known her.

After the final words, the crowd started to move in varying directions. I had been standing next to, and inadvertently bumping into, chef Daniel Patterson during the speeches. It was nice to meet him. I could vividly recall stories Kathleen had told me of breads made for Babette’s in Sonoma and their friendship during that time. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to see, reconnect and meet with so many familiar faces — Kathleen was still bringing people together. You could see old friends and colleagues hugging, shaking hands and breaking into groups for conversations about Kathleen and their times with her.

Through my friend Sarah Scott, formerly the executive chef for Robert Mondavi Winery, I met Stephen Durfee, the Baking and Pastry Arts professor at the CIA at Greystone, Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Food, Carrie Brown of the recently closed Jimtown Store, and her sister Julie. We talked about the Martha Stewart episode that featured Carrie and Kathleen and, of course, Martha’s arrival by helicopter. We also spoke about booking out the community table at Della for dinner, when it was in the bakery space. These kinds of gatherings, which often included Kathleen, were about people connecting with one another around one large table filled with deliciously wholesome food. Equally, they were about the specialness of Kathleen, whose persona was epitomized in this very special place.

The day after the memorial gathering, I read through old emails from Kathleen and made a big pot of beans like we did for the cookbook. I recalled the last time we got together in December and her words, even then still encouraging me. Kathleen showed me it’s never too late to go for something new and the power of honesty, generosity and kindness. She told me there’s no shame in preferring a lower profile but don’t get overshadowed by big egos or allow yourself to blend in too much.

Kathleen saw me, and I bet if you got to know her, she saw you too.