The Strange Cult of Bakesale Betty

Now almost $10: The Fried Chicken Sandwich @ Bakesale Betty, Oakland.

I have to marvel at the Bakesale Betty juggernaut: The place itself has no signage, no branding, no menu (as far as I can really tell), and their website is a true lesson in apathy. Holy smokes. The storefront is open for just a couple hours per day, six days per week. During this time, there’s usually a line of folks out the door, most of whom are waiting for the fried chicken sandwich, pictured above. I’ve been there a few times — the most recent was just a couple weeks ago, after something had reminded me of Bakesale Betty, and I got to wondering if I had been missing something. Before that, I had been there a little over three years ago.

I just don’t jones for this sandwich the way that most other people must, although it has always been perfectly competent and consistent, as far as fried chicken sandwiches go. I’m definitely not against it. But for me, that’s just about where the praise ends. The coleslaw, on its own, is somewhere between pretty good and okay; the bread is good, but unremarkable; the chicken is well-cooked and lukewarm. I still think the sandwich needs a sauce, but they do have packets of Frank’s Red Hot at the register, which is to their credit.

I have a theory about the popularity of Bakesale Betty: A high percentage of people who eat this sandwich are probably relapsed vegetarians, or similarly health conscious. I don’t mean to stereotype the neighborhood, but that’s the vibe I always get. I think that for people who haven’t eaten too much fried chicken in their lives, any fried chicken would seem pretty damn good. And since Bakesale Betty offers up a decent fried chicken breast, a relapsed vegetarian could seemingly “splurge” at Bakesale Betty.

Moreover, a relapsed vegetarian would appreciate the abundance of coleslaw, but wouldn’t miss some high-calorie remoulade or mayonnaise. Somehow, Bakesale Betty captured a groundswell of these people when they began to offer their fried chicken sandwich in 2005. And now the place has achieved critical mass.

I guess I’ve helped, in a small way, with my own business. What can I say? If I hear about fried chicken that people will line up for, then of course I’m going to check it out for myself. Still, it could easily be another three years before I go back.


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