This is the remarkable story about Hannalee Pervan of Toronto, Canada, who from the age of ten envisioned owning her own bakery. It is also a story about a family who shared their passion for restoring a dilapidated warehouse that would fulfill that same little girl’s dream.
Rich in charm and history, Benicia is a waterside town in the North Bay of San Francisco. Centrally located between San Francisco proper, Wine Country, Silicone Valley, and Sacramento, it is a relaxing island in the midst of its more fast-paced neighbors. With a population of about 30,000 people, it is a thriving small town, with a strong sense of community, good dining and shopping, a flourishing arts scene and safe walkable areas.
But one of the most intrinsic features is the concentrated historic downtown area that pays homage to the town’s past, with its well-maintained Victorian and early California-style buildings centered along First Street, the main street of the historic downtown area.
And on October 15th, 2018, there was a new kid on the block. One House Bakery opened its doors at 918 First Sreet after completing a total refurbishment of a 4,ooo square foot, dilapidated warehouse building dating back to 1942. I was fortunate to be able to visit in June of 2019, and going inside, I marveled at the interior — a lucky opportunity because, in February 2020, with a raging worldwide pandemic, One House Bakery closed to the public and become a takeout bakery to protect customers and employees alike. No customers have since been allowed to enter the bakery and all orders are picked up from a table outside the front door or delivered by their own delivery service.
Fortunately, at the time of my visit, I took photographs. They captured the bakery pre-pandemic, when customers were able to walk up to the counter, view the temping assortment of home-baked products, place their order and leisurely enjoy a cup of coffee, a pastry or a light meal in the restored building.
On my most recent visit, two years later, although customers were not able to enter the bakery because of COVID, I was able to gain entry with special permission. What I found was a hive of activity and a bakery at full throttle. Starting from nothing, as an unknown baker, in a town where no one had heard of her, Hannalee has grown her bakery to fifty-five employees, turning out high-quality bread, baked goods, meals, relying on the internet and their own delivery service to reach their customers.
I have a passion for old buildings that have been refurbished and value their importance and historic relevance, as much as I admire, and respect the people who take on these projects. Knowing nothing about the building or its history, when I saw it for the first time, I was astounded by the ingenuity that had been harnessed to turn an old warehouse into a thriving bakery space, while retaining the essence of its origins.
That being said, it’s worth glimpsing into the past to see the hard work Hannalee and team have put into the space — touches which remain and await the days when customers can again enjoy them in person.
The first thing to know about Hannalee Pervan, the head baker at One House Bakery, is that she is a tour de force personality who knows where she is going and allows nothing to stop her. From a young age, she knew what she wanted to do and never deviated from that path.
As a ten-year-old in Toronto, Canada she was already dreaming about her future seeing herself as the owner of a bakery, and envisioned that it would be located in an old warehouse with beams and soaring ceilings. To get to where she wanted to go, she would spend time in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother, practicing her craft, baking cookies, cakes, and bread progressing to more complicated recipes, in preparation for her career.
She was always competitive, whether it was academically or in sport — especially in basketball where she was ranked first in school. She had a coach who drove her to realize that everything she did had a purpose. It was a notion that resonated with this highly motivated young girl forging a path that would eventually lead her to this place.
In 2009, at 22 years old, she was accepted on scholarship into the Quinnipiac University, Division 1 Basketball, a three-year course where she studied entrepreneurship and small business management, training how to run her own business. All her lecturers were successful entrepreneurs and they recognized her drive, and she continues to remain in touch with some of them. Following that she went to Ottawa to attend the Cordon Bleu School for one year.
Migrating to the United States, Hannalee returned to college and it was here that she met her husband to be, Colin, an American sports journalist, who had graduated in English from Yale. For the next couple of years, Hannalee focused on building her bio, taking positions at bakeries that would benefit her skillset, focusing on bread making.
One of these roles was with Bouchon in Yountville, California, where she was hired to be the pastry chef and eventually, a breadmaker. Here, she and her team were baking all the bread for the French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s best-known restaurant. Hannalee says she learned everything she knows about making bread from her time with Bouchon.
Hannalee’s husband, Colin, found a position with CBS covering the Golden State Warriors and, settling in San Francisco, they decided it was time for Hannalee to make her dream of owning a bakery come true and began looking for a suitable building for the proposed bakery, within a two-hour radius of their home so that Colin could drive to work from where ever the bakery and their home, were located.
