Keen observers already are aware that Grand Bakery’s kosher challah is back on some store shelves, and now new owner Sam Tobis is gearing up for the High Holy Days. Starting Thursday, Sept. 14, customers can special-order round challahs and honey cakes for their Rosh Hashanah meals.
Rather than picking up their items at the bakery’s old location on Oakland’s Grand Avenue, though, they’ll have to head to the Food Mill, located between the Laurel and Dimond districts.
“We’re back in 15 grocery stores and are delivering, and are excited to be back in action,” said Tobis.
Originally from Manhattan, Tobis, 27, came to the Bay Area to attend UC Berkeley and stayed on (his family has since relocated here, too, and they all live in Oakland). He was working in education before he decided to switch gears.
“My buying the bakery was a good excuse for all of us to always have challah on Shabbat,” said Tobis, noting that it’s the rare person who would take things that far, maybe even to the point of “insanity,” he joked. “It is a tough business. But I want to serve the community. There are a lot of people who rely on Grand Bakery for kosher challah.”
Tobis, who had been a bakery customer in the past, recalled running into owner Bob Jaffe at a New Year’s Eve concert. Afterward he said to his girlfriend, “I wonder if Bob would let me apprentice with him before he decides to retire?” When he called to find out, he learned that the longtime owner had just retired and the much-loved Oakland institution had closed in December 2016.
J. first reported in July that Jaffe was sealing the deal with Tobis.
“It was beshert,” said Tobis, who had worked in the food industry as a line cook. “Wow, universe, that was quick.”
The transition has not been without its headaches. “I’ve been up all night and delivering and trying to keep the wheels moving forward,” Tobis said. But ultimately, he said, the payoff is worth it.
“People are so delighted that we’re back. I get several messages a week with someone saying ‘I’m so happy I saw you back in the store.’ People grew up on Grand Bakery. As long as I can remember, I’ve loved bringing people together around food, so the opportunity to do that again seemed almost like a calling.”
In addition to challah, Tobis also will offer some of the former bakery’s signature cookies such as macaroons, Russian tea cookies and hamantaschen.
As for those holding out hope that the original Grand Avenue location may reopen, Tobis confirmed that it would not happen.
“When I looked into the financials, I learned that Bob had been grandfathered into the old space, and with a new owner, I would have had to do some major updating to satisfy the health department,” he said. Furthermore, the landlord was going to raise the rent significantly.
Given that he has never done a build-out before, and that 60 percent of revenue comes from wholesale, Tobis said he decided to “adapt to survive the situation. Food establishments are closing left and right as the environment changes with online culture.”
Eventually, Tobis said, he hopes to reopen a storefront, and he has some other ideas about what he’d like to see happen, but for now, he’s focusing on his first High Holy Days.
“It has been a joy so far,” said Tobis. “Challenging but fulfilling, and I’m thrilled to be serving our community once again.”