Just 20 minutes north of Downtown Los Angeles, where the 210 Freeway meets California State Route 2, you’ll find a trio of quaint towns seemingly sequestered from the rest of the sprawling metropolis. The area is known to locals as the Foothills due to its location at the base of the steep hills that rise into the Angeles National Forest. It includes La Cañada Flintridge, an upper-crust neighborhood home to as many settled-down celebrities as working rocket scientists; La Crescenta, a middle-class suburb where churches outnumber bars; and Montrose, a buzzy small town that’s home to a pair of long-running European institutions: Berolina Bakery and Schreiner’s Fine Sausages.
To find them, take the Verdugo Boulevard exit, hang a left at the old United Artists theater, and drive past the antiques-and-boutiques main drag. Holding court at the intersection of Ocean View and Verdugo, Berolina and Schreiner’s embody Montrose’s unassuming and charming qualities, and have occupied their landmark adjacent storefronts for well over 50 years each. Their loyal customer base resides mostly within the Foothills, whose population has held steady at just over 40,000 residents over the past decade.
Berolina Bakery, named after the feminine personification of Berlin, began as a German bakery in 1957 and has remained so through multiple ownership changes. The current owners, Anders and Youna Karlsson, hail from Sweden and Belgium respectively, but met in Santa Monica, married, and briefly moved to Anders’s hometown of Solna to run a bakery. The couple relocated to California in 1990, right around the time when Berolina’s then-owner was looking to sell the business. After arriving in Montrose, the Karlssons discovered that Berolina’s owner wanted to lease the business rather than sell it. But as they searched for other job opportunities around Los Angeles, the bakery owner’s position softened and the two parties decided on a coin toss to determine their fates: If the coin landed on heads, the Karlssons would lease the bakery. If it landed on tails, they would own the business outright. “They flipped the coin and [sold] the business to us,” says Youna.
Berolina remains well-loved by the Foothills community today for its delectable German-, Swedish-, and Belgian-inspired baked treats. The cardamom buns and croissants are dependably rich, while the shop’s dozen varieties of bread include olive, potato-dill, cranberry-walnut, and more. The bakery’s famous Princess cake — a Swedish confection layering custard, raspberry jam, and sponge cake under a seamless green dome of marzipan — makes a regular appearance at birthday dinners, church barbecues, and other local gatherings.
Youna particularly likes the bakery’s walnut bread and its new blood orange cake, a rare update to a menu that hardly changes. Her favorite, however, is the Fridays-only Belgian waffle — a delicate, crisp, airy raft balanced on the edge of buttery and sweet — one of several items tied to her heritage that she’s worked to perfect over the years. “Once I had an old man say, ‘I now know what heaven is going to be,’” she says. “My waffle.” All can be enjoyed at the breezy cafe tables immediately in front of the bakery, where at least one table always seems to be open and waiting for the next customer, just as in Europe.
Directly next door to Berolina is Schreiner’s Fine Sausages. Opened in 1952, it is the older of the two businesses and looks its age in a good way: The low-slung ceiling, wooden booth seating, and friendly service all contribute to a familiar atmosphere unaffected by the decades. The Schreiner family first set up shop near Downtown LA in the ’50s before relocating to the German enclave in Montrose in the late ’60s. The deli is one of the last remaining vestiges of a diaspora that also brought LA the now-closed Kruegermann Pickles in Frogtown and Alpine Village in Torrance.
A long refrigerated meat display containing a veritable smorgasbord of house-made products greets customers entering Schreiner’s. The impressive selection includes the expected sausages (bratwurst, knockwurst, frankfurters) and cold cuts (Black Forest ham, smoked turkey), along with marbled cuts of beef, multiple varieties of head cheese, meat loaves studded with peppers and olives, and even carne asada. Retail shelves brim with German imports like Kinder chocolates, Bitburger beers, and holiday stollen across from the deli display. “If it doesn’t sell, we don’t sell it,” says third-generation owner Wally Schreiner, who doesn’t shy away from stocking the store abundantly with traditional German foods.
Those dining in eventually make their way to the snug seating area in the back by the sandwich counter; a large, and largely unchanged, chalkboard menu overlooks its dark wood detailing and stained glass lamps. Nothing is priced over $10, a welcomed rarity in this current era of inflation. The affordable pricing is a deliberate choice and the result of the deli’s dedication to in-house manufacturing, says Schreiner. “I pass [the savings] along instead of saying I’m just going to gouge you.”
Schreiner’s is a time capsule. Regulars sit in dim corner booths eating hot tri-tip sandwiches and chips; some purchase a paper-wrapped protein from the meat counter before they leave. Other customer favorites include the pastrami sandwich, best served on Schreiner’s dark, mild rye. There are sandwiches stuffed with smoked and hot Polish sausages, liverwurst, bockwurst, and leberkase (a bologna-like German meatloaf), all served with mayonnaise, mustard, and pickles on a house roll or rye bread upon request. Schreiner prefers the deli’s grilled cheese sandwiches — one layered with gouda, ham, and German salami, another with pepper jack, chipotle chicken, and diced chiles. All sandwiches are available a la carte or paired with a cup of daily house-made soup, often a chicken noodle, broccoli cheese, or simple bean and veggie.
From their mutual beginning as an outpost of familiarity for the local German community, the Karlssons and the Schreiners have grown these businesses into the formidable destinations they are today. Despite being separate entities, their shared local landmark status comes from their complementary offerings and the personal touch they provide, qualities especially important to Montrose residents. This kind of genuine care and intensive labor can take its toll over time. Neither of the owners’ children have expressed interest in taking over the businesses (which their parents are content with, for now), and selling the businesses isn’t in the cards at the moment.
Like these two stalwarts, Montrose is changing too, attempting to balance the congenial old with the convenient new. Each year a couple more legacy businesses on the main Honolulu Avenue drag close for good, and newcomers like Valeu Espetos, Sweet Demi Lune, and Toasted Cafe pop up. For the time being, though, Berolina and Schreiner’s are holding steady, continuing their long tradition of treating customers to warm hospitality, along with delicate Princess cakes and unbeatable sausages.
“If we have good people working, we can keep going,” says Youna.
Berolina Bakery, located at 3421 Ocean View Boulevard, Glendale, California 91208, is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Schreiner’s Fine Sausages, located at 3417 Ocean View Boulevard, Glendale, California 91208, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.