Family Legacy & Ukiah Institution
by Holly Madrigal
photos by Bobby Cochran
It is nearly 8:00am, downright late for bakers’ hours, when Zach Schat welcomes us into his kitchen at the Courthouse Bakery in Ukiah. He shakes my hand with a youthful smile, and it is clear to see the pride he has in this place. Zach seems young to be the owner of a downtown Ukiah institution, but he laughs that he feels like an old timer, especially since he was only 24 when he got the call from his dad. “‘Son, do I have a deal for you. Give me all the money you got, pay the rest as you go.’ Then I realized I wasn’t much of a baker, so I called up my brother Brian to be my partner, and that is when things got really interesting and crazy.”
Leaving college in Santa Barbara, Zach piled his life into his car and drove up to start anew. He pulled over to stretch his legs around one in the morning between Cloverdale and Hopland. “I couldn’t believe how dark it was up here,” he laughs. “I thought, ‘what the heck am I doing leaving southern California for the middle of nowhere?’” But Zach never looked back, and Schat’s Bakery has thrived under his stewardship.
The Schat name has been synonymous with baking since before the family immigrated to the US from Holland. The first Schat’s Bakery was in Utrecht—you can find a photo of the handsome structure on the wall of the Ukiah store. After the liberation of Nazi-occupied Holland, Jack Schat saw the tanks of GIs driving down the streets and decided he wanted to go where those guys were from. Jack’s dad immigrated in 1950, joined the armed forces, and was able to bring his family over soon after. Of Jack’s six siblings, five of them opened bakeries.
Jack’s father opened a bakery in Bishop, California. Jack went out on his own and started his first bakery in Watts, but when it burned in the riots, he walked away from it. It was then that Jack brought the Schat aptitude for both business and bread to Mendocino County.
Running a business as a family is never easy, and the Schat children spread like wildflower seeds, sprouting up independent bakeries all over the west. Zach’s aunt owned a bakery in Missoula, Montana. Another aunt opened one in Laguna Beach, while a few uncles stayed at the bakery in Bishop (now run by Zach’s Uncle Erick). Not all of the grandkids took up the family trade, but many did. There is a Schat’s in Mammoth (run by former sister-in law Shaye), and another in Carson City (captained by cousin Paul). If you see a Schat’s in your travels it’s likely it’s part of this lineage of bakers.
While Jack liked Fort Bragg for its abundant forest and the ocean’s proximity, it was a spacious, solidly built brick oven that sealed the deal. The Mendocino Coast was as different from Bishop, California as a place could be. The oven resided in what is now the Fort Bragg Bakery, and Jack would spend many an hour coaxing wonderful goods from its searing hot stones—breads, croissants and cakes would be cooked in turn as the oven issued steady heat throughout the morning. When he heard in 1991 that a Ukiah bakery was up for sale, he reached out to his sons, Brian and Zach, to see if they would be willing to take it on.
The brothers took up the challenge and began to bake their way into Ukiah’s morning routine. Brian eventually moved on, but Zach has continued to steward the company through the past 27 years. The original space has been expanded and remodeled to its current size. Lisa Hensley, manager at the bakery for the past eighteen years, comments that they did the whole remodel without closing a day.
In 1994, they partnered with Friedman Brothers to open a satellite shop in their new store. “Bill Friedman walked in here and said he would like to partner up. We decided the deal with a handshake,” says Zach. The partnership has been a success for both parties. Any hardworking contractor grabbing a fresh baked croissant will tell you that it was a brilliant idea. The Crows Nest at Mendocino College followed soon after. “There was a lack of fresh food at the college,” comments Zach. “It was mostly prepackaged or fried foods, and they reached out to me to provide a fresh alternative.”
The company has innovated continually throughout the years. Schat’s had the first pocket patio, taking one parking spot and filling it with tables and benches, now a common sight for eateries around the downtown area. Dog owners sit happily in the sunshine out front. When Zach learned about the Mendocino Grain Project he began using a Sonora Wheat grown by Doug Mosel for a local loaf, no mean feat as the grain is naturally low in protein. “He puts a ton of work into it,” Zach says, referring to Doug. “It’s pretty cool. I have a ton of respect for Doug and how hard he has worked. We have adapted some to the gluten free market, and many people (the gluten sensitive folks) find that the local grain does not affect them as much. It is an heirloom variety, so it has never been processed or changed like commercial flours. The flavor is really good, it’s a 40 hour process so it develops a sourness. I would love to have more time to work on projects like this, but running the business keeps me pretty busy.”
When asked about the secret of the bakery’s longevity, Zach comments, “We have great people. The fact that these guys have worked with us all these years really says something about what we have built here.“
A job with Schat’s is often the first employment for many local kids. “It is so rewarding, and yes, it makes me feel old to see the kids that started here come back to get cookies for their kids,” Zach muses. “We teach them the basics, how to look customers in the eye, count back change, show up on time.” And the investment in community doesn’t stop there. It seems Schat’s is always donating here or helping out there. The business is a true leader in the Ukiah area. “I couldn’t do any of this without the people that work with me,” says Zach.
“There is a lot of expectation when your whole family has been doing this their whole lives.” Zach continues, “You don’t want to let the legacy down.” His approach: “Use quality ingredients, make a good product, provide value, and give each and every customer a great experience.“
He points out that baking is different every day. Yes, it’s a science, but also the air will be different, the temperature and humidity. He holds up a triangle that will become a ham and cheese croissant. “These are best when it is cold outside. But like anything, it takes experience.”
Zach has been married to Ukiah native and professional physical therapist Missy Schat (neé Keffeler) for 15 years. When asked if their children will be part of the business, Zach says, “We’ll see. My son, Luke, is 13, and he likes to sleep too much to be a baker, but he is a hard worker and puts in hours during the summer months to earn and learn. My daughter, Kate (11), loves it in here. She thinks the place will be called Kate’s Cakes and Cupcakes. I just keep telling her to hurry up.” If her abilities are like her dad’s, she’ll have no trouble keeping this Ukiah institution baking all sorts of goodies into the decades ahead.
113 W Perkins St, Ukiah (707) 462-1670
Open Mon–Fri, 5:30am–6pm Open Sat, 5:30am–5pm
Holly Madrigal is a Mendocino County maven who loves to share the delights of our region. She’s fortunate to enjoy her meaningful work at the Community Foundation and takes great joy in publishing this magazine.