When they heard about a warehouse in Benicia that was for sale, Hannalee, her husband, and her parents (who had moved from Toronto to California) were shown the warehouse. As run down as it was, she grabbed her mother’s hand and began to jump up and down and could not contain her excitement — this was the warehouse of her dreams. Within ten minutes, they decided to put in an offer.
The warehouse was being used as an antique mall and consignment center divided into smaller spaces: and each space represented a tenant and a lease. Any foreclosure sale requires endless paperwork. It took an arduous six months to terminate each tenant’s lease and to complete the legal procedures necessary to take ownership. At times, the minutia was so overwhelming that they were tempted to abandon this deal and move on to something else.
But finally taking ownership on November 1st, 2017 meant that it was time to begin the revivification of the warehouse. Originally built as a movie house in 1942, with floors that sloped to the rear and a projection room, the building had transitioned into a shelving store, followed by an automotive supply, before becoming an antique mall and consignment center.
The warehouse had not been well maintained over the years and each subsequent tenant performed band-aid repairs to accommodate their requirements. At this point, it needed a total refurbishment as well as a re-design to house the bakery. Fortunately, Peter and Catherine Pervan, Hannalee’s parents, had worked side by side in the construction for the last thirty years, but nothing could have prepared them for the project at hand.
They took on the project as a labor of love in total support of Hannalee’s dream, knowing how determined Hannalee was to own her own bakery and possessing utmost confidence in her ability to build a successful business. There can be no other way of describing their commitment, due to the enormity of the work that had to be done to the warehouse to ready it for a bakery.
When work began, it became a family project under Peter’s direction, with each family member wearing many hats and participating where ever they were needed. Everything needed to be upgraded with new electric and gas installations, and each stage of the construction had to be permitted and signed off. It was time-consuming, waiting for approvals with delay after delay.
New beams were copied to match the original ones, and fifteen different stains were mixed until they found the perfect honey color, and malleables (black re-enforcing metal circles) were added to the beams to make them more authentic. Hannalee and her Mother, Catherine, had sourced the malleables from different places, architectural salvage yards, antique markets, and Phil Joy, who was living in Benicia — they then scrubbed and stripped every malleable and then spraypainted them, allowing the paint to drip, to make them look authentic and aged. With old buildings, the devil is in the details!
The original projection room was unfortunately condemned and had to be torn out — this required a redesign of the front of the building, as well as a new sidewalk.
Fortunately, the front upper mezzanine next to the projection room was saved. The old ceiling was drywalled with a plenum on top. They removed all of the existing ceiling, and for five days Hannalee washed and stripped the underside of the roof to expose the redwood underneath, working on it until it was pristine.
When I visited the bakery in 2019, I sat in this restored front upper mezzanine and spoke to Hannalee about the restoration and the installation of the new bakery and what it had meant to her. She expressed the view that her father (pictured above) was a genius for the way he undertook the refurbishment of this old building and learning of the complexity of the re-design, and I am in total agreement.
Sitting in the mezzanine, with an expansive view over the entire bakery, I began to get a sense of the almost 4,000 square foot warehouse, and the extent of the renovations.
Knowing they would have to install commercial ovens and refrigeration drew attention to the floor. Peter knew it would never hold the weight of these installations and would require replacing. Beginning work on the floor, he found the original sloping floor from its movie house era had been covered with a second floor to make it level. Both floors were removed and Peter had to redo all the joists, beams, and add posts before the crew installed a new 3/4 inch plywood floor with a second 3/4 inch plywood floor on top of that to be sure it was strong enough.
RESTORING A WALL
On the right-hand side of the warehouse, the entire wall running the length of the property needed restoration, too, so the family stripped the wall back to the cinderblock. Matching antique honey-colored bricks were sourced from a supplier in Chicago and shipped to Benicia, and applied with several batches of grout were mixed to find the”right” color, eventually choosing a grey, to contrast with the honey-colored bricks. Using a pastry piping bag, Hannalee meticulously piped the grout between the layers of brick — not exactly what she was taught to do at the Cordon Bleu School, but necessity is the mother of invention.
Overhauling electric and gas lines required endless meetings with PG & E, who seemed not to understand the value of time and the fact that each delay was delaying the opening of the bakery. Efficient three-phase electricity was vital to the bakery, which now bakes around the clock, beginning with the yeast doughs in the very early hours, allowing it time to proof, and bake before the first customers arrive.
