By Judith Kahn
Oswald R. Schubert was a German immigrant who arrived in San Francisco in 1911. He began baking in a small building on Fillmore Street. His business grew to the point where he needed more space to keep up with the high demand for his sweet treats, so he moved to Clement Street in the 1940s. The enterprise he started more than 100 years ago is still going strong in the Richmond District.
When Schubert decided to retire, he sold the shop to another baker named Fred, who continued the artisanal baking methods that Schubert had used since founding the shop, and also added some new products to the already wide selection.
In 1968, Hilmar and Annie Maier bought Schubert’s and ushered the bakery into the modern era. Although the neighborhood has change, Schubert’s has remained a constant landmark.
Ralph and Lutz Wenzel, purchased the business in 1995. Fourth generation bakers from Germany, the Wenzel brothers brought together old world techniques and modern-day technology. Some of the favorites from 1911, such as the Neopolitan and the Opera Cake, are still being baked to this day. The selection has also been updated with more diverse offerings, such as tiramisu, mango Mmousse and Swedish Princess Cake.
Lutz Wenzel retired in 2012. Schubert’s is now run by Ralph Wenzel and his wife, Valerie.
Schubert’s was recently designated a legacy business, having operated in the City for more than 30 years. During this time, Schubert’s has built up a loyal customer base. Many patrons have been coming to Schubert’s for decades and would never think of starting their morning without a Schubert’s pastry and coffee.
Long-time customers said they keep coming back not just because the treats are so delicious, but also because the employees are so nice, caring and attentive. When customers open the door, employees greet them by name and know their favorite pastry. They also said they enjoy the consistently high quality of the fresh ingredients used in their cakes and pastries, which have remained consistent over the years. All fruit fillings in pastries and cakes are homemade with fresh fruit, not with pre-made jams.
Customers also say prices are reasonable, plus the store offers a sense of community. One customer, who is in his 70s, was a dishwasher there as a high school student. He still frequents Schubert’s today. Another customer, who lives in Colorado and comes to visit his granddaughter, says he would not buy a cake anywhere else but Schubert’s. Schubert’s serves as a meeting place for folks in the neighborhood and many lifelong friendships have begun there.
The bakery’s walls are lined with many photographs of the Richmond District that date as far back as 1912. One of the many pictures is of the first owners standing in front of the original Schubert’s bakery on Fillmore Street.
Ralph Wenzel is the principal baker and Valerie is the head of customer relations. Wenzel and his brother Lutz worked for Maier before purchasing the bakery. Wenzel has a tremendous amount of gratitude for Maier, who loaned him the money to buy the store. He feels fortunate to have purchased a bakery with such a loyal customer base, treasured time-honored recipes and a local baking crew, some of whom still work there to this day. Maier was his mentor. Maier was in retirement for a very short time before opening The Cakery in Burlingame. Customers notice the similarities of the baked goods between the two bakeries.
Wenzel emigrated from East Germany in 1979, 10 years before the Berlin Wall was torn down. He came from a family of bakers and has been baking since he was 16. Wenzel and his brother worked at his great grandfather’s bakery in East Germany.
Wenzel first came to the U.S. on vacation in 1984 and fulfilled his dream of returning to California in 1989, after first having worked in a bakery in Scarsdale, New York. Prior to acquiring Schubert’s, he worked at the Treasure Island Job Corps Center as a bakery instructor.
Wenzel’s bakers are the reason he loves his work. Their friendly smiles greet him every morning when he starts his day. The bakers are very organized and have already started baking the pastries, cookies, and cakes before he arrives. Some of the bakers, many of whom are relatives, have been with him since 1995.
He particularly enjoys the climate of San Francisco, which allows him to keep Schubert’s open year round. While briefly having a bakery in New York, there were times he had to close because the weather was so cold that customers would not venture outside.
Wenzel has many hobbies. He enjoys open water swimming and is a member of the Dolphin Club. Hiking Lands End and Marin Headlands are additional outdoor activities he loves to do. He also takes delight in traveling, particularly to New York City and Washington D.C., which satisfies his love of history.
For more information on Schubert’s Bakery, visit its website at www.schuberts-bakery.com.