I’ve been to Marla Bakery close to a dozen times, and it never disappoints. Like the family that runs it, the bakery feels like a family in itself with its cozy comforts.
Marla opened in 2014 in the Outer Richmond. The bakery is a labor of love for owners Amy Brown and Joe Wolf, who got married there shortly before opening the business. MARLA is actually an acronym that stands for the first initials of the family members who inspired their love for cooking and baking. Amy and Joe met years back while working at NOPA and went into business together, first running a farmer's market stand, then a pop-up, and eventually their own restaurant.
Amy described the neighborhood as the land of “grandparents and fog”—this hit home for me, as my grandparents lived a few blocks from Marla, and my grandfather always made a point of cherishing the neighborhood’s fog. The goal with Marla was to open a “cozy, family restaurant.”
While Amy focuses on baking, she didn’t want Marla to be just pastries and fresh bread; she and Joe had the goal of a restaurant that can nourish neighbors for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Diners immediately get the sense of a warm, comforting, nurturing environment.
Nourishment for Amy always “starts in the kitchen”—the kitchen is where she feels grounded, confident, and most comfortable. Baking and cooking were always her passions growing up, and she enjoyed cooking for herself as well as for family and friends. She cooked for friends and family while studying at UC Santa Cruz, and after college traveled to Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a province in Italy, and pursued cooking further. Amy and Joe’s absolute love for cooking is what they try to bring to their neighborhood restaurant.
The team at Marla wants their customers to feel like they love being there. Being a restaurant where neighbors can find a sense of community was part of the goal when Marla opened. Since its inception, regular customers have been very important to Marla’s success. This is heartening to the owners as this is exactly what they wanted when they set up shop. Still, Amy and Joe started their bakery with open eyes: they were cognizant of the high failure rate for San Francisco restaurants, and knew given their passion for food, they weren’t going to cut any corners.
The couple kept their noses to the grindstone and thrived with their dedicated work ethic. Craftsmanship, and the high quality of food and ingredients were important to the team at Marla from the start. Amy and Joe learned through experience at NOPA the importance of always pushing for improvements in terms of the quality of food and service, while fighting to provide good, living jobs for workers. Amy emphasized that improving the quality of food and service is not necessarily a money-saving effort.
A constant struggle for Amy and Joe has been trying to balance the affordability of San Francisco and the high cost of labor, with providing a space for multigenerational families in the neighborhood, including seniors, families, and children. The bakery has been fully accepted and welcomed by the neighborhood, but price can sometimes be an issue. Given that the owners of Marla are raising two kids as they run their business, they want to make sure they respect the history of the Richmond as a neighborhood for families to thrive, and hope to help preserve the family neighborhood culture that makes up the heart of San Francisco.
On my most recent visit, it was early in the morning, so I stuck to the pastries. Marla has a wide variety of baked goods, many of which are exhibited on the counter near the alluring wood-burning oven that formed the foundation of the building. The chocolate chip cookie, pecan sticky bun, and sweet and savory scones are some popular items. I had the cardamom coffee cake, and a cherry and oat scone. I’m not really a scone fan, but this was buttery, fruity, and filling.
For my drink, I had the Marla Chai, which has a rich spicy flavor, pairing well with the cardamom coffee cake. I took a lemon meringue tart to go, which is a fan favorite. The lemon filling is perfect, and the crust is heavy and buttery.
Overall, Marla bakery is a warm and intimate grandparents’ hug. The embrace of a neighborhood. Many neighbors got pastries to go, while families and couples stayed for a while to take in the heat from the oven, the sounds of jazz, and a hearty meal. I hope Marla carries on for years to come.
3619 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121