It’s make it or break it for Berkeley’s Nabolom bakery.
After losing their major wholesale account with Felini Coffeebar on University Avenue last April, along with two years of varying retail sales, the worker-owned cooperative on Russell Street in Elmwood is threatening to close its doors come January if it cannot figure out a new strategy to increase revenue.
In a last ditch effort, collective members held a town hall meeting in their store Monday evening to ask for any sort of help the community could provide including fundraising suggestions, donations and new business strategies.
The meeting, attended by between 40 and 45 people, brought well wishers from around the city including long-time patrons, neighbors, a Berkeley city councilmember and several students from the Haas Business school who have teamed up as part of a class project to try and offer their help.
“I have to have my hamentaschen in April!” said Kathryn Dowling, one of several patrons who said she would do whatever she could to keep the doors open.
Jim Burr, who manages the bakery’s finances, laid out a grim scene for audience members, telling them the bakery is currently around $10,000 behind on expenses. They haven’t paid their $3,886 rent for two months and still have several outstanding bills with their suppliers.
On top of that is $33,000 worth of debt, $22,000 of it is on Burr’s personal credits cards charging 18.4 percent interest (about $400 a month). Crow Bolt, another collective member, has contributed about $9,000.
According to Bolt, the bakery has cut expenses by 40 percent, employees gave up health benefits and several people have taken pay cuts or donated their time, but the debt continues to grow. The bakery specializes in organic products that carry added costs.
At the meeting, Bolt said the bakery’s main priority is to secure at least one major retail account that pays them enough to break even. Other possible business strategies proposed included staying open later and serving pizza, applying for a beer and wine license, and hosting live music performances.
“It’s not impossible to get from where we are to a sustainable business,” Burr said.
The problem with expanding their services, according to Bolt is that it would force them to re-zone. According to Dave Fogerty from the city’s economic development office, Nabolom is currently zoned as a take-out instead of a sit-down restaurant. The zoning rules would also have to be changed if the bakery wanted to stay open later.
Burr said the co-op is trying to re-finance their loans and have even tossed around the idea of issuing promissory notes where patrons would contribute lump sums and then be paid back over time in backed goods with interest. The idea was a hit with patrons anxious to help right away, and by the end of the night people had pledged over $5,000, with two people pledging $1,000 each.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who lives in the neighborhood, offered his support for the expanded services and said the bakery should try and re-zone. Several patrons offered to chip in and help pay the filing fees the bakery will be charged if they hold a public hearing to change the zoning.
Worthington also said he thought that it was a more realistic business strategy for the property owners, who were also at the meeting, to help Nabolom stay alive instead of trying to find a new occupant.
Burr said the bakery is going to decide what to do within the next couple of weeks. They hope to hold another town meeting at that time to announce their decision. They will decide whether or not to close around the beginning of December.
“We all want the place to stay here,” Burr said. “I’ll work here for another decade, but I won’t do it only eating two meals a day.ª