Since I started working the San Leandro beat, I've heard lots of complaints about the dearth of bakeries in town. I love bakeries, so I've been on the lookout to see if I can prove the critics wrong.
Several times, while driving around San Leandro's industrial area near I-880, I had seen these little, amateurish-looking "bake sale" signs fixed to posts with colored balloons tied to them, or propped up as sandwich boards on street corners.
The signs had arrows pointing drivers, I assumed, toward the bakery. After peering down streets in the direction signaled by the arrows and not seeing anything but warehouses and office buildings, I always kept on my path.
But one day, looking for an adventure and an afternoon snack, I decided to find this mystery bake sale. I followed the first arrow I saw, near where Wicks Boulevard turns into Merced Street, and turned right onto Fairway Drive.
If you blink, you might miss the next sign indicating you should turn right again on Miller Street. Driving along Miller, I almost gave up as I saw nothing that looked anything like a place that would have food. But you just gotta keep going.
Miller Street dead-ends into Factor Avenue. I turned left on Factor into a wide cul-de-sac and there in front of me was . I still might have mistaken it for a non-walk-in industrial bakery if it weren't for a string of the same colored balloons and "bake sale" signs attached to the railing leading up to the front door.
Inside, I was surrounded by piles of cookies, croissants, coffee cakes, small pizzas and other goodies — some in individually wrapped portions, others in bulk grocery store quantities. Then I got it: it really did feel like a bake sale.
Bakery Street has been operating as a commercial bakery since 1982, supplying wholesale fortune cookies and other packaged treats to grocery stores. They've also been making custom wedding cakes for several decades. Only recently have they ventured into the retail business.
Bakery Street moved to San Leandro two years ago from San Francisco, and just last fall, the business got a license to operate as a retail bakery.
At first, they were open to the public on Fridays. They became so busy that they began opening on Saturdays, too. And now they're open six days a week.
As soon as I walked in the door, Frank Salinas, a cake decorator and, at least on this day, bake sale chief, greeted me warmly and directed me to the free samples. I nibbled on a bite of lemon bar that seriously rivaled my mom's, which is tough. It was tart, not too sweet, thick and sticky, just how I like 'em.
The banana bread pudding was even better. So good, in fact, that while I was checking out the other options, a customer snagged the last one from the refrigerated display.
After word spread to the back room that I was a reporter, several of Salinas's fellow bakers came out in their white aprons to chat. Bakery Street makes all its goods from scratch, baker Theresa Rosselli told me. At the bake sale, they sell seconds from their wholesale business as well as new products they want to try out on customers.
"This is a laboratory," Rosselli said.
"You guys are our guinea pigs," Salinas joked. "If you like it, we keep making it."
Customers popped in and out. Most seemed to know exactly what they wanted.
"It's the best-kept secret in town," one customer said as he picked out a container of cookies and headed to the cashier.
Speaking of cash, this place has bake sale prices too. I went home with a 10-oz. container of dark chocolate-dipped florentines for $2. They were delicious, gooey and with good, rich chocolate, not the bland, industrial chocolate you get with most cheap, packaged cookies. And they were still good a week later.
The pan of cinnamon bread pudding I took home didn't last more than a few days. We gobbled it up for breakfast several days in a row and wished we had more. It cost $5 for an 8-in square pan.
Bakery Street doesn't have much in the way of savory baked goods, which is unfortunate. That side of the bakery equation definitely seems to be missing in San Leandro. (I'd love to be wrong, so correct me if I am).
They did have some sweet Hawaiian bread, and there were doughy-looking individual pizzas, which were a bargain at $1 each. I'll try one next time.
In retrospect, it may have been better had I never found the mystery bakery. Now that I know it's there, it beckons me every time I'm driving near the area.