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Bordenave’s Bakery Scents the Streets of San Rafael

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Bordenave’s Bakery Scents the Streets of San Rafael

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      The wonderful savory aroma is always present. Every morning before school, baking bread is in the air and I always wondered where it came from. Who could be producing that delightful smell? After years of pondering, I have finally discovered the answer: Bordenave’s Bakery. For manager and part-owner Joseph Radwan, this smell has been a part of his life from an early age: “I’ve been working in the bakery for over 15 years. When I was just a kid, I would come in and run the retail store on Saturday mornings; my father showed me basically how to run the store,” Radwan says. While working at the store during college, he realized how much he enjoyed working at the bakery. “I would do a delivery route actually on the weekends; that’s kind of how I got into it.” Even though his job seems like it may be very demanding, it is clear his enthusiasm for the bakery is genuine as his face lights up when he talks about its unique qualities and successes.

      “The bakery is a 24 hour a day facility. We’re open 365 days a year.” It is incredible how Radwan remains so calm and composed despite managing an around the clock business. This is due in part to his ability to appreciate the gratifying moments of his job: “We service over 1,000 restaurants, delis, and supermarkets in the Bay Area, and that is very cool, to know every day that people are eating our bread.” Seeing his hard work pay off in action is something that he values as manager; he truly is making an impact on his company and the broader Bay Area. There are, however, certain difficulties that have to be managed partially because he is “damage control”: “I’m the guy who people go to for a lot of problems.”

      When something goes wrong, it is always on Radwan to fix it no matter the circumstances. Even if his knowledge of the issue with the client may be minimal, he always gets the first call when they voice a complaint. “Sometimes you get phone calls like you know we had a bad experience with one of your delivery drivers or they didn’t put the bread in the correct place. It’s my job to find out what happened, why did it happen, and how can we prevent that going forward.” This can sometimes result in extremely uncomfortable conversations with furious customers. “You get some of the pissed off people, but you know, I try to mitigate those kinds of encounters if I can.” He recognizes that listening without judgment and doing his absolute best to address the problem will ultimately be very beneficial for Bordenave’s.

      Despite the small size of the company’s sole facility, the bakery services a broad spectrum of business all over the Bay Area. Logistically, the broad clientele sometimes makes it difficult on the bakery, Radwan says. Their staff is relatively small for the number of people they serve: “When Cal plays their football games at home, we deliver hot dog buns to them. You’re talking about 500 dozen rolls. That’s quite a bit of bread.” Working in the factory at the bakery is demanding. Hours are early and long and all goods are made by hand, which makes it less appealing to potential employees. “It’s hard finding good people that want to work; that’s been a challenging part for us.” To counteract this, Radwan attempts to develop strong relationships with his employees: “What we try to do is we try to hire good people and pay them a fair wage and treat them the way they should be treated and hopefully that way we can retain them for a long period of time.” The business model is very practical. It really is a true family business. Employees are treated as equals, and the ownership forges close bonds with their clients. This is why Radwan remains in the Bordenave’s business; the welcoming environment is very appealing.

      The bakery has a long history — it’s approaching its 100th year — operating through many different generations and subsequent changes in technology. In the more recent past, the location has proved to be a downside. “Being here on 4th Street poses many challenges, we’re not in an industrial part of town.” With constant traffic during the day, deliveries become a complex endeavor. Radwan describes an example of one of these predicaments: “If we’re gonna get pallets of mineral oil for our machines, a truck would pull up right now and if there’s no parking, I have to go out, and take care of traffic and make sure nobody gets into an accident.” For many businesses with lots of supplies coming in constantly, this would be a disaster. However, despite all of the things on Radwan’s plate, he is able to maintain this calm, warm demeanor. Joseph Radwan always goes with the flow.

One thing is for certain: Radwan loves his bread. His favorite? “Our ciabatta is absolutely amazing. It’s a fantastic product.” And we all know it smells delicious.

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