Tartine Keeps Expanding Without Sacrificing Quality

Smaller than a factory, but bigger than a bakery, Tartine’s Inner Sunset location embodies the expanding chain’s all-day format.

Photo by Peter Lawrence Kane

By the end of the year, Tartine, Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson’s famed bakery, will have opened more than a dozen locations. Having begun on the corner of Guerrero and 18th streets in 2002, it’s since expanded across the Bay Area — including the highly regarded Tartine Manufactory — as well as to Southern California and South Korea. And now it’s open on Ninth Avenue in the Inner Sunset, forming what Caryl Chinn, the company’s director of events and communications, calls a “1-2-3” with fellow newcomer Um.Ma and longtime institution Nopalito.

“This is going to represent the new version of Tartine that we started rolling out,” Chinn says at the counter one misty morning in late July.

They’d kept “offers in cute neighborhood spaces,” she says. But you can’t wedge a bread oven and a full-scale bakery into most of them, so Tartine adopted a hub-and-spoke system whereby a commissary kitchen in the Mission, across from the Manufactory, takes on the initial labor of production before delivering everything early in the morning.

“The bread is baked there,” Chinn says. “And the croissants are shaped and formed there, but proofed and baked on-site.”

This is the model Tartine has brought to its Downtown L.A. commissary as well, feeding locations in Santa Monica and Silver Lake.  (Back in the Bay Area, a Berkeley bakery will open later this year, for a total of 13.)

The appetite for Tartine has been good, Chinn says, and anecdotal evidence bears this out. On its first week, the Inner Sunset location had already acquired an organic rhythm, with people reading The New York Times next to furious laptop typers. Stroller-pushing mothers arrive late morning, long after the on-their-way-to-work crowd has picked up their coffee and croissants. And regarding those croissants, manager Scott Mosier notes that, within two hours of opening at 7 a.m., they’d already sold out of all 200, plus 52 morning buns.

“The bike squad came,” he says. “We’re limiting people to two. We want to scale correctly and make sure the quality isn’t going down. Chad will come in and throw them away — so you might as well make them right.”

That, Mosier stresses, rarely happens, although quality is of course paramount even as Tartine has scaled up, almost startup-style, with the “through-put” goal of some 5,000 loaves per day. There may be giant mixing bowls on wheels in the commissaries, but once the dough is on the working boards, everything is still done by hand — without cutting corners on the locavore principles of sourcing ingredients, either. As Chinn paraphrases Robertson: “I automated what I could without sacrificing the quality of the bread.”

In the meantime, it’s open until 3 p.m. daily with breakfast items like coddled eggs and a fantastic mushroom porridge made with rice, a soft-boiled egg, and the Southeast Asian millet variety known as Job’s tears. For lunch, look for a panzanella salad and carrot-ginger soup. Why settle for avocado toast when you can have avocado smørrebrød, with cilantro, pepitas, and aleppo pepper?

Oddly, given the proximity to Golden Gate Park, no one else has opened an all-day, sit-down bakery-and-cafe. There’s Starbucks, Chinn notes, but nobody else but Arizmendi, whose emphasis is on grab-and-go. (Tartine has that, too, of course — but also a beer-and-wine license, with dinner on the way next month.)

“Hopefully, it’s the beginning of the new Tartine, the blend of the classic bakery and the all-day format that we pioneered at the Manufactory,” she says. “We’re smaller than a factory but bigger than a bakery.”

Tartine

1226 Ninth Ave., 415-742-5005 or tartinebakery.com

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