A bread bakery and coffee shop quietly opened last month at 503 W. Rosemary St. in Chapel Hill. Like a sourdough starter that requires time to bubble and flourish, Bread and Butter is rising with the demand for fresh, artisan, locally baked bread in town.
"I'm slowly rolling it out and want to do it right," says baker-owner George Chen. Regulars of Oriental Garden, the restaurant that occupied the space for more than 20 years, may get a hint of recognition when they see Chen. His parents owned the Chinese eatery, where he helped out throughout high school and on breaks from college. There he learned how to cook "the Chinese traditional way: how to cut things the right size, how to use heat."
At Appalachian State University, the Chapel Hill-born Chen says he tapped into his other native roots: "I have Southern roots. And I've learned to accept that."
Through friends and restaurants, he was exposed to and inspired by Southern food. He set aside time to learn how to make cornbread and stuffing. He dove into the art of bread-making while working nights at Boone's Stickboy Bread Company (there's a sister store now in Fuquay-Varina). His own bakery follows the model of using wholesome, basic ingredients and making small-batch, quality loaves of breads in alternating flavor varieties.
Sandwich and country loaves range from $4.75 to $6.25, with day-old versions set at $3.50. I tried the honey pecan day-old loaf, unsliced, and half of it sits still moist on my counter after a few days. The other half made for a fun French toast—at a steal: Where can you get a plate of artisan French toast for $3.50, let alone a loaf?
Other popular flavors include a savory feta red onion, a fluffy rendition of cinnamon raisin with all the sweetness you'd expect, and a hearty walnut that makes a great cheese accompaniment. You can get any version in a half-loaf, too, for half the price.
Chen revamped the Chinese restaurant kitchen to make it suitable for baking, where trial and error led to some 14-hour batches. For storage, he recommends a few days out in a paper bag to maintain the best crust and crumb. The breads freeze well and, if kept in a refrigerator, plump back up after a good toasting. Carrboro-based, Durham-roving food truck Will and Pop's sometimes offers Bread and Butter's potato bread on special sandwiches.
Chen is an artist at heart. His creativity and love for "making things" is evident in the pumpkin chocolate chip and fruit-packed muffins ($1.50 each) and the espresso bean chocolate chip cookies (only 75 cents). He drew Bread and Butter's logo inspired by an old bread tin he found at a thrift store, which sits on a shelf as part of a décor in progress. It coincidentally pairs well with the Counter Culture logo, the local coffee he serves in standard espresso drink and drip styles. Longtime friend Katie Berry smiles behind the counter every morning; she helped Chen with homemade stamped business cards while he crafted funky flavor signs for the shelves.
"You make a place and you grow with it," Chen says of the DIY-style, something he learned from his parents' hard work. Bread and Butter is free of gimmicks, with a simple concept that will soon include homemade croissants and, yes, some local butter offerings.