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8 companies you never would have guessed started in Berkeley

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MARCH 20, 2014

We all know that Peet’s Coffee & Tea got its start in this city we call home. And it’s not breaking news that Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has discovered 16 elements to date. But what many of us don’t know is that dozens of big-name food, music and tech businesses were founded within blocks of campus (there must be something in the water). Here, the Clog spotlights eight well-known companies that were established in Berkeley, California.


1. Noah’s Bagels

You probably never would have guessed that the first Noah’s Bagels was located on College Avenue. Founded by Noah Alper in 1989, Noah’s Bagels prided itself on the fact that it steamed, rather than boiled, its bagels to preserve freshness. The franchise spread quickly, and in 1999, Alper sold the company to Einstein Bros Bagels for $100 million.  You can read all about the history of Noah’s Bagels in Alper’s autobiography, “Business Mensch.”


2. Scharffen Berger Chocolate

Acquired by the Hershey Company in 2005, Scharffen Berger was originally an independent corporation based out of Berkeley. It was founded in 1996 by sparkling-wine-maker John Scharffenberger and physician Robert Steinberg. In 1989, Steinberg was diagnosed with cancer and given a 50 percent chance of dying within 10 years, so he promptly sold his physician practice and began exploring other career options. He read through a 600-page chocolate cookbook, which sparked his interest in chocolate-making. After studying under the Bernachon chocolate company in France, he joined forces with former patient and neighbor Scharffenberger to create the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Company. The company became famous for manufacturing its product from bean to bar rather than buying from wholesale retailers.

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3. Clif Bar

Debuting at a 1991 bike show, Clif Bar was invented by baker and former mountain guide Gary Erickson, who named the bar after his father, Clifford. Erickson got the idea for his product on a 175-mile bike ride, for which he packed a variety of energy bars. After experimenting in his mother’s kitchen, he settled on a recipe. The packaging image of a rock climber was first drawn by his friend on a napkin over dinner in San Francisco. Soon after entering the market, sales for Clif Bar boomed, doubling revenue every year. The company expanded, and in 1999, Clif Bar introduced Luna Bar. In April 2000, Erickson turned down a $120 million offer from Quaker Oats to buy the company. Now based out of Emeryville, Clif Bar has become known for being a great business to work for — company facilities include a gym, rock-climbing wall, yoga room and massage rooms. Employees can bring their dogs to work and get two and a half hours of paid exercise each week with free personal training.

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4. PowerBar

PowerBar Inc. was founded by Brian Maxwell in his kitchen with girlfriend Jennifer Biddulph, a nutritionist who later became his wife. They used $55,000 in cash to launch the company in 1986. This was the first energy bar available for use by endurance athletes, such as ultra marathoners, jiu-jitsu practitioners and cyclists, while competing. Prior to PowerBar, athletes had to rely on water, Gatorade and bananas for fuel. The company earned $150 million in sales before being purchased by Nestle in 2000 for $375 million. In February 2007, PowerBar moved its headquarters from Berkeley to the Nestle headquarters in Glendale, Calif. The PowerBar logo colors that are used to this day are the UC Berkeley colors — blue and gold!


5. Rasputin Music

Named after 19th-century Russian religious figure Grigori Rasputin, the store was founded as Rasputin Records in 1971 in Berkeley by entrepreneur Ken Sarachan. The original Rasputin Music store was located on Telegraph Avenue in the space currently occupied by Blondie’s Pizza, which is also owned by Sarachan. Rasputin moved across the street into a larger space when Odyssey Records went out of business. In the late 1970s, it split into two separate locations, with one store specializing in rock music and the other in soul, jazz and other music genres. In July 1982, a fire at next-door Steve the Greek’s restaurant destroyed the soul and jazz store. Rasputin’s Berkeley operation was then consolidated into a single location, where it currently operates at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Channing Way. There are now eight operating locations around the Bay Area.


6. Amoeba Music

Founded by former employees of nearby Rasputin, it opened on Telegraph Avenue in 1990. Amoeba Music opened two more stores in following years: San Francisco in 1997 and Los Angeles in 2001.

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7. Fantasy Records

Founded by Max Weiss and Sol Weiss in 1949, this label has signed with big names such as Santana, Joe Walsh and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Fantasy built its landmark headquarters building at the corner of 10th and Parker streets in 1971, which was nicknamed “The House that Creedence Built.” It expanded in 1980 to house film operations. In 2004, Fantasy merged with Concord Records to form Concord Music Group, which today is the country’s largest independent label.


8. Lookout Records

Larry Livermore and David Hayes formed the label in 1987. From the start, Lookout released punk rock records, launching the careers of Green Day, the Donnas and Operation Ivy. The label stopped releasing material toward the end of 2005. It was then that Lookout ended long relationships with many of its bands. The company officially shut down in 2012.

Contact Daniela Grinblatt at [email protected].

MARCH 20, 2014