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“We pledge to make excellence the standard by which we judge our achievements.”
Berkeley Farms' Heritage
Early History: 1908 – 1947
The early history of Berkeley Farms is a study in the immigrant work ethic. In 1895, at the age of 17, John Sabatte left his home in Asasp in the Pyrenees section of France to seek his fortune in the United States. John's uncle, Pierre Sabatte, who lived in California, arranged a position for him as a bus boy in an Oakland restaurant. Within three years, John became the restaurant's maitre'd.
An illness caused John to leave the restaurant business. After he recovered, he went to work on a dairy farm, then drove a milk wagon. In 1908, he and a partner bought a small milk distribution route in South Berkeley, which they named the South Berkeley Creamery. John started his own company by the same name in 1910. The business grew rapidly, necessitating a move to a new location at 58th and Adeline Streets in Oakland near South Berkeley.
Early Method of Distribution
At first, the operation was simple. Milk was purchased in 10-gallon cans from local farmers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, transported by horse and buggy and ladled into customers’ own pitchers. Soon, the Model-T truck replaced the horse and buggy, pasteurization came into use, bottles took the place of cans, and a full line of dairy products was processed in the creamery and delivered to customers. John Sabatte's "right arm" during the early years was his wife, Mary Sarraute Sabatte, a French immigrant laundress. Mary raised five sons and still found time to cook for the 10 employees who boarded at the creamery and to assist in the bottling operation.
The Depression Years
The Depression Years were a tumultuous time, when farmers dumped milk to secure higher prices from processors, and retail stores engaged in milk price wars, selling milk at a penny a quart. By 1936, the state of California intervened by establishing a minimum resale law, and milk prices stabilized at 12 cents a quart for home-delivered milk and 9 cents a quart for restaurant/store-delivered milk. The company survived, becoming a 20-man operation with 11 routes by 1932, and a 40-man operation with 28 routes by 1940.
Emeryville Milk Plant: 1947 – 1998
In 1947, the growing dairy moved into a new $500,000 plant in Emeryville. Originally designed to handle 10,000 gallons of milk per day, the plant was able to process as many as 150,000 gallons per day at its closing in 1998 — 15 times its original capacity!
The 30s, 40s and early 50s were the halcyon days of home milk delivery in the Bay Area. Five Sabatte sons developed roles in the burgeoning business. By 1955, the company had three branches in Hayward, San Mateo and Walnut Creek, 350 employees and 240 routes.
Inspired by the success of its South Berkeley fountain restaurant in Emeryville, restaurants were opened in Alameda, Walnut Creek, Tracy and Novato. They were popular with Bay Area diners, who could also take out ice cream or enjoy fountain treats such as the famous "Berkeley Farms Derby" — chocolate and black walnut ice creams with fudge topping, nuts and a cherry.
John Sabatte, the poor boy from France who founded Berkeley Farms, died in 1957, leaving his sons and grandchildren a legacy of a great and growing dairy.
Farms in Berkeley? Mooo!
The name Berkeley Farms was adopted in 1956. The advertising phrase "Farms in Berkeley?" — accompanied by a cow's assenting "Mooo!" — was subsequently coined and remains a durable, affectionately recognized company signature today. The voice in the radio version is that of San Francisco native Mel Blanc, known for his Hollywood cartoon voices of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd and countless other Looney Tune characters. This powerful advertising, hailed by revered San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen as "The most successful and longest-running advertising slogan in Bay Area history," is one reason among many that Berkeley Farms is the oldest and largest conventional processor and distributor of milk products in the metropolitan Bay Area.
The Crisis 60s and the Expansion Decades
The mid-50s were characterized by the gradual decline of home delivery sales and the advent of supermarket-owned dairies, which competed for home delivery customers. By the mid-60s, the decline threatened the future of Berkeley Farms. In 1967, a special meeting of the founder's sons and grandsons galvanized the family's resolve to continue in the milk business. The next decade was devoted to making the successful transition to the institutional and grocery wholesale milk business and to expanding the company to other areas.
The Third Generation
In the 1960s, many of John Sabatte's grandchildren had positions of responsibility in the growing company. His grandsons achieved positions including Executive Vice-President, Division Manager, Head of Marketing, Advertising and Chain Sales and General Ice Cream Manager. Sabatte's granddaughters took on responsibilities in company restaurants, office branches and dairy ranches.
The Modern Era
Berkeley Farms' impressive growth in the past four decades was accelerated by some key acquisitions. Among them, starting in 1968, were Tomales Bay Creamery, Christopher Dairy, Edelweiss Dairy, Arden Farms, Adohr Farms and Bud's Ice Cream of San Francisco.
March 1998 marked the beginning of a new era for Berkeley Farms with the start up of its new milk processing plant on Clawiter Road in Hayward. The 220,000-sq.-ft. facility, which replaced the dairy's 51-year-old Emeryville facility, fulfilled a public commitment by Berkeley Farms to maintain its headquarters and milk processing plant in the Bay Area rather than relocate to the Central Valley.
In November 1998, Berkeley Farms was acquired by Dean Foods. To this day, Sabatte family members remain associated with Berkeley Farms and are dedicated to its continuing success.