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Feb 23, 2008 08:03 AM

Neldam's to close??

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  1. That would be a shame, but it would not surprise me either.

    I haven't posted about Neldham's really in the past year even though there were signs this was a business in trouble. In that article, when Mark Neldham said " I don't claim to be the sharpest businessman in the world, but I am a good baker," ... truer words were never spoken.

    Yes, some of the reasons listed in that article are true ...
    - rising cost of supplies
    - competition from other bakeries
    - Telegraph Avenue revitalization
    - regulars moving out of the area
    - convenience factor of in-market bakeries

    However, Neldham's took the wrong approach to this.

    One thing they did is try to compete with the changing market place directly ... badly ... they started offering things like lattes ... which were overpriced and horrid.

    They also started cutting back on what they do well. Fewer baked goods were available. No more half-cake option. On more than a few visits the butter cookies and petit fours were not available ... or only available boxed. So I stopped going. Sometimes you just want a sweet or two not a major purchase. Once I'm in the shop I usually see something else I want.

    What really hurt was a real decline in service. I've had some out and out nasty encounters over the past year ... to the point that for the first time in a few decades ... I didn't go at Christmas. I'm a long time customer. I know the staff standards. This isn't a chatty place but up until the past year I've never been treated rudely.

    Customer loyalty is one thing that kept them in business. As the article said, people would drive 30 miles to go there. When I lived in SF for years I made the special trip across the bridge just to go to Neldhams. Now I live on this side of the bay and pass right by without stopping.

    If they do nothing, they should hire a (good) business consultant. The product is still a quality one in its class. People still crave what they have. There are so many ways they could re-introduce themselves.

    Like Greenlea's in San Jose they could sell at farmers markets and well-trafficked stores like Berkeley Bowl and Andronico's. That would introduce a whole new generation to their products. Those butter cookies and rolls would sell really well in a market ... as would the pound cake.

    All that being said. I hope they don't go under. I hope Chowhounds will throw some business their way and tell their friends to. I hope people will contact the Oakland Redevelopment Agency with supporting letters so that Neldham's will get the loan they need.

    Some of Neldham's stuff may look like what you get at the Safeway bakery. It is not. There is some flavor there. Not everything is wonderful at Neldham's ... however there are items there that no one else does and it would be a shame to no longer have those items available.

    4 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Per that article, they're over $2 million in debt. That seems like a nearly impossible handicap to overcome.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Coincidentally, I had never heard of the place (or don't recall that I had) and I saw it on Thursday afternoon, so I stopped. I was eager to see what they had, because I've been longing for some of the old Solvang eats I used to enjoy back when I lived in SB. It was mid-afternoon (not too late), I saw the signs of woe posted, and I saw what I thought was a paltry and unappealing selection. I hate to bash a place when it needs support, but as RL says, things don't look good, even on a good day, and despite what RWO says, you can't "farmers market" your way out of this debtload.

        If I hear a positive report, I may stop by again

        1. re: lmnopm

          Neldhams does some things extremely well ... IMO the danish is not one of them or the regular cookies like chocolate chip, oatmeal or pies.

          If you want a positive report, go check the 43 reviews on yelp. Given the situation, I was wondering what that crowd thought ... people who could really be brutal on this type of old school bakery. Whatever you might or might not think of yelp ... people are people ... and usually when there is an overwhelming positive response ... there's something to it ... especially if you take time to read what is actually being said.

          From my own prespective ... and a lot of others ... the things to order are

          - the dream of cream cake
          whipped cream cake and like someone said ... chocolate shavings that melt like snowflakes on your tongue. Whole cake or slices available.

          - strawberry shortcake
          Yeah, to paraphrase someone ... this tastes like spring to me ... as much as I like Bakesale Betty ... if I had a choice ... it would be Neldham's cake. Nothing special here ... whipped cream, strawberries, cake. Whole cake or slices available. Good all year, but best in the spring and summer when strawberries are at their peak.

          - Swedish rolls
          light, flaky, buttery. No one makes anything close to these in the Bay Area. I only knew one bakery that came close in my home town in Connecticut ... they have long closed.

