For those who believe that if something is good for you it has to taste bad, Vital Vittles bakery might be the cure.
Located at 2810 San Pablo Ave. in what used to be an old fire house, Vital Vittles has been offering up some of Berkeley’s finest organic treats for a quarter century, specializing in whole grain breads baked from flour milledon site.
They are also proud to announce a new line of sweets that will be unveiled today (Friday) in an open house at the bakery. Tasters are invited to come by and sample the brownies, cookies and cakes all made with the same whole grain flour that has made their bread so popular.
Started by Kass Schwin and her ex-husband, Vital Vittles originally opened as a flour mill but has come to be known for their quality bread.
Back when they first opened as a mill, Schwin said a lack of good flour was responsible for plenty of bad bread around the area. As a self-labeled “child of the 70s,” Schwin says she was drawn to quality, healthy products and decided to take the challenge along with her husband to mill organic whole grain flour that she hoped would jazz things up.
“The idea back in the 70s was to live off the land and live organically,” said Schwin. “No one was making good bread when we started except the Tasajara bakery, which is hard to imagine.”
Schwin and her husband bought a mill, started importing whole oats and began to distribute the flour around the Berkeley area. The transition to bread didn’t come until later and was unexpected.
Schwin says the first loaves were actually made as examples to be used at a street fair and represented the quality of breads that could be produced with their flour. Fair goers expressed more interest in the bread than the flour, and after the loaves sold out, customers repeatedly implored the Schwins to bake more.
That encouragement was enough to convince them to establish a small-scale baking operation that turned out around 200 loaves a day. Success and a lot of hard work have paid off, and the business has grown into a full-scale bakery that now produces around 2,200 loaves daily with a staff of 15-20 employees using a pair of ovens that bake 210 loaves at once.
Reincarnated as a bakery, Vital Vittles produces hearty, healthy breads that outweigh, literally, most other breads. Their whole grains are milled the day before the dough is mixed, keeping the ingredients fresh and healthy. Unlike other bakeries, says Schwin, the quick turnaround allows them to baked goods to retain nutrients such as wheat germ oils that would otherwise go rancid if stored too long.
Among their list of achievement is their 2002 taster’s choice award from the San Francisco Chronicle food and wine section. According to the review conducted by several of the Bay Area’s top food critics, other breads “crumbled” next to theirs.
They’ve also traveled to outer space with astronaut Janice Boss, who took a loaf with her on one mission; been the salivation of one mom who suffered from acute morning sickness; and received countless love letters attesting to their quality.
“This is a love letter, I have never written one for bread before…,” begins one of the letters hanging in Schwin’s office.
Creative thinking has led them produce a wide variety of healthy, whole grain products. Everything is vegan and strictly kosher.
Vital Vittles bread include fruit, multigrain, rye, sourdough—and almost anything else imaginable. Schwin says the most popular loaves are their Holiday Persimmon, Raisin, and Flax Seed Oat—with the raisin bread placing second in an international competition.
The cookies and sweets—another extension of the original philosophy—have actually been in stores since December, but will officially be unveiled at the open house. Sweet lovers will be glad to know that Schwin had them in mind when she and the bakery tried to produce a product that would allow customers a guilt-free opportunity to indulge their sweet cravings.
“People only eat so much bread,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to make a healthy chocolate something or other.”
She didn’t stop at chocolate, and besides producing two kinds of brownies she’s come up with a list of other sweets that include cookies, honey buns and cakes. Many of the cookies are high-fiber, and use only organic oils and raw cane sugar.
“If people eat my sweets instead of Pepperidge Farms, they’re going to be helping themselves,” Schwin says.
Just in time for the holiday season, Vital Vittles is offering gift boxes. They’ve also recently updated their website to take credit cards, allowing people to purchase their products around the world. Shoppers can also find their cookies now in local stores, including Berkeley Bowl, Rainbow Grocery, Whole Foods, El Cerrito Natural Grocery, Berkeley Natural Grocery, and Piazza’s.
Open house visitors can sample the new sweets and a tour of the bakery. The event runs from 9:30 a.m. to noon. For more information please contact them at 644-2022 or at their website at www.vitalvittles.com