Deb has a destination.
For 16 years Deb Lunsford has mounted her Raleigh bicycle and peddled to Destination Bakery from her Bernal Heights home.
She crosses Mission Street, picks up Arlington Street, takes a right on Natick, then a left on Chenery and arrives at Destination five days a week before the sun comes up.
“I work rain or shine, Mondays through Fridays beginning at 6 a.m. and continuing until 12:30,” Deb told the Glen Park News.
She’s as much a fixture at baker Joe Schuver’s confectionary as are Joe’s signature sticky buns.
Paul Hamilton, a retired National Weather Service meteorologist who lives on Laidley Street, has frequented Destination for seven years.
“I begin my mornings each day at the bakery,” he said. “Deb’s become a special person to me and the morning customers. She has known many of the children since they were born, as well as their parents.”
“I’m a counter girl,” said Deb. “I’ve seen kids grow up and each one is close to my heart.”
“It’s that kind of neighborhood,” she continued, “Warm and friendly, where people say hello when they go by.”
After stints in Oregon, Washington and Hawaii, Deb came to the city to rejoin her mother, a native San Franciscan who once lived on Potrero Hill, but now resides in Healdsburg.
Deb, whose favorite book growing up was Pippi Longstocking, greets children in the bakery with her patented good morning salutation: “Hi honey bun,” and as each child leaves, pastry in hand, “All right sweet pea, enjoy!”
One little girl is Sadie, a 9-year-old who lives on Chenery Street. She drops by with her mother on the way to Glen Park Elementary most days.
“The first thing Sadie ate here was a cheese and onion scone,” Sadie’s mom volunteered on a February morning before school began.
Glen Park, early on, knew they had a keeper with Deb. A few years after she helped staff Schuver’s counter she parlayed a love of green-thumbing into a botanical garden certificate. She enrolled in a 10-week course at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, later earning a teaching certificate at Big Sur’s Esalen.
Schuver’s regulars put on a benefit for Deb in the building that now houses Cuppa on Diamond Street. The fundraiser brought in $1,200. “Send Deb back to school,” Deb recalls the event being pitched.
Glen Park’s generosity paid dividends. A short walk up Chenery, at the corner of Mateo Street, sits a street garden. It stretches several yards down the hill.
“I started ‘Living Sidewalks,’” said Deb, about the hobby she began a few years after coming to the bakery in 2003. “I design sustainable landscapes for urban environments.”
Several of Deb’s creations dot our city streets. One of her favorites is on the corner of Washington and Franklin streets.
Deb’s woven herself into the fabric of Glen Park during the time she’s been making one of the meanest expressos in town. “She’s like a bartender,” emailed Paul Hamilton, “people will tell her their good and bad moments.”
Among her other jobs has been managing one of San Francisco’s storied jazz venues. Born in Hollywood and schooled in South Lake Tahoe, Deb spent eight years managing Enrico Banducci’s Jazz Supper Club, a second act to his iconic North Beach Hungry i.
Deb enjoys a wide range music, which includes the works of songwriters Paul Simon, John Prine and Roger Miller.
And if she’s acquired a soft spot for Joe Schuver’s lemon tartlets, she has an even softer spot for critters, the four-legged kind and the airborne sort.
“Dogs whimper as they come by the bakery,” Hamilton said. “Deb has greeted them so many times with treats that they look for her.”
Deb obtains doggy biscuits from Critter Fritters, and canines are so habituated to her offerings that when she’s not there, like on weekends, dogs have been known to act, well, un-doglike.
She spins a canine tale of one such misadventure, a story worthy of “Comedy Day in the Park” where she enjoyed Robin Williams closing the annual Golden Gate Park gala.
“One weekend Gerty, a Bernese mountain dog, pulled her owner across the street,” Deb recalled. “Gerty’s owner explained to her that I wasn’t working, so what does Gerty do? She flops down, tummy-first, in the middle of the crosswalk with her paws flailing like a 2-year-old toddler.”
“I can’t count the number of times dogs get out and find their way here,” Deb continued. “We have to call their owners to come and get them.”
In January, around 1 p.m., as Deb maneuvered her Raleigh one-speed from Schuver’s garage, an SUV parked nearby, fresh from an Oscar-romp around Bernal Hill. While the driver entered the bakery, his golden retriever stared, glum-faced, from a rear window.
“That’s 10-year old Oscar,” explained Dan McSweeney, who lives on Mangels Avenue. “Oscar knows Deb gives him goodies. We stop by on the way home.”
Deb parked her bike, dismounted, reached into a pocket, then sat on the Subaru’s tailgate. Oscar nuzzled her, his lugubrious expression expunged. She wrapped an arm around Oscar and watched him make fast work of a biscuit.
Only days before, a familiar dog owner had dropped by, concerned her pet hadn’t eaten for two days. Deb bagged two pumpkin walnut muffins and sent the woman home, only to learn the pooch died days later.
“It was the last thing the doggy ate,” said Deb.
Deb’s generosity extends to two-legged creatures, the sort that fly and have feathers. She rescues parakeets.
“A while ago on Arlington Street, I found a green parakeet lying near a sewer drain,” she said, about extending a safe place for the homeless bird. “I walked down to Critter Fritters and bought a cage. I named him Pie. He’s 7 years old now.”
Parakeets are social birds, Deb learned. She next saved two females, naming one Dixie, the other Pixie. Then atop O’Shaughnessy Hollow she came to the aid of another.
“I named him Sky,” said Deb, whose favorite childhood memory is roller skating in Golden Gate Park with her sister and her sibling’s parrot, Billie Holiday. “I have two huge cages now and I feed them healthy wheat grass, alfalfa sprouts and apples.”
“But I keep the girls and boys separated because they flirt” she continued. “When Pie and Sky get together, though, I joke ‘Pie-in-the-Sky!’”
Arriving in the neighborhood less than a decade ago, Paul Hamilton has a newcomer’s take on it all.
“Destination Bakery is like an anchor in the neighborhood, just one of many,” he said. “If it weren’t here, the community would be thinking we need something like it.”
Hamilton begins each week day by checking the weather, then walking to the bakery. Then he heads off to the American Red Cross on Market Street, where he volunteers several days a week.
“I chat with Deb every morning. She knows what I confront at the Red Cross. People displaced because of house fires, sometimes worse,” said Hamilton, who assisted the dozens of people made homeless after the Cole Hardware Mission Street fire in June 2016. “Deb tells me, ‘I know it will be tough for you, but those people need you.’”
It works both way, Deb believes.
The morning Sadie and her mom walked through the bakery door, Deb placed a plate topped with a pumpkin walnut muffin in front of Paul Hamilton. “I never have to order,” he said. “Deb knows what I need.”