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San Rafael Bakery Celebrates 100 Years Of Making Sourdough

SAN RAFAEL (KPIX 5) -- A North Bay bakery is marking an impressive milestone this year. Not many businesses can say they've been around for a century.

100 years ago on 4th Street in San Rafael, Frank Bordenave opened a bakery. He sold cakes and pastries for about ten years. Then the Great Depression hit.

"He saw that people weren't really buying so many pastries anymore and it was more breads that they were looking for. So he kind of switched gears and got into that," said Bordenave's French Bread manager Joseph Radwan.

Ever since then, Bordenave's has been known for bread, specifically their sourdough bread. Radwan says thousands of loaves are made every day, all coming from the same sourdough starter Frank brought back from Europe in the 1920's.

"He really developed that sour profile," explained Radwan. "The sour profile develops over time. It doesn't really happen overnight."

Neither does the baking process. Once the dough is mixed, it goes into a cooled room to sit while the yeasts build up gasses in a process called "proofing."

"In here is the long-term fermentation. So basically, this bread will be here for about 24 hours. You can kind of smell in here the natural, sour flavor," said Radwan

Then the loaves get a spa treatment as they head into the steam room.

"The steam and the heat in this room will really get the bread to 'proof' really quickly. And from there we're able to go ahead and put it in the oven right away," explained Radwan

The loaves are actually living, breathing things when they're placed into the rotating ovens. About 40 minutes later, they come out golden brown with the tell-tale bubbles and extra sour bite that customers have loved for the past century.

"Just grew up with the taste. It's very special. It's unique," said San Anselmo resident and regular customer Bruce Carroll.

"My grandmother and my mom would say, only go to Bordenave's, you know? If you're gonna make garlic bread you gotta go there," said San Francisco resident Sally Magnuson.

Radwan will take over the business from his father later this centennial year and has some ideas to modernize the plant. But he knows not to mess with a good thing…

"Sourdough is our bread and butter," he said with a laughs. "Pun very much intended there."

Beyond its small retail store, the bakery makes breads for restaurants, caterers and grocery stores around the Bay Area.  It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week with only half days off on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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