Aunt Nettie’s Kitchen and Bakery has been producing baked goods and other food items for stores and coffee shops for 30 years. You may have seen their products in Ugly Mug, Lulu Carpenter’s, Mr. Toots Coffeehouse, Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co., Staff of Life, New Leaf and several other places.
Why did owner Mark Zeller name it Aunt Nettie’s? That, he says, is a long story—one he would tell me someday if I “wanted to write a screenplay.” He did tell us some other things about this Santa Cruz mainstay, including that the business almost ended recently when they lost their lease at the kitchen they’d been at for years. Fortunately, they have a new spot and are still up and running.
How did you decide what products to make?
MARK ZELLER: We just thought, ‘What would a coffee shop need?’ And started to make those products. We make pies and quiches and hummus. We also make a lasagna and a tamale pie, kind of entree things. Those are for coffee shops, we don’t sell those at stores.
Has your business changed much over 30 years?
Product-wise, not too much. Way back in the day we started out just making tea cakes. They’re a little muffin loaf-y thing. We do a big one. In the coffee shops if you see them sliced up, that’s probably ours. You’re getting back into the gnarly old days. It was just something that we came up with. I was working at Seafood Mama’s. I rented the kitchen overnight, I was working line cook for my shift and then I’d work overnight making tea cakes, package them up and deliver them and get back to work the next day.
Have you added any products recently?
Mostly we’re trying to keep the thing together. It’s been kind of a rocky ride. We’ve seen a lot of things come and go. I feel like part of the place. One of the plans was we wanted to expand into a coffee shop. Since we’re making stuff for coffee shops, why don’t we have one too? That was where the growth thing was supposed to happen. When we lost the lease, that was pretty traumatic. They gave us like three months, and I had to disassemble what took me almost 16 years to put in. I didn’t have time to go look for a place. I was looking for a job. I thought it was all over. We just kind of lucked into this little place. It’s looking like we’re going to be viable and keep going at this size. I’m getting old now. I haven’t had a job in 30 years. I’ve been feeling kind of obscure, like nobody’s noticed us. We’re not out in the media, in the public kind of thing. We’re kind of low-key.