Bakesale Betty’s to get second home
on February 15, 2010
It’s a typical scene on the corner of 51st and Telegraph, the current home of Oakland treasure, Bakesale Betty’s. The mid-day line is at a consistent block-long length is full of uncannily patient Betty enthusiasts waiting to grab a bite. Bakesale Betty’s, just in case you hadn’t heard, is a kitschy bakery helmed by former Chez Panisse cook and Aussie transplant, Alison Barakat, who also goes by “Bakesale Betty.” The shop peddles pies, cookies, brownies and, of course, the addictive fried chicken and coleslaw sandwich that keeps the line at maximum capacity during hours of operations.
Two twenty-somethings donning ubiquitous uniforms of faded black skinny jeans, brightly colored flannel shirts and Ray-Bans, discuss whether or not to continue braving the line. One, a seasoned Betty’s vet, convinces his skeptical cohort that the shorter than usual 30-minute wait is more than worth it. “You don’t wait in line for something that is mediocre,” he says. “I just want that slaw. I dream about it.”
Many other Oaklanders share the same sentiment and feverish attachment to the famed Bakesale Betty’s fried chicken sandwich and to the cheerful Temescal corner where it is currently housed. But in April, Betty will have a new way to serve her faithful patrons, a second location on the corner of West Grand and Broadway right across from Luka’s Taproom and Lounge. The corner, in the Uptown neighborhood, is already its own bustling hub. In addition to Luka’s, there are several successful businesses, like upscale soul food restaurant Pican and Franklin Square restaurant and wine bar. The location will retain all of the kitsch of the original, but will have more seating and a few new menu items, says Barakat.
The shop’s popularity swiftly exceeded its space. Barakat, who started selling baked goods at Temescal Farmers’ Market in 2002, never expected the business to grow as fast as it did. When Betty’s first opened in 2005, it the shop was selling 40 fried chicken sandwiches a day; now the cheerful bewigged baker serves 1,200 sandwiches a day. This boost turned Betty’s into the mob scene most passersby are accustomed to — nobody is surprised at the cycle of hundreds of people that pass through the line every day, even in the rain. People inside are jammed shoulder to shoulder as they perform the complicated “grab your sandwich, pick up a container of hot sauce and try not to drop your tray” dance. Then it’s a mad dash to snag one of the few brightly painted ironing boards that serve as tables. It’s a well-choreographed act of madness that most Oaklanders have embraced.
“Our vision and expectations for the business did not include the massive amount of sandwiches we sell,” said Barakat. “We didn’t even install any deep fryers in the kitchen” — a critical piece of equipment for slinging fried chicken sandwiches.
At the start, Barakat was “making the sandwiches, frying the chicken and prepping the slaw, to order” all on her own, she said. The current operation is a well-oiled machine crammed into 1,200 square feet. While Top 40 tunes blast, two or three cashiers call out orders to the sandwich assembly line. The line consists of four or five people: one person cleaning chicken, one person breading chicken, one person frying chicken in one of three pots on the six-burner stove, and one person prepping the vegetables for the slaw, who also quickly whips out sandwiches to eager lunch (or breakfast, snack or dinner) time customers. At the center of it all the contained chaos is “Betty,” in her blue wig, as she sometimes helps assemble sandwiches, takes orders or passes out free cookies to those waiting in line.
Barakat’s husband, Michael Camp, was smitten on with the new Uptown location for some time, she said. They signed the lease two years ago and are making the final preparations for the opening in a few months. The new space will keep all the charm of the current location, she said— more ironing table tables, free baked goods for people in line , a dedicated following— but will also contain a large prep kitchen area in the back. Barakat also has a few new tricks up her sleeves. “We hope to add more items to our menu, both sweet and savory. We will be test-baking some new items in the first few months,” she said.
The grand opening in April will bring an end to the “long road” of planning for Barakat and will kick off with a huge party for new and old customers. Barakat is looking forward to a new potential clientele and for another venue to serve even more customers. “We had great luck with being on a busy corner,” she said, “and now we hope to have the same luck on the new corner too!”
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