At One House Bakery in Benicia mother and daughter
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At One House Bakery in Benicia mother and daughter

Oct 01, 2023

There's a cute bakery you might not have heard of before, tucked in the small town of Benicia in the deep northeast Bay. One House Bakery opened quietly in 2018 and has been happily keeping the town in sourdough, croissants, and sticky toffee pudding ever since. But, while it feels quaint, it is in fact a powerhouse, run by award-winning pastry chef Hannalee Pervan, whose baking chops include working for Bouchon in Napa, suppliers of bread to the neighboring French Laundry. And the sweetest part is that she co-owns the business with her parents, now in their 60s and — at least theoretically — retired.

One House Bakery918 1st St., Benicia, CA 94510Open Wednesday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Which means Pervan goes to work with her mom every single day. Actually, she also goes home with her mom, because they live in the same duplex. "I want to make people happy through food," Pervan says. "I saw how much love and care my mom and grandma put into food when I was younger. Mom made everything from scratch — bread, cookies, everything. Love was always associated with food."

Hannalee Pervan has dreamed of opening her own bakery since she was 10 years’ old. "Since her first bumblebee pastry," her mom notes. She grew up just north of Toronto and scored a Division I basketball scholarship to Quinnipiac University in Connecticut to get a business degree. After that, she earned a pastry diploma from Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa, and won the gold medal in the Skills Canada baking competition, first for her province, then the entire country. Along with her experience at Bouchon, she's baked for Porto's in LA, and La Parisienne in Miami, shaping baguettes in 12 seconds.

Mother Catherine Pervan is currently the chocolatier, although she has hands in nearly everything. Although 65, she says she's "not the retiring type, to be perfectly honest. I love getting up…I like to feed people." Together with father Peter Pervan, the family ran a construction company for 30 years. All four kids helped build out mall storefronts and flip houses. Hannalee spent a couple of summers working alongside her mom as a lumberjack, operating chainsaws to clear trees.

The shared dream was to buy a building in a small town so they could build out a bakery from scratch. Originally that meant Canada, but following the death of a brother in 2017, the family wanted a fresh start. They drove down the West Coast, searching for the perfect location. When Hannalee's husband, sports writer Colin Ward-Henninger, landed his dream job covering the Warriors for CBS Sports, they circled the Bay Area.

"We finally drove into Benicia and found this gorgeous little town," said Catherine. "It was very much the quintessential American town, with the park, bandstand, and main street, and everyone waving hi. It was like something out of a TV show or movie."

They purchased an old movie theater, once known as Victory Theatre, but more recently home to an antiques mall. Then they took it down to the studs, redoing the plumbing and electrical, replacing a rotted floor, and raising the roof to replace its beams. So far, they have renovated 3,500 square feet of the space, and are still working on the basement. It's an industrial working bakery, but given warmth with exposed brick, reclaimed wood, and cream paint. Catherine jokes her British heritage went into the back patio, a "secret garden oasis" filled with climbing wisteria and roses.

Customers order at the counter and can then snag one of 80 seats inside or another 75 outside. The bakery's walls soar at 22 feet high, and the mezzanine offers the best view of the ovens. But there's also a takeout window so strollers and puppies can roll right up for their treats.

As the town bakery, One House has a full menu offering half a dozen different types of bread. It sells hundreds of baguettes and country loaves every weekend. Many customers start with the croissant breakfast sandwich, but come back for the generously smothered almond croissants. The spiraled blueberry scones come stuffed with jam, and their sticky toffee pudding, beloved by Canadians, is made with a toasty mix of whole wheat and rye flours then soaked in butter caramel.

The bakery also serves sandwiches, soups, salads, big chicken pot pies, and little Cuban meat pies, a throwback to Hannalee's LA days. It even roasts turkeys and runs specials during the holidays. Third-wave coffee comes courtesy of Sightglass, while housemade pops and syrups come in refreshing flavors like ginger and mint or blueberry and sage. A full liquor license allows for brunch mimosas, happy hour margaritas, wine, and beer.

As part of the renovation, the Pervans brought in some serious equipment — a 30-inch granite stone mill. One House mills its own whole-grain flours, to unlock, the Pervans say, the most flavorful and fragrant breads and pastries. That's rare and a labor of love — Josey Baker Bread mills its own flour in San Francisco, and the Midwife and the Baker does so on the Peninsula. But the Pervans believe One House is the first bakery with a mill in Solano County — perhaps because it was a nightmare getting approval from the health department. They had already visited and placed a custom order with New American Stone Mills in Vermont while still wrangling the permit process. "Dad took care of that one," said Hannalee. "I was on the floor crying."

Hannalee says most customers don't realize why milling is such a big deal, although bread nerds freak out when they find out. At the beginning, construction mama Catherine was the miller, responsible for setting up the machine on display in a front window and grinding a couple hundred pounds of flour a day.

The bakery did have a viral moment in 2022, as the home of "Pan Solo," the lifesize replica of Han Solo made of dough. Reported by Eater SF and picked up by New York Times, it wasn't until actor Mark Hammill tweeted that the ladies screamed in the bakery. They love crafting window displays for the town's annual Scarecrow Contest, including "Game of Scones" (2019), "Pain-dough-lorian" (2020), and "Dough-ki" (2021). "We are nerds," Hannalee confirmed. They would not share details of what they are planning for this October, but it is sure to be a fun time to plan a visit.

Hannalee has also spoken about her struggles with long COVID. The baker got COVID in 2021, completely lost her sense of taste, and when it came back it was warped. Everything tasted burned, then rotted, and, even now, she can't stand the taste of onions and garlic. She relies on her mom and team more than ever, developing recipes based on memory, and doing tastings. "It's definitely a humbling experience," she said. "But it made me a better chef. I scrutinize every single ingredient now."

In addition to literally substituting for her taste buds, Hannalee says her favorite part about working with her mom is the emotional support. "If you’re having a bad day, you can take off your chef hat, and go get a hug from mom. She can be mom for a second, and not my chocolatier." The former athlete will cry it out, brush it off, and get back to work.

Catherine agrees it's a strong bond. But she makes sure to call her daughter "chef" on the floor, so nobody gets confused about pecking order. "To have a young, beautiful, dynamic female as the head chef, you have to make sure everyone understands that she's the boss."

After nearly five years in business, the mother and daughter laugh at their original business plan, which only included eight employees. They manage a team of 53 people at the time of writing, and 80% of them are women.

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