The phrase "end of an era" is often overused, but this time it's literally true: Nabolom Bakery & Café, the anarchist baking collective in Berkeley that turned out pastries to tempt even the most bourgeous palate, closed its doors for good on Sunday.
Nabolom – the name is Mayan for "house of fire" – had been a fixture in the Elmwood neighborhood since 1976. From the start, customers were addicted to its sinfully-fattening-but-oh-so delicious chocolate croissants, brown sugar snails, almond bear feet, brownies so most they tasted like fudge, and its biggest seller: the "Infamous Cinnamon Twists," dripping with cinnamon, butter, sugar, and barely enough flour to hold it all together.
"I can't start my day without my cinnamon twist!" lamented a longtime customer named Gabe, who rushed to the store on Friday to load up on one last order of twists as soon as he heard that the place was about to close. "I don't know what I'm going to do when this stash runs out."
So fanatical were the cinnamon twist devotees, Nabolom used to receive orders from all over the county and beyond, including one every month from a loyal fan in Germany.
The collective also had a firm foothold in the local community, supporting progressive causes with donations of time, money, pastries, and a place to meet.
But despite this, Nabolom was always on a shaky footing. The bakery was at death's door many times over the years, but it always managed to pull another rabbit out of the hat at the last moment by holding fundraisers, extending evening and weekend hours, expanding the menu, remodeling, installing wi-fi, and opening a kiosk in the parking lot across the street for customers on the go called – what else? – Nearbolom.
Alas, it finally ran out of rabbits. Last Friday, the collective sent me this email:
"Surely the ups and downs of Nabolom started long before 2002, but during the early 2000’s financial crisis struck Nabolom. With help from the community the bakery was able to keep going.
"Our doors remained open, but the business never fully recovered from such a hard blow. More than 10 years later, the financial struggle continues. A high turnover rate and the slow business that comes with the summer season have been no help.
"We have struggled to pay our vendors, rent, and even ourselves. It would be irresponsible to let Nabolom continue in this way. The collective has been faced with this tough decision for quite some time now. With hardly enough people to staff the weekend shifts, the decision has been made for us. There has been talk of a potential buyer, but it is more likely the business will be gone for good."
They'll be missed. And so will Old Puppy, a quirky, eclectic band featuring guitar, ukulele, string bass, drums and accordion that entertained Nabolom's customers every Saturday with tiki, folk, zydeco, hapa haole/Hawaiian, golden age country, oldtime jazz, ragtime, quirky versions of funk hits, and classics like "Mack The Knife," "Makin' Whoopee" and "I Left My Heart In San Francisco." I'll let you know if they find another gig.
Farewell, Nabolom. Parting is such sweet sorrow - literally. Thank God I have a freezer full of cinnamon twists to keep me going, at least for a while.