One of Hannlee’s fundamental specifications was to have an in-house mill as she wanted the bakery to grind its own whole wheat flour. Peter built an airtight room according to code to house the massive machine. The supplier had to itemize every individual component that made up the mill to be certified — and then, piece-by-piece, the entire mill was certified again to meet the local requirements. This was the first mill in Solano County and it was a “first” for the health department who had never had to approve the installation of a mill before and had no experience, so everything ground to a halt. But finally, the mill was there, the room was complete, and work stopped while the health department mulled the situation over. It would have stayed that way until Hannalee took the reigns and called around to discuss the situation with other millers to get their advice on how to move forward — and then present these recommendations to the Health Department. Nothing was easy.
EQUIPPING THE BAKERY
Where there’s a will, there’s a way (and Hannalee has an abidance of will). In order to buy equipment for the bakery, Hannalee had to stretch the budget and source secondhand equipment. Fortunately, the Cordon Blue School in San Francisco was selling their entire inventory at the time. There was an eleven-hour sale to liquidate everything and, with restraint, Hannalee waited for the tenth hour for the biggest bargains and managed to pick up items like the large kitchen work tables that would have cost $2,400 each for only $200 apiece. Because the inventory was sold in job lots, she may have overbought on mixing bowls, and a few other items, but as Peter had excavated and built some storage space at the rear of the warehouse, there was lots of space to store them until needed.
As if the interior were not already impressive enough of a project, Catherine envisioned a two-tier garden to be built at the back door of the bakery, where customers could sit and relax in a beautiful garden setting. The only part of this garden that existed beforehand was a large shade acacia tree.
Incorporating the tree, Peter added a platform where Catherine created a dreamy space, with a living garden on one wall and adding potted plants and fresh herbs all around. Bougainvilleas and other climbers add texture and color and make it seem as if the garden has been there forever. Is there anything this team cannot do if they decide it needs to be done? Visitors might suspect not.
The warehouse was purchased on November 17th, 2017, and finally opened its doors as a bakery on October 15th, 2018. By the end of the project, every detail of the warehouse had been taken apart, restored, and then put together again. Every piece of material that could be saved was carefully cleaned off and re-used, and by the end of the project, there was no pile of garbage and almost no material had been thrown out. This is a perfect example of sustainable refurbishment.
Hannalee’s parents intended to “only” help her re-furbish the warehouse and set up the bakery but they became integral to its success and everyday operation. In fact, they still work in the bakery every day. Catherine is the chocolatier, and she is also very involved in the kitchen, where she knows every station. Some of the recipes used in the bakery are old family recipes and when I visited over the holidays she was in charge of the chocolate station.
As for Peter, Hannalee calls her dad a genius who worked with no manual to guide him to restore this entirely unique space — and is perfectly open that she would not have the bakery if not for her parents and how hard they worked toward this goal.
One House Bakery had been named for the best baguette in the San Francisco Bay Area and was honored as the 14th Assembly District’s 2021 Small Business of the Year. Is it any wonder customers now come from San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and as far as Napa and Sonoma Wine Country?
Every day, Hannalee and her parents are at work by 7.00 a.m. and they return home at 10.00 p.m. When I commented to Peter that his daughter is a remarkable woman, he said: “And she is just getting started.” I believe he is correct, and nothing will hold back Hannalee Pervan, this tour de force.
In January of 2021, Hannalee became ill with covid, which developed into long covid, leaving her with a loss of taste and smell, or more accurately her sense of taste and smell were distorted — and most foods tasted foul, a condition known as parosmia. We are talking about a baker and a chef who had spent the last ten years developing her palate and depended on her sense of taste and smell for a living. She is now dependent on her two sous Chefs to taste for her. After several months, Hannalee decided to post on Facebook what had happened and the overwhelming response and outpouring of love showed how interwoven she and One House Bakery are in their community. She wrote:
“Many of you know that I have developed parosmia since contracting COVID-19, which dramatically distorts my sense of smell and taste. These last few weeks planning and cooking our Thanksgiving meal have been some of the hardest of my life. The recipes inside that box are truly the foundation of my love for cooking and used to be quintessential comfort for me. This year they all tasted wrong and vile and it was truly heartbreaking and incredibly challenging to make them.”
But nonetheless, this tour de force perseveres. She is loved and adored by her customers and I know her community will reward her for decades to come.
ONE HOUSE BAKERY
918 – 1ST STREET
BENICIA, CA 94510
TEL: (707) 361-5919
Hours: Wed. – Sun 8.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m.
Closed Mon and Tues.