Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Give me some Sugar: Meet Greg Mindel of Neighbor

Greg Mindel of Neighbor Baker photographed at his pop-up in Sutton Cellars on Thursday, February 21, 2013 in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA.

Loving thy neighbor is easy when it means choosing from trays of sweet and savory pastries at Neighbor bakery and when the neighbor is baker Greg Mindel.

Although it isn't that easy choosing from among the more than ten different selections available early this morning at Mindel's Thursdays-only pop-up at 22nd and Illinois in the space normally occupied by winemaker Carl Sutton and his Sutton Cellars.

Mindel's traditional croissant has garnered him much deserved praise and press for perhaps offering the only "authentic" croissant in SF but it is hard to pass up the bacon kimchi green onion croissant or the passion fruit, cocoa and almond brioche.  In the end we do indeed select the traditional croissant but also three (or four or five) of his other creations.

We were thankful to have the treats to occupy us since a seemingly endless stream of customers came in as soon Mindel opened for business.  In neighbor-like fashion, he seemed to know most of them -- shaking their hands and asking many of them if they wanted their usual or something new from the hand-written menu.

His genuine excitement at greeting each customer never flagged despite having baked all night as he does every night followed by early morning deliveries to such wholesale customers as Front Cafe, FourBarrel Coffee and SightGlass Coffee

Many of the customers were from nearby businesses -- even pastry rock star Michael Recchiuti lined up and filled a pastry box full of goodies to take to his co-workers. 

Although soft-spoken and modest, Mindel is exudes a quiet intensity when speaking about his plans for his year old business.
Greg Mindell serves a customer at his pop-up in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA on February 21, 2013.

Why do you do what you do?

I grew up in New York and in Florida and I started in the food business when I was 14 years old.  My first job was in an Italian deli as a dishwasher and then I worked my way up to other jobs.  The baker there was an old Navy guy who had lots of great stories.  I learned so much from him and from all the other places I worked where there was always someone who took the time to share what they knew with me.

For many years I was an instructor at the San Francisco Baking Institute, among other places, and I heard people describe me as self-taught but really, even though I didn't have a formal culinary school education, I was taught but folks like these. 

So I have this urge to give back what I've learned to the community -- to create a place where food and stories can be shared.

Besides  teaching pastry, I also baked for other shops such as Tell Tale Preserve, Spruce and  Tartine.  I always had a goal to open my own shop.  But I want to do it the right way and to me that means having as much start up capital as I can before I open a brick and mortar shop.  My current catering and wholesale business in addition to holding pop-ups will help me get the majority of the capital I need.

Why Dogpatch?

Dogpatch is my first choice for my brick and mortar shop. 

I like that Dogpatch still feels a bit like uncharted territory still -- there is still a bit of chaos in the neighborhood and I like that. 

I also really like the mix of people in the neighborhood.  My customers are PG&E workers, winemakers, caterers, technology folks, etc. and they all seem to appreciate what I have to offer.

And I grew up near the water so I like that Dogpatch is on the waterfront.

Who is another fascinating person you have met in Dogpatch?

I rent commercial kitchen space in this building from Jamieson Leadbetter, owner of Leadbetters Bakeshop.  When Tell Tale Preserve ended up shutting down, Jamieson reached out to me and offered me his kitchen space.  I appreciated his support and admire what he has done with his business.

Also, there is a guy, Paul, who is the original founder of International Pastries which is also in the American Industrial Building.  Although he sold the company, he still works there and he so reminds me of some of my early teachers.  He is a quiet character but has lots of great stories -- when he does speak you know you should listen!

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

When Tell Tale didn't work out, with my wife's blessing and much appreciated support, I took six months off and did a walkabout.  I traveled, taught, baked and thought.

And running Neighbor is what I want do be doing.  This industry is so inspiring and dynamic that you can really do so many things.

If I weren't working on this bakery then I would still be in the food business but probably in some academic way -- perhaps studying anthropology of food or culinary science.  

And why name your new adventure, Neighbor?

While on my walkabout I thought a lot about names.  I like that Neighbor means community and about being connected but not in an overly trendy or overly hyped way.  The name is inclusive -- it can cross borders and include everyone.

Article written by Patricia Kline
Photographs by Scott R. Kline

The barrel points the way to Neighbor bakery in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA. 

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