David Morris, owner of Bread Garden, pioneer baker

David Morris in 2010
David Morris in 2010

David Morris, whose Bread Garden bakery on Domingo Avenue in Berkeley was the one of the first to offer fresh, handmade croissants and baguettes when it opened in 1973, died on April 3 of cancer. He was 65.

Morris, who operated The Bread Garden for 39 years, shut it down in 2012 because of dwindling sales. In the summer of 2012 he opened a similar bakery in Paso Robles to much acclaim and appreciation from the community.

“Amazing breads!” wrote one customer on Yelp! “Will certainly be going back often. Picked up a couple of goodies too. Yummy. Just what Paso needed!”

Morris bequeathed the bakery to his longtime manager, Sandy Luong, who lives in Emeryville. Luong had assisted Morris in getting the Paso Robles Bakery open.

“I do have full intention of keeping it open and seeing David’s dream of starting a new bakery in a new location followed through,” said Luong, who plans to commute back and forth between the Bay Area and Paso Robles.

Luong said Morris learned he was ill at the end of January but did not want to tell her until she finished her nursing studies in March. The disease progressed more rapidly than people expected and Morris had a friend call Luong and say he needed to talk to her. He died two weeks later.

“I was shocked,” said Luong. “He was a great teacher, a great friend, a great owner.”

When Morris opened The Bread Garden there were very few bakeries in Berkeley. Seven years after he opened, Peet’s opened two doors down on Domingo and Morris and Alfred Peet struck a deal: Peet’s would offer coffee and patrons could wander to The Bread Garden for pastries.

The deal worked for decades until a new corporation bought Peet’s. The company immediately put pastries in Peet’s and Morris saw his sales dwindle.

He tried to fight back. In 2010 Morris put a sign in the window of The Bread Garden “Prefer Day-old pastries? Then buy them from Peet’s.” Morris was trying to make the point that he cooked his pastries around 1 a.m. the day they were sold, but Peet’s baked them a day earlier.

Morris also had a sign in his store on and off for a few years saying if business did not improve he would have to move the bakery. City Councilman Gordon Wozniak, who said he was “addicted” to The Bread Garden’s morning buns, tried to drum up business for the bakery by introducing Morris to the manager of the Claremont Hotel. The resort did start using products from The Bread Garden.

But the bakery universe in Berkeley had changed dramatically over 39 years as numerous other enterprises opened and  supermarkets started to carry fresh bread. There were eight bakeries when Morris opened; there were 38 when he closed. So in 2012, Morris moved operations to Paso Robles.

Still, his legacy in Berkeley endures. Andrea Mok, now program manager at Ashby Gardens, worked at The Bread Garden for ten years. She started as a dishwasher while in high school and eventually moved to the front of the store. Morris, said Mok, was an excellent employer. He provided health care benefits for all the employees, even part- time retail clerks.

“That says a lot about his fairness and progressive attitude towards running a business,” said Mok, who added Morris was not driven to make money. “There were a lot of us 20-somethings running around trying to figure ourselves out while making and selling bread, and The Bread Garden gave us a warm, safe, fragrant place with a regular paycheck – and health insurance to anchor our lives.”

Morris was also an urban farmer in Berkeley. He kept bees, made honey, wine and beer, and raised chickens. He was also a black belt in Aikido and studied with Steve Sasaki Sensei of Aikido of Berkeley for 30 years. After Morris’ death, the school put up a tribute on its web page.

Memorial services for Morris are pending.

Related:
Bread Garden closes [05.29.12]
Does Peet’s sell day-old pastries? The owner of the Bread Garden thinks so. [02.21.10]

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