Noe Valley Bakery: Michael & Mary Gassen
Artisan fig bread and cheese-chive croissants line the glass shelves at Noe Valley Bakery. But owner and head baker Michael Gassen says that they aren't just flinging dough. "We sell emotion. It just happens to look like a cupcake." Frenzied feelings have defined Noe Valley Bakery from its start. Michael and his wife, Mary, bought the bakery in 1994 just days before their wedding. While they planned a quiet opening, unsure when they'd get the go-ahead from the City Planning Department, they were met with immediate customer loyalty. "On the first day, at 7am, someone pulled up in a cab," Mary says. "They bought a coffee and a pastry, as if we had been open for 20 years."
But this wasn't a typical bakery, or at least not anything like the one that stood in the same space before them. The Gassens were devoted to revitalizing a full-line neighborhood bakery experience, where everything is made from scratch--happily ridding the pantry of the cake mixes and mold inhibitor left over from the previous owner. And making pastries--iconic and sometimes by request--that meet patrons' expectations.
Being a local bakery, though, also means adapting to the shifts of the neighborhood. Or, as Mary says, like a piece of bread, "we'd get stale." And while Noe Valley Bakery is a fixture on 24th Street, the arrival of Whole Foods suddenly stole some cookies from their cookie jar. This didn't drive Mary and Michael to panic, though. It led them to specialty cakes. "The change took our breath away a little," she says, "but I love Whole Foods as a customer. And we used this as motivation to explore what else we could offer that was different." With towers of colorful fondant and even Angry Bird-themed cakes, Mary says business is booming. And just like their first day, the new cake business was met with a ready audience. "This is exactly what we want our next 15 years to be about," she adds: "A constant search for what makes us unique."
Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton
Michael and Mary love other Noe staples like La Ciccia, the 24th Street Cheese Company and newcomer Little Chihuahua.
The Neighborhood Needs:
With Drewes Bros. down at the end of Church and Avedano's in Bernal Heights, both Michael and Mary think the neighborhood needs more emphasis on the full-line butcher.
Hop MUNI for:
For salsa verde and homemade tortillas, Mary heads to La Palma Mexicatessan in the Mission. "They always have perfect avocados," she says.