Cult Crackers with Dianna Dar
Birgitta Durell and Dianna Dar met via their daughters. During school events, Birgitta would bring her homemade Swedish crackers, which were met with popularity and awe. Dianna was working as an editorial director at the time, but had experience in the food industry. She knew Birgitta’s crackers had a special something about them. So from those Berkeley school events, a California-wide business, Cult Crackers, was born.
While on the phone with Dianna, I could hear the banging of bowls and shuffling of feet that filled the walls of their rented kitchen in The Berkeley Kitchens. When they first arrived at The Berkeley Kitchens back in 2017, they were subleasing from another bakery business. “We had no stores at the time, no financials, nothing really to show,” Dianna said. But after a couple of months, they had a solid product: their crunchy, “totally addicting” crackers. The original tenant and landlord believed in them, and soon enough, the lease was placed into their hands. Cult Crackers was becoming its own.
Now, The Berkeley Kitchens has become a home for Dianna and the Cult Crackers team. The facility supports 15 other small food producers, each with their own kitchen. But not only does the space provide a great kitchen for local food crafters, but it facilitates a community of creatives. According to Dianna, The Berkeley Kitchens holds a “really wonderful and supportive community.”
“We get together once a year and have a big open house. We do a massive 15-foot cheeseboard,” Dianna said. It is a celebration of Berkeley's food culture and the gathering of all food lovers.
Their journey with The Berkeley Kitchens was also a journey of their business. Birgitta and Dianna did almost everything themselves at first: the baking, dishwashing, floor-sweeping, marketing, packaging, and hand-delivery. They frequented the Berkeley farmers’ market to create a buzz around their delicious crackers. Eventually, they found themselves at the shops of well-known Berkeley staples, such as Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market, and The Cheese Board.
Now, Cult Crackers is sold in 120 stores and ships to several states. Birgitta and Dianna have also built up a team, though still small. They are plus 3 others now — one of whom is a packager from the 1951 Coffee Community’s refugee program. Dianna is proud of her decision to hire a worker from the refugee program; it was essential to her to support someone in need of a better life. Cult Crackers is also proudly women-run — another check marked by Dianna and Birgitta.
And why stop there? Cult Crackers is sustainably made with organic ingredients and recyclable packaging. “We actually started with a compostable container,” Dianna said. “And we want to get back to being compostable.”
“People appreciate knowing where their food is coming from and how it's made,” Dianna said.
Cult Crackers was building up its influence, but like almost every business — especially small businesses — the pandemic struck uncertainty in how to continue that growth.
“We lost about 30% of our accounts in March,” Dianna said. “But we’ve scrambled and been able to regain new accounts.”
Along with losing stores at the beginning of the pandemic, Dianna and Birgitta were worried about how to keep production going in the kitchen. Even though they were fearful, they felt a responsibility to continue providing food for the community: “We took 10 days to shelter and realized we need to get back in there and start baking.”
They were able to organize a system of one person in the kitchen at the time, and after some time moved onto one or two more in the room. To this day, all workers wear their mask and the space is sanitized before and after. Dianna also said that they ship with USPS to make sure they are not going into stores and exposing themselves and others. Their time at the farmers’ market was placed on hold, though one of the stores that sells Cult Crackers continues to feature their products at their stall.
“We’re trying to keep it as safe as possible for us, our workers, and our customers,” Dianna said.
The commitment to safety is still a priority for those at Cult Crackers, but Dianna lamented on losing the regularity of one of her enjoyments: seeing community members in-person receive their delicious crackers. “One of my favorite parts is actually delivering to the stores and seeing the customers and staff,” she said.
As Dianna described, Cult Crackers is a mission decided by Dianna, Birgitta, and the others at Cult Crackers of making food “for our community.”
Cult Crackers’ partner stores, according to Dianna, know that they are getting a local product and take the extra effort to work with a small business instead of a large distributor. “We appreciate that they invest in small local businesses,” she said.
And I, a member of the Berkeley community, appreciate Dianna, Birgitta, and Cult Crackers for showcasing both their delicious crackers and a honorable business. Sourcing organic ingredients, using sustainable practices, being women-led, and hiring those in need — Cult Crackers is not just crackers, but an A+ model of the businesses we seek and applaud now.
As Dianna said, “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this the right way.”