Retail bakeries often struggle with the dilemma of how many products to offer. In big cities like New York City or San Francisco, it’s highly profitable to specialize with several signatures, and, for this reason, boutique bakeries are flourishing. But in places like the Midwest, the issue becomes more of a challenge.
That’s why award-winning pastry chef Nathaniel Reid appears to be on to something big in St. Louis. In just two years since opening his first retail shop, Nathaniel Reid Bakery, the Missouri native has emerged as the toast of his home state with a premium but “approachable” menu of dessert cakes and pastries, macarons, breakfast pastries, sandwiches, salads, quiches, sweet snacks, pound cakes, meringues and jams. When Reid, who won the US Pastry Competition in 2010, calls his place “more than a pastry shop,” it’s literally the understatement of the year.
“If your croissants are great, then they’ll try the kouign amann,” Reid explains, as part of his strategy to feature a menu of mostly familiar and some lesser known items. “We’ve earned our customers’ trust.”
Opened in 2016 in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, Missouri, Nathaniel Reid Bakery can be described as a place that is equal parts “welcoming neighborhood bakery and world-class pastry shop.” Reid strives to elevate the ingredients with which he works, creating products that taste like the essences of the flavors showcased in his creations. Even the most familiar flavors taste like the best possible version.
Consumer acceptance has most certainly exceeded expectations, as the bakery has grown from five employees to nearly 30. That’s a sure sign of success.
Examples of this careful attention to detail are all around. Take quiche. He makes four kinds (like mushroom and shallot) for the everyday menu, and the shell is scratch-made puff pastry. And Reid takes basic pound cake to a whole new level with enticing flavors like chocolate hazelnut.
“We dip the whole thing in milk chocolate and caramelized hazelnuts,” he says. “I’m pretty well known for pound cakes. And the quiche we make is out of sight. We’re doing a crab and asparagus quiche for Christmas.”
Other bakers in St. Louis marvel at his selections — and the affordable prices. A chocolate croissant at Nathaniel Reid Bakery sells for $3.50, a hefty slice of quiche for $4.50, a roast beef sandwich with horseradish aioli on seeded challah bread for $8, maple pecan kouign amman for $10, and the chocolate hazelnut pound cake for $12.
Every day, the bakery features eight to 10 petite (6-inch) gateaux that sell for under $6 apiece, ranging in tantalizing flavors from the Guyana (dark chocolate mousse and chocolate croquant — providing a delicious crunch with each bite of mousse cream) and the Amber (buttery shortbread, salted caramel mousse and pecan caramel). His Guyana was recently voted best cake in Missouri, and the Amber was inspired by time in New Orleans when he and his wife, Lee Lee (also a pastry chef), fell in love with the smell of pralines cooking. He became fascinated with the challenge of bringing the distinctive flavor of creamy pecan into the elegant arena of professional dessert.
Reid and his staff put every ounce of creativity and innovation into each product they make by hand. His featured cake for September, the Scarlett (pictured on the cover of this month’s issue of bake), is made with dark chocolate mousse, cherry and cassis compote, cocoa-almond sable and vanilla bean crème brûlée.
“This is our menu. It has to look craveable,” he says. “We’re never going to sell something that doesn’t taste right.”
Everything starts with the right ingredients and the process. They make their own almond paste and pistachio paste, and they make their own jams (strawberry poppy flower is a best seller). They bake their own breads, including ciabatta, challah and baguettes. They make their own salad dressings.
Reid relies on premium ingredients such as Valrhona Chocolate. “I have been using Valrhona products throughout my career with great pride. Now that I have my own bakery I am happy to use Valrhona products,” he says. “The best thing is the range of quality they have. They have all the unique flavor profiles, which for me is interesting.”
Starting a community bakery
Reid realized his longtime dream to open his own pastry shop in August 2016 with the opening of Nathaniel Reid Bakery. He and his father, Denny (a carpenter by trade), worked on the interior to design and construct a beautifully clean and open retail space. The bakery enjoys a prime location on a busy road along Route 66, surrounded by office buildings (Edward Jones Investments’ headquarters is nearby) and residential areas. The neighborhood provides a “cool mix” of local walk-in customers and office orders for box lunches and catering.
Once customers walk in the door, they are immediately impressed by the cleanliness and the organized and opulent display of choices — from the 12 flavors of macarons to the specialty cakes to the perfectly executed croissants and French pastries, each offering showcases Reid’s care for quality ingredients and expert technique. He built his bakery to be a place for the community and, in just a short amount of time, it has become just that — a community bakery.
“We maintain a 5-star rating on Yelp. A lot of training goes into the unique way we do everything,” Reid says. “I believe that everybody’s comment (on social media) is an opportunity. We are able to achieve what we do with a great team. I’m very happy about our controlled growth.”
In addition, “it’s not just about the food,” says Reid, who committed to starting a 401K program for his staff, including 3% salary contributions and discretionary profit sharing. “We have a lot of younger people working here, and I’m all about teamwork. Everybody is contributing all the time.”
Reid grew up in Farmington, Missouri, and started his career in hospitality after attending college at the University of Missouri in Columbia, earning a degree in hotel and restaurant management. During his time in Columbia, he also spent a year learning the inner workings of a restaurant kitchen. He honed his skills as a chef from the pastry station as well as positions of garde manger and sauté cook. He continued his education with degrees in pastry arts and culinary arts from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. There, he also worked as a private chef and as a caterer for business events, private parties and other events.
Beyond enjoying the community among his staff, Reid thrives on the neighborhood aspect of running a local independent bakery. The joy he sees in customers’ eyes when they enjoy a cake or pastry is priceless. He recalls the time when children from a local school came in to share pictures of the bakery’s macarons they painted in art class.
Recently, Nathaniel Reid Bakery participated in a back-to-school initiative in which 20% of sales went to the Kirkwood School Foundation.
“The ‘wow’ stories remind you this is a bigger than just a business,” Reid says. “We take the responsibility of being a local family business seriously.”