Despite nearly three decades of doing exactly what she’s wanted to do since she was a little girl, Beth Setrakian hadn’t yet fully realized her childhood dream of owning a retail bakery.
That changes today, as Beth’s Community Kitchen debuts with a soft opening that both realizes her own life-long ambition and fulfills local residents’ desire for another downtown bakery. As she sat outside her storefront at 34 Miller Ave. for 15 minutes on Wednesday evening, scores of passers-by expressed excitement over seeing the long-delayed bakery ready to open its doors.
“The dream that I always wanted was this,” she said. “I went about it in a roundabout way but here I am.”
Having just passed its final inspection Tuesday, Beth’s is open starting today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., although those hours will expand each day as the inventory grows and they get settled. By next week, normal hours will be 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday except Tuesday.
Setrakian’s career in the food business dates back to the early 1980s, when her friend and fellow Stanford grad Judy Rodgers, now owner and chef at Zuni Café in San Francisco, helped her land a job as the pastry chef at the Fourth Street Grill in Berkeley. Setrakian wowed owner Mark Miller, a Chez Panisse alum like Rodgers, with her pecan tarte, which has become her signature treat.
After a pastry production stint at Il Fornaio, Setrakian married Kentfield painter Rob Setrakian, got pregnant with their first child Nicholas and moved to West Marin. She started making wedding cakes and selling pies to the and Olema Inn.
“That grew into a pretty nice business,” said Setrakian, a native of Prairie View, Texas. “But I wouldn’t do wedding cakes again because it’s too stressful. It was really fun but you cannot be a second late – you’re dealing with bride-zillas.”
The young family then moved to Italy for a year and a half, taking in the art and food in a country that worships both. Upon their return, they moved to Mill Valley and Setrakian nearly took a job at the then-new in Larkspur. But with a newborn and a toddler at home, she decided to go back to doing her own thing, starting with those pecan tartes.
She sold about 500 of them to companies to give as corporate gifts inside film cannisters, using the kitchens of friends and family all over West Marin to bake them.
“It was scary – I was running all over the place,” she said.
Two months later, the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” ensued, which saw Setrakian landing a gig to make heart-shaped Italian desserts for a restaurant in San Francisco. The order kept growing, which sent Rob Setrakian driving over the Golden Gate Bridge multiple times to deliver additional orders.
“He’s always been such a good sport, but at that point, he said, ‘Enough,’” she said. “He said, ‘Let’s find you a place to do this and not in our kitchen.’”
They found Kitchens Inc., a commercial kitchen on Kerner Blvd. in San Rafael that served as an incubator of sorts for a number of food businesses and is now home of the commercial kitchen of .
Setrakian’s business then began to blossom with cookies, landing a deal with Trader Joe’s, a relationship that continues 18 years later. But throughout Setrakian’s years of supplying retailers and restaurants with her tasty treats, she harkened back to her freshman year in college, when she spent the summer taking classes at Columbia University and selling cookies at the Henri Bendel store.
“I found an old journal from then and I had written about how all I wanted was to have my own little bakery,” she said.
She started looking in Mill Valley about five years ago and learned that Lester Hubbard, the owner of Valley Security & Tool at 34 Miller, was looking to close and sell the building. She wasn’t able to ink a deal with him then, but signed a lease with eventual buyer the Keil Estate Company a year and a half ago.
Since then, Setrakian has dealt with all sorts of delays, most of which involve the remodel required to transition from a locksmith to a commercial kitchen and the permitting to do so. Paying rent on the space for 18 months without revenue coming in from it also created some financial hiccups along the way, Setrakian said.
“This is my first storefront – it’s finally happening,” she said. “We’re just really excited to get started. It’s been crazy.”
Setrakian said customers can expect most of her signature items, from pecan tortes and an array of cookies to foccaccia bread and croissants and scones. The menu will grow over time, she said.
“I love doing so many things that I’m having to reel myself in a little bit,” she said with a laugh.
The 411: Beth’s Community Kitchen is at 34 Miller Ave. in downtown Mill Valley. It’s open today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and expanding to 7 a.m.-6 p.m. next week. Open everyday except Tuesday.