Merritt Restaurant and Bakery is/was a really authentic old-school diner and bakery combo that has been in business since 1952 (or 1954) in the Merritt neighborhood, just east of the lake. On a warm afternoon, you can get a coffee and a pastry and relax in the Athol Plaza, the park right next to the bakery that has a view of the lake. Late at night on the weekends crowds and couples migrate from the scene at Grand Lake to get something sweet to eat.
Some think that this is one of the best places for fried chicken in the East Bay!
The movie Up has a subtle homage to the bakery. In the movie, Russell's scouting uniform has a merit badge featuring one of the bakery's signature "hamburger cakes".
Merritt Bakery moved out of the original 203 East 18th St. location into the former Kwik-Way on Lake Park Avenue in 2014. It was assumed they would move back after renovations were completed at the East 18th location but in September, 2015, it was announced they would not, and were looking for a larger space. “About the future location of Merritt Bakery … it is uncertain,” 13
Past Financial Troubles
In 2006, the Merritt Restaurant and Bakery suffered $150,000 in damage from a fire.
In 2008, the city loaned the bakery $13,500. The loan was proposed by Pat Kernighan and passed unanimously. Councilmembers Desley Brooks, Jane Brunner, Henry Chang, Jr., Pat Kernighan, Nancy Nadel, Jean Quan and Larry Reid voted for it. Ignacio de la Fuente was excused.
In October of 2009, the city loaned the bakery $162,000, and according to one article, has "has bailed it out repeatedly since it first opened in 1952." 7
In March of 2010, the city advanced the Bakery $46,000 of interim debt.4 In May of 2010, Merritt Bakery was about to close, but the city found a way to keep it open with a $150k loan from redevelopment funds.1 Ron Dellums, mayor at the time, pushed for the loan, which would allegedly save 55 jobs. The issue came before council and passed: Rebecca Kaplan, Desley Brooks, Ignacio de la Fuente, Larry Reid and Nancy Nadel voted for it. Jane Brunner and Pat Kernighan voted against the loan (the bakery falls in her district) and Jean Quan, on city council at the time, abstained. The loan came with conditions that can be viewed here. A report was prepared in advance of the loan passing and included such things as an estimate of "six to 10 groups of patrons per day would leave after seeing the menu prices, perhaps costing the Merritt as much as $6,000 a month."3 City auditor Ruby recommended that the city not issue this loan, saying the money would never be paid back.10
None of these loans include the $14,500 the city spent on a consultant to decide if the loan was a good idea.12
At the time, Charles Griffis, who took over the Bakery in 1998, said that the main reason the bakery was suffering financially was due to the lack of parking. The Lucky's grocery store took over most of the available parking and Merritt was left with only 20 spots. He said parking, not money, would solve the bakery's problems, which begs the question: why did the city give the bakery money?5 Some reports agree with this contention: the supermarket was built without sufficient thought to the parking issues. Other city officials argued that there was plenty of parking for the bakery. 8
Then there's this, reported before the $150,000 loan, reported in the East Bay Express:
Griffis' flashy lifestyle and history of financial problems also raise doubts as to whether he can garner the needed city support. He has had troubles with the state Franchise Tax Board, and he drives a gray Ferrari. Griffis said he bought the expensive sports car with proceeds from a prior business and that his tax problems were unrelated to the Merritt.9
In 2011, a worker sued Merritt Bakery claiming that he had been discriminated against due to a seizure. 11 (see press release here.)
At around 2:35 a.m., on May 8, 2013, the Merritt Bakery was seriously damaged during a one alarm fire which burned much of the building, including the kitchen area. The owners could not be reached for comment, and it is expected to take months to rebuild due to the extensive damage. 2
On May 9th, an article appeared on SFGate.com called "Why Merritt Bakery matters: An appreciation." Author Peter Hartlaub included the hamburger cake as one reason. He also stated that "Oakland is Merritt Bakery." This editor, at least, would like to say that Oakland is many things, but one thing it is not is Merritt Bakery.
Update 2013-07-29: after hearing it had been closed more for health reasons than for fire damage, I went by on my bike today, seeking clarification on the type of closure. Instead, I found people inside, with bunches of balloons tied up out front and signs announcing that the place was back open for business! So … whattaya know?! [Mike]
Merritt Bakery is owned McKinney Griff, Inc. The primary owner is Patricia Griffis, the wife of Charles Griffis.
203 E. 18th Street, Oakland, California 94606
Links and References
- Neldam's sour view of Merritt Bakery sweet deal by Chip Johnson, SFGate.com June 8, 2010
- Landmark Merritt Bakery and Restaurant severely damaged by fire Oakland Tribune
- Storied Merritt Bakery receives $150,000 loan from city Oakland Tribune May 19, 2010
- Oakland's Merritt Bakery in deep, hopes for loan Oakland Tribune: May 13, 2010
- Rayburn, May 13.
- Johnson, Chip
- An Oakland Icon May Close East Bay Express: Feb 24, 2010
- Gammon, Robert.
- Gammon, Robert.
- Merritt Bakery Loan for $150,000-what would you do? SFGate.com May 18, 2010
- Oakland restaurant sued for discrimination SFGate.com September 9, 2011
- Baker's Dough SFGate.com January 25, 2010
- Merritt Bakery Won't Move Back to Original Location, Seeks Larger Space East Bay Express September 23, 2015