A story five decades in the making.
A flip of the coin.
On April Fool's Day of 1981, merry pranksters Mike Mueller and Steve Nicholls formed Mueller Nicholls Cabinetry. Appropriate to their natures, Mike and Steve used a coin toss to decide the order of the names and quickly set up shop at 18th Street in Oakland. Hundreds of projects and four decades later, this original two-man operation would grow to become the MN Builders we know today.
In 1987, with business booming, Mueller Nicholls moved from their 3,000 square-foot space to their current 16,000 square-foot location at 2400 Union Street in West Oakland's McClymonds neighborhood. The move represented a much-needed leap forward for a company set on remarkable growth.
A trip to Germany in 1988 led to the purchase of the first of several computerized saws for the shop. That year also saw the first investments in the company's image as Mueller Nicholls’ ubiquitous branded t-shirts debuted on the shop floor. Mike Mueller transitioned out of the company one year later, but his exit did nothing to slow Mueller Nicholls' rise. By 1996, the little cabinetry-shop-that-could had grown to include residential construction and design-build services. The company marked the occasion by incorporating as a C-Corp and dropping "Cabinetry" from its name.
In 2001, the purchase of another cabinet shop in Marin County proved short-lived but provided valuable lessons for a company still shaping its long-term plan. This plan included the acquisition of its first CNC point-to-point machining center, bringing more accuracy, repeatability, speed, and safety to the machining process in the shop. On the construction side, Mueller Nicholls put the finishing touches on its first house built from the ground up on Skyline Boulevard in the Oakland Hills—and calls for more of the same began rolling in.
Mueller Nicholls was growing up, not just as a company but as a citizen of the planet. At the start of the 2008 recession, the company committed to 100% green energy for its offices and shop with the installation of an extensive photovoltaic system. The economic downturn of the next few years forced some downsizing, but it also galvanized the remaining staff to stay lean, flexible, and smart.
Changing structure. Changing name.
2015 marked a significant new chapter in the company's story, as Mueller Nicholls embarked on the path of employee ownership. The MN ESOP Trust purchased a 33.3% stake in the company from co-founder Steve Nicholls. This epic decision signaled a transition in leadership from the founders to the current executive team and yet another official evolution of the name, from Mueller Nicholls to MN Builders.
Five years later, in 2020, the pandemic plunged MN (and the rest of the world) into several months of uncertainty. As it had in the past, MN doubled down its investment in the business to stay nimble enough to take on whatever came next. The company rapidly transferred much of its day-to-day business operations to the cloud and installed new protocols on its job sites to ensure worker safety and compliance with the ever-shifting COVID rules.
The trust purchased another 33.3% stake in the company in the fall of 2020, officially making MN Builders majority employee-owned. 2020 also marked the company's first significant move into commercial construction with the launch of ambitious builds for the Backroads Bicycle Company's Berkeley headquarters and the new campus for Las Trampas, Inc. in Lafayette.
Same madness. New method.
2021 saw continued growth at MN, with an emphasis on systematizing the firm's approach to building in order to create a sustainable, scalable, and repeatable method. The fall of 2021 marked the final purchase by the trust, turning MN Builders into a 100% employee-owned company. The move also allowed the original merry prankster, Steve Nicholls, to retire after more than 40 years of service to a company now widely recognized as a leader in the Bay Area construction business.
With its transition from C-corp to S-corp status in 2022, a critical stepping stone for any employee-owned business, MN Builders is well-positioned to continue creating stunning environments for the Bay Area—and purpose-driven, enduring careers for its employee-owners.