To the Relief of Neighbors, Emeryville Arizmendi's Reopens After Fire and Improvements

The Emeryville outpost of worker-owned bakery Arizmendi has reopened after more than a year of closure after a car crashed into the building.  (Ruth Gebreyesus)

After more than a year of closure, Arizmendi’s in Emeryville is open for business again. In December of 2018, a car collided with the worker-owned bakery’s rear wall, causing a fire and subsequent water damage. Two weeks ago, Arizmendi’s soft-opened its newly renovated shop to the joy of regulars who’d passed by the shuttered business for the last 15 months.

“We are fully operational at the moment but we have a few things missing,” shares baker and co-owner De’Quan Guion. “No one seems to be complaining though. Everyone’s so happy we’re just open.”

Indeed, many customers were openly overjoyed, walking in with greetings and welcoming back the staff. “I’m really glad they reopened,” sighed a customer finishing a slice. Her neighbor had told her the bakery was back in business. “Everybody comes here.”

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Opened in 2003, the bakery is one of five independently operating worker-owned sister bakeries serving up coffee, sweet and savory pastries, and their signature daily pizza and soups. During their year of closure, the Emeryville Arizmendi’s 16 baker-owners, ranging from two to 17 years in tenure, met monthly to plot their return. During that process, they were able to pay themselves using funds from the business’s savings and insurance, as well as a GoFundMe campaign that raised almost $14,000.

“If this would’ve happened to another bakery, it just would’ve been over with. Since this is our bakery and that was our money, we were able to make decisions on what we wanted to do with it,” Guion says. “It wasn’t just one person [saying] ‘Okay, that’s the end of the bakery, we’re not going to pay them.’”

The owners also decided to take this opportunity to renovate the bakery. “We all made the floor plan ourselves,” Guion explains. “We were able to say what we wanted to see changed. Everyone’s input got heard.” Part of the renovations include a brand new oven, a new customer area that includes a shallow bar wide enough for coffee and pastries, and new pastry cases.

In neighboring Berkeley and across the bridge in San Francisco, workers at Tartine Bakery outputs have been organizing to unionize across the bakery’s four locations. Partly citing the Bay Area’s ever-increasing cost of living, Tartine’s employees are hoping to stabilize their employment at the popular bakery chain where, from their standpoint, staff retention hasn’t been a priority. The employees demands and their request for a union has been declined by Tartine management who have recently hired prominent union-busting firm, Cruz and Associates.

Guion, who’s been at Arizmendi for six years, took the time off to work on his creative pursuits. “I sing and I do music and it gave me a chance to work on my first single,” he says. “I have a song coming out probably in the beginning of March.”

In the year of closure at the Emeryville Arizmendi, one owner-baker left. Another worker, a prospect who was four months into his candidacy when the fire happened, was paid his agreed-upon share through the business’s closure and renovation. He’s since quit the job he took on to supplement his income during the closure, and to return to Arizmendi’s and continue his candidacy in hopes of become an owner.

“If I do have questions or concerns, there’s so much support here,” says Guion, who has worked across several popular bakeries in the East Bay. “You’re not left in the dark.”