originally published May 12, 2013
In a world ever dominated by franchises, chains and faceless corporations, I try to support local businesses whenever possible. It’s always a little victory for our world when a small business clangs that sweet bell of success, and earns a place adding personality and variety to a community.
That victory can be somewhat tainted, however. Like when the small business in question gets mixed up in sexual abuse, fraud, kidnapping and murder. That’s what happened to a Bay-Area bakery known as Your Black Muslim Bakery.
This is Yusuf Bey. Well, originally he went by the name Joseph Stephens, but once he fell captive to the enigmatic teachings of Elijah Muhammad, he changed it. Muhammad is the same religious leader who spread his teachings to Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Yusuf became a loyal disciple, and he opted to spread his activism in the most delicious way – through baked goods.
Bey packed up his Santa Barbara shop and relocated to Oakland. He hung a sign that read “Your Black Muslim Bakery”, and set about specializing in food baked according to the strict laws of the Qur’an: no refined sugar, and no chemical additives. His bakery was not affiliated with the Nation of Islam, but Yusuf Bey quickly became an important figure among the Muslim community. Elijah Muhammad, who had a particular interest in food preparation – he even published two books on how to eat according to his religion – helped Bey pick his bakery’s name.
By the mid-70’s, sales were through the roof. It wasn’t just the Muslim community – Yusuf’s shop was the largest natural-foods specialist bakery in the area, and being big in natural foods in 70’s-era California was a gold mine.
Over the following decades, Yusuf Bey became a fixture in Oakland. He was showing up on TV, preaching his faith, plugging his bakery and pushing local African-Americans to strive for independence. And why not? He was a shining example of an independent spirit, devout in his beliefs and deserving of the respect of his peers. Word has it, Bey was such a force in the Oakland community, he had the power to influence politics, and gain a few favors from officials when necessary.
That didn’t stop him from being tied to some wonky events though.
His son Akbar was shot and killed by a local drug dealer in 1994. Akbar was known for brushing afoul of the law. Also finding themselves in a shadowy world of nefarious wrong-doings were Nedir and Abaz Bey, two of Yusuf Bey’s close associates. No relation, mind you – they adopted the same last name as they were all part of the same religious circle. It’s a thing; I won’t pretend to understand it.
In March of 1994, Nedir and Abaz were tied to the torture and beating of a home-seller over some real estate deal. This led to a wild fist-fight between 30 Black Muslims and over ninety police officers. Nedir and Abaz received a sweet plea bargain deal though, since prosecutors found it difficult to find anyone who would testify against them.
This was a good time for Yusuf Bey to make a run at becoming mayor. He had power, connections, and a reputation. He didn’t pull it off though – he only snagged about 5% of the vote. Still, his upstanding street cred was sufficient to secure a $1.1 million loan to start up a home health care business. One that was never actually established. Nor was the loan ever paid back.
Okay, so Yusuf Bey’s reputation might have taken a few hits. And sure, maybe there was something to East Bay Express journalist Chris Thompson’s criticisms that Bey was pushing cultism, corruption and anti-Semitism. If you want a sobering read, check out this piece. But what really kicked the legs out from under Yusuf Bey’s reputation were the 27 counts of alleged rapes of four girls under fourteen years of age. That’s a tough stone to crawl out from, especially when there’s DNA evidence on the prosecution’s side.
Yusuf Bey was never convicted of these crimes, but not because of his well-placed connections. No, cancer got to him first, taking him in 2003 at the age of 67. Unfortunately for Your Black Muslim Bakery, this is when things really started to go downhill.
Waajid Bey took control of the bakery after Yusuf died. Less than six months later, Waajid was missing, eventually destined to turn up badly decomposed in a shallow grave. Antar Bey – Yusuf’s son – took over next. Antar made it until October of 2005, when he was shot dead in what appeared to be a failed carjacking. The Bad Luck Bakery soldiered on.
Yusuf Bey IV took over next. He was Yusuf’s son as well – I don’t know who the other two Yusufs were between the original and IV; that’s probably not important. Yusuf IV had a nasty habit of getting his hands dirty.
Yusuf IV was in charge for a month when he was charged with vandalizing two area liquor stores for selling booze to black people. He was then charged with carrying an illegal 9mm pistol, and for trying to defraud a local car dealer for a Mercedes, using false ID and credit info. The following April, he tried to run down three security guards outside a strip club using his BMW. Oh, and he used phony ID to get credit to buy a house. This guy was a binge criminal.
The bakery filed for bankruptcy in October of 2006, suggesting that perhaps Yusuf IV wasn’t quite the astute businessman his father was. A handful of local elected officials were found to have petitioned a judge not to dissolve the business – something that would come back to bite them all publically later on. Health code violations would end up terminating the bakery’s long, fruitful life.
Oh, but Yusuf IV and the bakery higher-ups weren’t done. There was the May 2007 kidnapping and torture of a mother and her daughter. And the July double-homicide linked to the bakery. Also, another kidnapping in July. Then, Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey happened to be shot dead whilst investigating the bakery’s finances, and the alleged coup that snatched the bakery from its rightful heirs and dropped it into the greasy lap of Yusuf Bey IV.
In June of 2011, Yusuf IV was sentenced to life in prison, guilty of three counts of first-degree murder.
It’s a shame this story had taken such a dark turn. What started out as one man’s quest to preach his faith and concoct some delicious, Muslim-favorable eats turned into a series of nightmares. I don’t know the details of the alleged coup that landed the bakery in the hands of such a questionable lot after Yusuf Bey’s death, but in the end, nobody won. The crust of this fine establishment turned stale and crumbly, while the dough of Yusuf Bey’s devout ambitions failed to rise with the yeast of his intentions.
Or something. Sorry, that metaphor kind of got away from me.