(Updated 3/29/19) The sourdough will rise again at Village Bakery. It’s just going to take a few more months, says manager Lisa Schroeder.
In late February, amid the multi-day downpour that drenched the region, the popular bakery’s Sebastopol production facility at The Barlow flooded along with many other businesses in the upscale food and business center along the Laguna de Santa Rosa.
The bakery’s 3,500-square-foot production kitchen — from which it distributed to more than 200 commercial accounts, including K & L Bistro and Stark’s Steak and Seafood restaurants — was declared a total loss.
Owner Patrick Lum said he was forced to lay off 60 employees with no clear idea of when the bakery could reopen at that location.
“The employees are the heart and soul of our company. I hate seeing them go, but I hope they stay with us. We want everyone back, whether that’s realistic or not. I do understand if they have to leave, they have families,” said Lum.
Adding to the bakery’s difficult month, Lum’s wife Teresa also suffered a serious heart condition after hearing the news of the loss and required hospitalization for several weeks.
Cleanup work is progressing, and the Lums have now signaled that they are poised to reopen the bakery and move forward with a separate retail location in Santa Rosa’s Montgomery Village.
“It’s a matter of when,” Lum said of a reopening that Schroeder tentatively pegged for early summer. “But we’re not closing.
“It’s not really up to us right now,” Lum said. “We’re still assessing our equipment and things are up in the air.”
“We’re a Sonoma County staple, but it’s going to be a minute,” said Schroeder. “It’s longer than we wanted it to be, but the drywall is going back up. There is progress. We are working with The Barlow management/ownership to get up and running as soon as possible.”
As well, the closure has been difficult for the bakery’s wholesale customers, who have had to find different bakeries to fulfill their needs.
“We literally didn’t know how good we had it until they were gone. We had a symbiotic relationship with them,” said Lucas Martin, owner of K&L Bistro in Sebastopol. Martin said he has worked with three other bakeries since the closure of Village Bakery. He said the restaurant used their bread, rolls, and English muffins.
“It was just perfect for the style of food that we do. It’s just a huge loss,” he said. “The whole Barlow thing is a tragedy. I’m thrilled they’re going back in.”
Like many other businesses at The Barlow, Village Bakery didn’t have flood insurance, which Lum said was prohibitively costly. The site is located within the floodplain of the adjacent Laguna, and water in the bakery and neighboring businesses rose as high as 6 feet at the peak of the storm’s runoff. Several employees were in the building when the flooding occurred and had to be evacuated, Lum said.
“We thought we would be protected. We felt safe in terms of flood losses,” he said. Lum isn’t yet sure how much his losses have totaled but said it was “hundreds of thousands (of dollars) at least.”
“You have to put things in perspective. The loss is sad, but it could have been worse. There’s a lot of worse things in the world,” he said.
The bakery lost not just inventory, but much of its heavy duty equipment. The floodwaters, according to the owners, contained gasoline, kitchen grease and sewage, making cleanup incredibly difficult and hazardous.
“We have to sanitize everything. We want to make sure that when people come back to us we’re as good as they remember,” Lum said.
Schroeder, who has worked for Village Bakery for six years, said the cleaning and repair is an onerous task. Its been happening at the bakery as well as adjacent flooded businesses for weeks.
In addition to the Sebastopol bakery, which had both production space and a retail store, Village Bakery plans to open a retail store in Montgomery Village at the former Michelle Marie’s Patisserie. That spot is under construction, and cannot open until a production facility is back in operation. Village Bakery’s longtime location in the Town and Country shopping center has closed in preparation for their Montgomery Village opening, meaning that the bakery currently has no retail operations.
Schroeder says they’ve had a huge outpouring of love from the community.
“People keep trying to come in. I get emails asking every day for seeded sourdough,” she says.
This is the first in a series on food purveyors and restaurants navigating recovery after the Sebastopol flooding in February 2019