On Monday, John and Anne Erdmann, the husband-and-wife owners of Virginia Bakery in the Gourmet Ghetto, took to Facebook to announce that they were closing the 84-year-old Berkeley institution on April 28 to retire.
“We’re both turning 65 in May,” John Erdmann said when asked why the couple decided to close the bakery this year. “It seemed like a good time to do it. I’ve been here for over 40 years.”
The beloved bakery has been in the Erdmann family for the past 65 years. Virginia Bakery was originally opened in 1934 by German immigrants Ewald and Elsa Poeschel. The Poeschels sold the bakery to Charles Erdmann, John’s father, in 1953. Growing up, John worked at Virginia, but he didn’t expect to one day own it himself.
“I thought I’d be doing something else,” he said.
But in 1979, when his father died, Erdmann and his mother took over the business. More out of need than because of a personal passion, Erdmann became a certified master baker, although he said he had learned a lot over the years working with the bakers at Virginia Bakery.
In the ’80s, his wife Anne joined the business, taking care of administrative duties, like scheduling and paying the bills. The couple currently employs about 10 part-time and full-time employees, some of whom have been working at the bakery for more than 20 years.
Virginia Bakery has been a neighborhood favorite for generations, with locals coming to the Erdmanns for expertly decorated and tiered cakes on special occasions and cookies and pastries whenever the sweet tooth needs attention. It is one of a few longtime Gourmet Ghetto businesses that has seen its owners retire in recent times — others include the Produce Center, which closed at the end of 2017 when owner Sam Hort retired, and Poulet, whose founder Marilyn Rinzler retired and sold her business to new owners in March.
When we stopped in today to speak with the Erdmanns, several long-time customers stopped in and bought desserts. One of them, Erdmann told us later, was an 80-year-old woman who’s been a Virginia Bakery customer even before the Erdmanns owned the place. She — and her mother before her — has been patronizing the business since her family moved to Berkeley in 1943.
Virginia is known for decorating cakes for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other milestones. Erdmann said the bakery will do almost any custom design, recalling one of the most unique cakes the bakery decorated featured a CT scan machine for a company that was moving to San Francisco. There are, however, some designs that are off the table.
“We do not do X-rated cakes,” Erdmann said.
After April 28, when Virginia Bakery closes for good, the space will remain empty, at least for a while. The Erdmanns decided to close the bakery first, to “make a clean cut,” instead of waiting for new tenants to take over. Once retired, the couple, who live in Kensington, plan to spend more time with their kids and grandkids, play golf and tennis and “enjoy the holidays,” a pleasure they never had as owner-operators of the bakery, which is open six days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Until then, they’ll go about making some of Berkeley’s favorite baked goods and pastries, an endless menu of sweet delights, including several types of chocolate cake, coffee cakes, danishes, cupcakes, pies, cheesecakes, tiramisu, loaves, croissants, sandwich bread and the very last cake of the month, one of Virginia’s most popular offerings, the Strawberry Delight, a chiffon cake topped with fresh strawberries, custard and whipped cream.