Flour power at Honey & Rye Bakehouse
In a typical big-city boulangerie, you check to see what's fresh on the board, buy your trusty baguette and maybe one other loaf, and leave to get on with the rest of your shopping for the day. It's usually a bit of a harried experience, not one conducive to meet-ups or afternoon coffee breaks. Most boulangeries are designed with bakers' production in mind rather than customers' creature comforts.
"That's actually totally what I envisioned when we first started out," says Anne Andrus, head baker and co-owner of the new Honey & Rye Bakehouse in St. Louis Park. "I thought it would be great to have this tiny place where we focused on just bread."
And why not? Andrus's chief interest is artisan breads, the specialty of her culinary alma mater, the San Francisco Baking Institute. She repeatedly identifies herself as "a baker, not a pastry chef." But as she surveys her bustling store, full of people chatting, sipping cappuccinos, and nibbling on chewy coconut macaroons, she finishes her thought. "I'm so happy that's not actually what we ended up with."
Instead, what she and co-owner Emily Ackerman have created is something that's at once chic and cozy, a rustic Midwestern kitchen where the front-of-house employees wear clogs and flowered aprons, but the baguettes and croissants are up to snuff with any you'd find in Paris. Ackerman's background in graphic design, packaging, and branding worked to their advantage in the charmingly clean-yet-weathered look of the bakery's interior. Bread is still the central focus of Honey & Rye, but the pair have already altered their menu a bit to better meet the sweeter and heartier tastes of their regular customers.
"Once we found the space and realized we had room for tables and chairs, and for people to actually hang out, we started to shift our focus," says Andrus. Honey & Rye is situated in a busy, walkable area, with Trader Joe's right across the street and some chain coffee shops just a few blocks away. Still, it was clear from the get-go that the neighbors wanted a place that was more multi-functional.
"From the day we opened, people were asking about soup and telling us just to go and get a bag from Costco or something to have on hand," Andrus says. "I said we would do it, but our own way. From a bag is so not what we're about."
Instead, Andrus added some simple baguette sandwiches layered with ham and cheese and scratch soups like their chicken noodle with gorgeously golden, subtly seasoned broth and thick, homemade egg noodles.
"My husband gets the credit for that one," says Andrus. "He wanted to hang out because we hadn't seen each other in a while. The hours are crazy right now. Basically double what I used to work, and starting pretty early. So I told him to come into the bakery and make a batch of soup."
Her husband may contribute a noodle here and there, but the rest of the bakery treats are all Andrus's own, from the pumpkin scones to the decadent chocolate coconut cream pie to her favorite delicate, buttery, shell-shaped Madeleines. Andrus fine-tuned her talents working at Common Roots in Minneapolis, and she highlights the importance of working in a kitchen that did both bread and pastry. Her crackling and crusty baguettes, and crisp, beautifully laminated croissants are a great testament to all her training.
"I have an appreciation for patisserie and people who do the elaborate decoration stuff, but to me that is an entirely different skill set," says Andrus. "I'm happy to have the opportunity to make cakes and cookies and some of the things I normally wouldn't have done, but I see beauty in simplicity. I think the nicest way to finish a cake is to just let the ingredients shine through."
So while you won't see little fondant vegetables on her towering triple-layer carrot cake, the swirl of cream cheese frosting is so gorgeous it really needs nothing else.
Before setting foot in the world of professional baking, Andrus spent some years working for TransFair, a fair-trade certifying organization. "I came into our hunt for the perfect coffee roaster with some pretty specific criteria. It was amazing to find out just how many options we had for roasters locally," says Andrus. Eventually she and Ackerman decided on Tiny Footprint for Honey & Rye's full espresso bar and self-serve drip coffee. They selected Tiny Footprint both for the quality of the product and the company's strong environmental focus, and they also stuck close to home when selecting a tea vendor.
"Emily met David Duckler from Verdant Tea at North Coast Nosh. We loved their story, and collaborating with them was just so easy," says Andrus, echoing Sweet Science Ice Cream owner Ashlee Olds and the story of her partnership with Verdant. (Bottom line: If you are starting a small food-related business, North Coast Nosh is the place to network.)
Between frothing milk, whipping cream, and feeding sourdough starter, Andrus and Ackerman have enough on their plate to keep them constantly busy for a good long while, but that doesn't stop them from thinking about the possibility of growing bigger.
"Sometimes I daydream about adding a little takeaway deli-type component, or having an attached creamery where we would make our own butter," says Andrus. "And it would really have to be the perfect, most ideal, most necessary place, but I could see us doing a Honey & Rye 2 in St. Paul."
We think the people of Pig's Eye would gladly go with the grain on that one.
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