Beloved Berkeley institution Acme Bread Company plans to relocate from its original location on the corner of Cedar Street and San Pablo Avenue to a new space once its lease is up in 2023. Since 1983, Steve and Suzie Sullivan have operated on the charming corner, sharing the lot with their landlord, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, as well as the now defunct Café Fanny (where Bartavelle Coffee and Wine Bar currently operates).
Acme’s singular focus on making great bread has made the brand a Bay Area favorite in grocery stores and restaurants alike. In addition to the original bakery and store, they’ve added a bake-and-sale operation in San Francisco’s Ferry Building, as well as wholesale locations in West Berkeley and South San Francisco.
“That [original] location had seemed so serendipitous and so perfect that we were never really motivated to move from there,” says Steve Sullivan, who added that he has renewed Acme’s five-year lease — an uncommonly short arrangement for commercial property — with Kermit Lynch’s eponymous owner eight times. “It grew out of the fact that, when I was a boy baker at Chez Panisse and he was a young wine merchant, … we had this idea that wine and bread would be a really good combination.”
In January of this year, Lynch brought up concerns about congestion and safety in the corner lot to Sullivan and his daughter Becca, the location’s shop manager. On any given morning, a queue of about a dozen Acme customers stretches alongside Bartavelle’s café tables.
The line typically consists of regulars who know their orders and moves quickly. Nevertheless, the Sullivans and the rest of the Acme team addressed congestion issues by organizing shop staff more efficiently, and by moving their trucks out of the lot for pick-ups. Though he was happy with the changes, Lynch didn’t take to Sullivan’s suggestion of a longer lease.
Lynch responded to KQED’s request for a comment over email from France. “Acme has been a great tenant. Both our businesses have grown, and Bartavelle’s, too, and in my opinion outgrown the space we have. Too much traffic, both for the parking lots and for the foot traffic. When Steve and his family understood that I was wondering about the future of the corner, he saw the wisdom in owning rather than renting short term,” he wrote. As for what he’ll do with the space once Acme moves out, Lynch is still unsure. Maybe an expansion of his sales floor of imported wines, maybe desks for his sales staff, maybe both.
“Ultimately, his approach to dealing with his property doesn’t let him feel comfortable looking more than five years in advance relative to a tenant,” Sullivan says. “That’s where our long-term interests and his personal outlook have finally diverged enough that we need to provide for ourselves.”
And so the Sullivans looked around for space, and by luck found one on San Pablo just a stone’s throw from their current spot. Purchased this summer, Acme’s new building at 1640 San Pablo Ave., formerly the Berkeley Army Surplus store, has a ground floor more than twice the size of the original storefront.
“We’re very cramped where we are. Particularly through the efforts of my oldest daughter [Becca], who doesn’t seem to understand limits, [and] who’s always trying to introduce new products and make new little things,” Sullivan says with a laugh. “It’s weird for me to be talking about this in rhapsodic terms about this funky little simple building. But something about the proportions of the [new] building inside and how they’re arranged just lend themselves so well to our layout of what we want to do.”
A lot can happen in three years’ time, including clearing Berkeley’s protracted zoning and permitting process and completing renovations to suit Acme’s operations. Still, the company hopes to move in by 2023. Sullivan, who valued the serendipity of the Cedar and San Pablo lot, happily shares that the new building was built by the father of his younger daughter’s best friend. “It’s got that kismet quality.”
See the official statement from Acme Bread below.
We have been on this corner for a long time. When our current lease ends in 2023 it will have been 40 years. But sometime between now and then we will be moving. When we and Kermit found and settled on this location back in 1983 we never imagined that we would ever move. Even though we have never had a long-term lease here wine and bread have always seemed like too good a team to break up. But we are getting too old for the excitement of successive 5-year leases and would like to secure our future for the long term.
So on April 1, 2023, if you want to visit us we hope you’ll be willing to cross the street and walk two doors south to 1640 San Pablo, the former home of Berkeley Surplus. We have purchased that building and once we finish with permitting and other details we will begin working to design our new home. While we are sad to be moving we are excited about this project as the new building has considerably more space than we have here, which will be very good for our staff, our customers and our bread.
The article was originally published by KQED on Nov. 1, 2019.