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As a veteran of Le Cordon Bleu, as well as Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery and The French Laundry, Hannalee Pervan is used to high-pressure situations. But the co-owner and head baker of One House Bakery in Benicia wasn’t ready for a crisis of this magnitude.

On a normal day, the popular cafe on First Street would be bustling with customers stopping in for a morning coffee or during their lunch break. Now designated an essential service, the expansive restaurant stands nearly empty except for a skeleton crew of about half a dozen employees, all of whom don cloth face masks and gloves while doing their best to maintain social distance in the open kitchen.

Pervan, who opened the restaurant in 2018 and runs it with her parents, wrestles with new obstacles seemingly on a daily basis.

“I’m terrified for the safety of my parents [and] employees,” said Pervan, 34. “It’s scary having your livelihood on the line every day. … But there’s no other way to go than forward. You just go forward.” 

Like other eateries in the area, One House Bakery has transitioned from a sit-down service to online and phone orders and curbside pickup, with limited delivery options for the town of Benicia. But as the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered non-essential Bay Area businesses and sent residents flocking home, Pervan knew it wasn’t enough just to keep the doors to her restaurant open.

Hannalee Pervan of One House Bakery in Benicia.

“In moments of stress and panic, I always go to food for comfort,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that people in Benicia have some comfort, some sense of normalcy.”

Where many restaurants have shrunk their menus, Pervan has expanded hers. On March 19, she added ready-to-bake meals — frozen pot pies, mac and cheese, shepherd’s pies — alongside her traditional assortment of breads, pastries, sandwiches, soups and salads, and coffee drinks. To serve residents struggling to prepare food for their households, she put together the “Family Meal” — a daily prix fixe dinner special of wholesome and delicious food that serves four for $50. And she opened up her inventory of kitchen staples for purchase — milk, butter, eggs, flour and sugar. 

For residents like Vicki Wilson, 45, that was a lifesaver. “Sugar, flour, and yeast … are almost impossible to find in any store,” she said. “One House has been amazing during this time. My husband and I believe in supporting local businesses as much as possible, so going to One House is a no-brainer.”

“We truly care for them,” said Pervan. “It’s my community, and I want them to be nourished and happy.”

And she continues to supplement her offerings, adding staples such as baking soda, yogurt, and bacon and regularly modifying her menu to better serve the region.

“We’re incredibly grateful. People have stuck with us,” said Pervan. “We’re not perfect, but we’re trying to improve every day. We’re grateful that we still get to feed them.”