Residents of Oakland’s Montclair neighborhood may notice that some changes have taken place in the elevated strip mall between Snake Road and Park Boulevard, just off Mountain Boulevard. Suite 140 — the former home of Cheryl Lew’s Montclair Baking — has been inching toward transformation one step at a time.
On May 4, Emily Buysse, a second-career baker with a penchant and passion for pastries, took over the 26-year-old establishment. Though Buysse has been sneaking small changes, including a new name, Batch Pastries, she is doing so with a desire to retain much of what makes the bakery a vital part of the community.
Days after the place changed hands, I popped over to Batch to take a look at the space. Buysse greeted me with a smile and invited me back to her office. We passed mis-matched metal shelves stacked with pink boxes and pie tins, and wove through tall silver racks laden with baking sheets and tartlet pans. The space brimmed with odds and ends — like an old shed in the midst of an estate sale — but it smelled of cinnamon, cloves and freshly toasted almonds.
Buysse took a seat. On her desk sat a mug decorated with pastries and half-filled with coffee. Though she seemed young for a business owner and is new to this part of the industry, something about her youthful enthusiasm and open honesty assures that the bakery and its customers are in good hands.
A Michigan native who moved to the Bay Area in 2011, Buysse has been baking since she was a little girl. “I’ve always loved to bake,” said Buysse. “My grandmother was a big pie baker and taught each granddaughter how to make one pie. Mine was chocolate because I was the youngest and it was the easiest.”
Ironically, Buysse is now the baker, but her sisters are still left to make the harder pies for family holidays. “It’s nice that I started young and made the mistakes early,” she said.
Buysse started baking in earnest in 2013. Then, she was moonlighting as a pastry student at Tante Marie’s Cooking School in North Beach while working in an IT office in Berkeley. “Every day I really wanted a cookie at 2 p.m. and there were no good cookies in the area,” she said, so she took it upon herself to solve this particular pastry problem.
She began subletting from Dan Graf of Baron Baking at The Berkeley Kitchens, where she was introduced to customers — mostly local cafés and restaurants — who wanted to use Buysse as a supplier for cookies and other high-quality desserts.
So Buysse launched Batch as a wholesale bakery. She began looking for storefronts and expansion space in 2015, which is when she met Cheryl Lew.
“Cheryl had been looking for someone to sell to and we had similar styles and values with what we bake,” said Buysse. “Neither of us does anything fake. Everything is made from scratch with real butter, real sugar and fresh local ingredients. Sometimes corners are cut with large commercial bakeries, but Cheryl and her staff already valued real authentic baking.”
The entire baking staff from Montclair Baking has stayed on, which Buysse counts as amazing luck. Moving from wholesale to retail and from part-time baking to a new career has required that she show a combination of smart risk and gutsy instinct, and having a staff already in place has kept things simpler.
From a chair in the back office, she fiddled with a desktop phone. It rang midway through our interview, an act that seemed to confuse her. “This isn’t my phone system,” she laughed, picking up the receiver and setting it down with a click.
Batch will continue to take orders for specialty and birthday cakes — some of the most popular items from Montclair Baking — but Buysse is shifting the bakery’s focus to smaller baked goods. “Eventually we’re going to bring in some new stuff and some more creative gourmet cookies,” Buysse said. “I think that’s kind of where the trend is moving — away from cakes and toward individual items.”
Montclair Baking favorites, such as its sweet and savory croissants, seasonal muffins and fruit Danish pastries, are still on the menu. “We do great croissant,” said Buysse. “I think it’s the best in the East Bay.”
The menu also features a dozen different cookies, seasonal pies and inventive cakes, like the Black and Tan and the Gabriela. Other sweet treats include eclairs and lemon bars.
Buysse herself is partial toward the macarons. “My favorite is lemon, which I fill with lemon curd,” she said. “The texture is the best — chewy, crunchy and smooth. It’s more interesting than your average cookie and it just feels special.” (Somehow I absorbed this comment and on a subsequent visit to Batch I found myself drawn to the display of macarons, the bright yellow ones in particular.)
By the time she took over the bakery, Buysse had already given Batch its first coat of paint. She had plans to install new light fixtures and shelving and to change up the look of the counters. “I think all of the small steps we will take will gradually improve the atmosphere and the community here,” she said. “We’re going to energize the bakery in a way it hasn’t been for a while.”
On the day of my first visit, Buysse said she was also hoping to foster more of a patron-friendly café space, complete with seating and an offering of beverages. “I’d love it if people could come in and have a slice of pie and cup of coffee,” she said.
Buysse gave me a cookie on my way out — a Black and Tan, which she sells to Saul’s in Berkeley. It was 3 p.m., an hour past the 2 p.m. cookie craving that inspired Buysse in the first place, and I was surprisingly satisfied with my mid-afternoon sugar rush. I knew I’d be back before I even closed the door.
On a Sunday morning two months later, I am walking through Montclair Village, moseying around the weekly farmers market. I stop by Batch to check on its progress and see Buysse standing on the counter, grouting the back wall in preparation for tile.
She’s wearing a bandana and a T-shirt, and though the bakery is closed on Sundays, she opens the door with a smile. I ask her how things are progressing and she shares that they’re about to reopen.
On Aug. 2, I stop by again and find a subtle transformation. The bakery hasn’t been overhauled, as Buysse isn’t the kind to startle Montclair’s faithful clientele, but there are bright orange tables outside and a new wall behind the register. The cases have been rearranged for a better a flow of traffic and a shiny new espresso machine hums happily in the corner.
“It’s our first day with it,” Buysse tells me. “We’re all still learning.”
The bakery has no ambitions of becoming an artisan coffee shop, but a good croissant deserves a decent espresso. This is exactly what you’ll find at Batch, where Mr. Espresso is the coffee of choice. The machine’s introduction, much like the bakery’s others changes, is starting out slowly.
A grand reopening is scheduled for Aug. 27, by which point the transition will be complete and Batch will be embraced as the new neighbor in the village.
Batch Pastries is at 2220 Mountain Blvd., Ste. 140 (between Scout and Snake roads), Oakland. 510-985-4104. Open Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Connect with the bakery on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Batch Pastries are also available at Saul’s Restaurant and Deli , Kilovolt Coffee, Gaylord’s Caffe Espresso, and Tomate Café.
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