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Israeli expat brings sweet taste of home to Danville

Tal’s Patisserie, tucked away in Danville’s Livery shopping center, may not look like paradise. But it sure smells like it.

Step in and the buttery aroma immediately gets the sweet tooth tingling. And it takes a lot of butter to turn out the hundreds of French macaroons, strudels, sticky buns and choco-pops Tal Sendrovitz bakes every week in her single pint-sized convection oven.

How much butter? A lot, according to Sendrovitz.

The place exudes a charm one can never find in a Starbucks. Three chandeliers hang from wooden crossbeams. A riot of teapots rest on a stand behind the counter. Hanging on the wall, a sign reads simply, “Life is Sweet.”

Tal Sendrovitz at her patisserie photo/dan pine

Also on the wall hangs the menu, written in magenta chalk. It includes homemade granola and French toast, though regulars in the know choose the Israeli specialties of the house: bourekas, shakshuka and a chopped tomato-cucumber salad.

Sendrovitz, born and raised in Israel, knows a thing or two about an Israeli breakfast.

Trained as a mechanical engineer at the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, Sendrovitz moved to California in 1999. Switching professional gears, she taught Hebrew and crafted jewelry while bringing up her three children. But something was missing from her suburban East Bay life: She missed the bakeries of her native Israel.

“There’s one on every corner,” she said. “There are always cookies and bourekas and challah on Shabbat. Here I felt there was nothing to choose. It was always sweet butter cream, cupcakes, things I couldn’t relate to.”

As her kids got older, she decided the time had come to bet on her lifelong love of cooking and baking, and go into business. She opened the patisserie in the summer of 2012.

“I had this vision of bringing the taste of home,” she says. “I wanted to copy the vision of the small Israeli bakery, with lot of cookies and special things for Shabbat.”

Sendrovitz is quick to add she did not set out to create a Jewish bakery per se. She does not have a kosher hechsher and the shop is open on Saturdays.

But it turned out the nearby Jewish community, along with scores of Israeli expats, discovered Tal’s Patisserie in short order. She has done catering for local synagogues, and on Friday afternoons her stock of 60 fresh-baked challahs — including her artful 13-braid loaves — sell out quickly.

“More and more, we became a kind of Jewish center,” Sendrovitz says. “All the people from the Jewish community found us. On Fridays, we keep saying ‘Shabbat shalom’ all day.”

Her other Jewish specialties include hamantaschen for Purim, flourless cakes for Passover, honey cakes for Rosh Hashanah and sufganiyot (Israeli-style donuts) for Hanukkah.

She has also started a full tea service and junior teatime, with a menu that incudes fig spread, goat cheese, mini-scones and a chocolate hazelnut spread.

Extolling virtues not always replicated at other bakeries, Sendrovitz, for one, insists on solely using “natural” ingredients, which she defines as products Mother Nature provides. That means no shortening, GMO foodstuffs or chemical additives.

Sendrovitz is also big on food education. In addition to hosting and catering kids’ birthday parties in the store most weekends, she routinely runs baking workshops for children. She even closes the shop early on Sundays to run those workshops for up to 25 kids, ages 5 to 13.

“I’ll teach them how to make something easy, like bourekas [Israeli savory puffed pastry],” she said. “The kids will play with the fillings, such as spinach and mushrooms, eggs and cheese.”

Her own kids — ages 9, 13 and 15 — help out in the store from time to time, with her youngest showing an early talent in the kitchen. Sendrovitz hopes to expand to a second store someday, and increase her teaching. But for now, it’s one day at a time, one pumpkin cinnamon roll at a time.

Running a small business, especially in the food sector, can be a dicey proposition for any entrepreneur, and though she works hard to stay in the black, Sendrovitz says she has no regrets about leaving mechanical engineering behind.

“I love it more than I expected,” she says of being her own boss. “I was never excited to go to work before. Now I am. It’s very fulfilling.”

Tal’s Patisserie, at the Danville Livery, 304 Sycamore Valley Road. www.talspatisserie.com

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.