          - pound cake
          Just the best. They cut off a slice from a long cake ... as little or as much as you like. They also have the half chocolate version

          - butter cookies
          Where else you gonna get cookies like little watermelon slices? The ultimate cookies ... maybe not ... but oh so satisfying and pretty. I've given so many boxes of these as gifts and brought so many to parties and pot lucks. Always favorably received. IMO, much, much better than Anna's in SF.

          - petit fours
          Ok, this is just for me. They are cute seasonal colors. Not even close to greatness ... but ... and they make little frogs sometimes that are full of whipped cream and light, fluffy cake goodness.

          - bread
          Yep, in the artisan bread world ... not great ... but a good white sandwich bread ... sure ... a la Wonder variety ... but isn't that a secret pleasure for some ... and they have a nice crust ... and it is not junk like the supermarket versions

          Other items positively mentioned I haven't tried
          - hamburger buns
          - rum cake
          - carrot cake

          Coconut cake
          My mother liked this one a lot. Good basic version of coconut cake

          At Christmast they make these light, spicy cookies that I crave ... sigh ... should have went at Christmas.

          If you stray off of the above items, Neldham's is average at best. Maybe others have suggestions I haven't tried.

          Neldham's might have just got caught in this mortgage mess. It looked like a few years back they were trying to move into expanding the current bakery line and that might be what happened.

          I use Greenlea's as an example of how it is possible for little bakeries like this to turn around. To tell you the truth, I don't think greenlea's famous cinnamon bread is all that. However, they pushed out of their little bakery and expanded and now I read nothing but positive stuff about what they make Neldham's could do that.

          Who knows, maybe Neldham's pays their staff a decent wage. Maybe they use good basic, if not fancy, ingrediants. Maybe they don't cut corners like everyone else.

          Here's their website. The product pages are not currentlly working. However here's the history page ... which talks about their commitment to producing fresh bakery products

          "Neldam’s uses only quality ingredients, not taking short cuts. Last year Neldam’s used 17 tons of butter, 65 tons of sugar, 34 tons of cream, 4 tons of chocolate and 4000 cases of fresh strawberries.

          Community service is also part of Neldam’s history. Unlike most bakeries, Neldam’s does not sell any day old products, but gives it away to local organizations. Every year over $100,000 Dollars of excess product is donated to local food kitchens in both San Francisco and Oakland. "

          It is not Tartine, or Delassio or Bakesale Betty or that type of bakery. As close as anyone comes to it in the current food world is Sweet Adeline which straddles the line between the bakieries like Tartine and old school bakeries like Neldam's, Hopkins Street, Victoria, Schuberts ... Neldham's just has the misfortune of not being in a highly trafficked area like the latter.

          Neldham's is to local bakeries as See's is to chocolates. If you go in with expecations of a fancy artisan product ... not the place. If you want an honest, well-priced and delicious product ... it can be found at Neldham's.

          Still as sweet, after 75 years

          1. re: rworange

            I think the other old-school bakeries you mention are small retail operations with just a handful of employees. Neldam's seems to have been focused on wholesale: that Oakland Tribune story said they had a staff of 75 in the 1970s, which had declined to 40 by last year.

            Seems like their business has been going away but they haven't been downsizing or modernizing fast enough to compensate. Story's reminiscent of Just Desserts.

    2. Considering they're $2mil in debt yet the family (holding company) owns the does seem some poor business decisions were made...very bad. There might be a lot of truth to the concept that wealth often doesn't make it past the 3rd generation.

      I'm going to check Neldam's out again, just not going to have big expectations.

      1. The butterscotch tidbits (silver dollar size, but much thinner - butter cookies with butterscotch chips) are GREAT. $4.05 for a small bag containing 50+ cookies. Baked on Thursdays. It's worth a detour to get them.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Bob Copeland

          If Neldam's closes, I hope it does not cause the Nordic House to close too?

          There is not much else on that block.

          Does anyone remember when Nordic House had a smorgasborg?

          Not that big, but what they did have was fantastic high quality scandinavian food.

          Plus they only served one type of beer...Carlsberg Elephants.

          Then it was over to Neldams for a desert treat.

          City of Oakland might be a little hesitant to loan out anymore money to bakerys after it got burned for millions on the Black Muslim fiasco.

          1. re: Mission

            Just a note that Nordic House has moved to San Pablo in Berkeley conveniently located at 2709 San Pablo.