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Local bakeries keeping family businesses alive
August 17, 2011, 02:11 AM By Erin Hurley Daily Journal correspondent

Kore Chan/Daily Journal Clockwise from above: Karen Kirk, left, places an order with Shannon Thayer, center, and Natalie Reyes at the Vanilla Moon bakery in San Carlos. Antero Anellera chooses a cake from Sohrab Molavi at his shop Gerry's Cakes in Menlo Park that has been open for about 18 years. Hazel Suarez orders doughnut holes from Deleana Rodriguez at Galli's Sanitary Bakery in South San Francisco, which has been open since 1909.

When it comes to places to sit down and enjoy something sweet or to find the perfect treat for a special occasion, San Mateo County has dozens of bakeries from which to choose.

Vanilla Moon, Gerry’s Cakes and Galli’s Sanitary Bakery are just three of the many places that offer customers a way to satisfy their craving for something sweet.

Vanilla Moon in San Carlos was opened by Christie Perego in 2008. Perego, 32, said she always loved to cook and owning a restaurant was always a dream. But she never planned on a bakery — she majored in political science in college and then worked in marketing. Perego went to culinary school in San Francisco in 2002 and then worked as a pastry chef in Texas for two years. She came back to the Bay Area in 2004 and started working in finance, and then her passion changed her path again. One day Perego’s mother brought her cupcakes to her real estate office — and they were a hit. Perego started getting cupcake orders for open houses and other events until she was running a catering business out of her house. That’s when she said it was the perfect time to transition to running her own bakery.

Cupcake shops were very popular at the time Vanilla Moon opened, Perego said. Vanilla Moon started out focusing on cupcakes and still does — it offers a variety of flavors including cuatro leches and rocky road, and take catering orders for cupcakes and other items. However, Perego always planned to expand the menu. Once she could hire more employees she said she was able to introduce more bakery items and eventually a lunch menu as well. She alters the menu as often as possible with changing trends and seasons, she said, and there are customers that come every day to see what’s new. She wanted Vanilla Moon to be reminiscent of her experiences living and traveling in Europe, Perego said.

"I really wanted it to feel more boutique-y and not corporate and just a comfortable place for people to come and sit and enjoy themselves and have a really good coffee and pastry,” Perego said. "Just somewhere people want to come every day.”

In Menlo Park is another bakery with a different focus — custom cakes. Gerry’s Cakes has been open for about 18 years, since Gerry Stagi opened the bakery on Chestnut Street to continue the family baking business after his father retired. The shop specializes in custom cakes for all occasions, and current owner Sohrab Molavi said they’ll accommodate any request. The bakery also offers sweets like pastries and cookies. Molavi, 52, bought the place from the owners that took over for Stagi a little over a year ago. He came to California from Iran in 2002 and went to culinary school in San Francisco, and then worked in various bakeries around the West Coast. Molavi said he didn’t plan to open a bakery but saw many people liked to eat out in the Bay Area. He thought food service was a good business and decided to get an education in the field. He liked Gerry’s Cakes when he saw it — it was about to close and he bought it to keep it alive.

Molavi has kept the menu at Gerry’s Cakes about the same, with a few additions of his own like tiramisu and napoleons. Business has been slow the past several years, Molavi said, and he’s been working to get the number of customers back up. He doesn’t get too much walk-in business, he said, but added that people who order cakes give good reviews — the black-and-white cake and the pure chocolate cake are two popular choices.

"The quality is good too, because people who come here for a long time ... every time they pick up the cake they say, ‘It’s delicious, it’s the best cake, it’s better than Safeway,’” Molavi said.

A third bakery in the county is one many people may recognize — it’s been in South San Francisco for a little over a century. Galli’s Sanitary Bakery was opened in 1909 by Ambrose Galli and Rafael Valente, who came to California from Italy and worked in a North Beach bread shop for several years before opening their own place. Galli and Valente used the word "sanitary” when naming the bakery because Galli Jr. said at the time there were no sidewalks or streets and places that served food were noted to be unsanitary. Ambrose Galli Jr., 72, now runs the bakery along with his son Todd and said the bakery started as just a bread shop. The pastry line was developed after World War II. Galli Jr. said he’s expanded the pastry line since taking over ownership in 1960, but some things have always stayed the same, like the bread and Italian panettone.

Galli’s Sanitary Bakery specializes in custom decorated cakes for occasions like weddings and birthdays — Galli Jr. said they make about 200 cakes a week. But since opening, he added they’ve expanded their line to 400 items. There are some items that have always been popular, like Galli Jr.’s chocolate Florentine cannoli — he said they sell three dozen every day. The Galli family is 100 percent Italian, he said, and the bakery also offers some Italian products, like rum cake and St. Honore cakes. But Galli Jr. added the bakery is always introducing new products to make sure people get a change — they recently introduced a complete line of six-inch cakes. Galli’s gets a lot of walk-in business in addition to cake orders, Galli Jr. said. And since they open so early, many people stop in for a coffee or Danish on their way to work.

"We’re just a bakery family ... and there’s not many complete bakeries like ours left,” Galli Jr. said. "When people come in ... I’m impressed and happy to offer them 400 different items ... that’s my accomplishment.”

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