Business & Real Estate

All you knead is loaf: Le Boulanger owners step back from business, step forward toward time together

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Le Boulanger’s owners are selling their retail and wholesale divisions. Posh Bakery will run the nine Le Boulanger cafes, including the Los Altos eatery at 301 Main St., above.

For four decades, the Brunello family has balanced the three-tier operation that is Le Boulanger. This decade will look different as they maintain the catering division of the company but sell the retail and wholesale divisions.

Jeffrey Ottoveggio’s Posh Bakery will run the nine Le Boulanger cafes – including the Los Altos eatery at 301 Main St. – with the same branding, products and service patrons are familiar with, Le Boulanger CEO Dan Brunello told the Town Crier.

The Bay Area-based Posh Bakery has the capacity to expand the chain, which factored into the Brunellos’ decision to scale back their business.

The wholesale division was sold to another family-run enterprise, Athens Baking Co. of Fresno. Brunello said the sale to Athens Baking was rooted in the fact that it’s “another well-established family operation that shares the same values as we do.”

Athens Baking will retain route drivers and manufacturers employed at Le Boulanger’s Sunnyvale headquarters but will relocate them to San Leandro and Richmond, respectively. While Le Boulanger attempted to save the jobs of additional production employees, more than 100 will find themselves out of work, according to a notice filed with the state’s Employment Development Division office. The Mathilda Avenue headquarters, Le Boulanger’s home base for wholesale operations for approximately 25 years, will cease operations in March, when layoffs and structural changes will begin.

“We have been working with companies both outside of and inside of our industry,” Brunello said. “A lot of the colleagues I’ve gotten to meet over the years have called and asked for (recommendations) for good employees, have asked to set up interviews with them. Our mission has been trying to facilitate the transition of as many of our employees as we can.”

For the foreseeable future, the Brunellos, who opened their first Le Boulanger in Los Altos in 1981, will continue to cater breakfasts and lunches at corporate offices in Silicon Valley, and Brunello said they are in the process of searching for space in Santa Clara County.

A different kind of ‘roll’ model

After surviving the holidays, the busiest season of the year for a bakery, Los Altos resident Brunello acknowledged that Le Boulanger has demanded a lot of his time.

“Enjoying things (during the holidays) that a lot of people (get to), something that is just a part of their lives, is one of the sacrifices we make in our industry,” he said. “I’m excited to enjoy them myself.”

The decision to sell off two-thirds of the business was not taken lightly. Sons of an Italian immigrant who started his first retail bakery in Weed in the 1920s, Dan and Roger Brunello continued their father Paul’s legacy of traditional bread baking after Paul retired. The Brunello brothers had just successfully merged the patriarch’s Palo Alto shop, El Real Bakery, with a San Francisco shop, Stemple’s Bakery, when Paul stepped down.

Roger, the elder of the sons, tried his hand at wholesale operations and entrepreneurship after he sold Stemple’s the year after his father’s retirement, opening San Francisco Boulangerie, which later became La Petite Boulangerie. Dan observed the tricks of the trade, helping open a 14-seat cafe in a town not yet affected by the coming tech boom.

Dan Brunello, who entered the industry he was born into with children and is partially exiting as a grandfather, said his family is grateful for their experiences in the Bay Area – and for the fact that his family gets to choose to sell their longtime investments.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time, so we’ve had a lot of family in the business,” he said. “We all had kids and some of us had grandkids here in the operation. We had extended family and cousins who have participated in it. We have just gotten to a point where we said to ourselves, ‘It’s time to turn to the (next) chapter.’”

While acquaintances are asking Brunello what he is going to do with his free time, he’s more concerned about overseeing the transition of the retail and wholesale arms of Le Boulanger.

“It took us a while to find appropriate buyers,” he said. “I want them to have a solid foundation, solid footing.”

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