After 13 years in business, the local bakery chain Swissbakers, known for its pretzels and croissants, abruptly shut down operations Thursday, shuttering its four locations in Allston, North Station, Reading, and the Smith Campus Center at Harvard University. It also shut down its catering and wholesale business.
The family-run bakery was started in the Reading home of Helene and Thomas Stohr. Their son Tobey Stohr, who runs logistics and sales for the chain, said the company had faced various challenges over the last few years, though he declined to elaborate, citing legal concerns.
“There were a lot of factors that came into play, a lot of which I can’t talk about,” Stohr said. “Unfortunately, it’s not what you want when you start something as the American dream.”
But he said the decision to shut down was rather sudden, and stemmed largely from ongoing troubles in their Allston headquarters, where they run their manufacturing plant and cafe.
“Certain things that we had no control over that prevented us from succeeding in the neighborhood of Allston specifically,” Stohr said. “There have been things that been happening there that have really hurt us.”
The flagship cafe and bakery has operated in its Barry’s Corner location in Allston since 2013, in the site of a former VW dealership at 168 Western Ave. The bakery leased its space from Harvard University and has been part of an ongoing revitalization of the university’s Allston properties along the strip.
The university is planning a major redevelopment of the 14 acres along Western Avenue for its science and engineering campus. The initial plans call for 400,000 square feet of offices and labs, 250,000 square feet of apartments, and a 250,000-square-foot hotel and conference center, which will include ground-floor retail and restaurant spaces.
In a statement Thursday, Harvard said, “We are disappointed to learn of the closure of Swissbakers. We appreciate the nearly seven years of operation it had in Allston, and its past year in the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center. While Swiss Bakers will be missed, we remain excited about the ongoing activation both in Barry’s Corner, and up and down Western Avenue.”
Harry Mattison, an Allston resident who has lived in the neighborhood since 1994, was among the chorus of upset patrons who took to Twitter on Thursday morning to share their grief. In an interview, he said the bakery had become an institution.
“I was just there Tuesday morning for a meeting of neighbors and elected officials,” he said, and often met there with the November Project workout group Wednesday mornings after running at the Harvard stadium. “For lots of people and lots of different parts of the community, it was a great spot, and really one of the only spots like it on Western Ave.”
Mattison said he’s concerned about the status of the neighborhood, pointing to other recent closures such as 7-Eleven and Stone Hearth Pizza.
“For 15 years, Western Ave. has been held out by Harvard and the BPDA as the new Main Street of Allston, and it isn’t,” he said. “It’s surprising, Harvard is going to have how many hundreds or thousands in that engineering building in nine or 10 months. You would think they’d certainly not want fewer places to have lunch.”
Stohr, for his part, said he and his family are working to ensure that his 36 employees all find new jobs.
“Our goal right now is to get everyone in one place, and let them cry if you need to, yell if you need to,” Stohr said. “We need to go and get everyone jobs and so they can go on to kill it somewhere else.”