Christmas came a few days early for one of the hottest new retail bakeries in the United States. As Manresa Bread in Los Gatos, California, fired up its new 19,000-pound TMB Baking Tag Gas Deck Oven from Italy, which is capable of baking more than 100 loaves of bread at one time, excitement was brewing all around. As of Dec. 27, test baking had commenced, and the bakery was preparing for opening day.

Designed in partnership with San Francisco-based Robert Van Horne, whose work includes Tosca Café, Manresa Bread is being billed as both “classic and modern,” taking influence from traditional bakeries and patisseries worldwide but incorporating contrasting colors, industrial accents and natural building materials. In addition, outdoor elements are keys to the design; customers will enjoy the view of local plant life throughout the space including olive and citrus trees.

Inspired by the bread program at the two-Michelin star Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos, Manresa Bread offers hand-crafted small batch breads and pastries. Co-founded by head baker Avery Ruzicka, partner and Manresa chef/owner David Kinch and partner Andrew Burnham, the company reportedly plans to expand to other retail locations in the South Bay of the San Francisco area.

“I love the whole process of working with bread – cultivating the starter, tweaking a recipe, working with the dough, and using all of my senses to gauge if it’s time to bake,” says Ruzicka. “I took over the bread program at the restaurant and when the opportunity to start selling outside of Manresa came up, I jumped at the chance.”

Ruzicka brings a degree in culinary and the art of international bread baking from the French Culinary Institute, as well as experience working with master baker Ben Hershberger of Per Se Restaurant and Bouchon Bakery. Prior to the launch of Manresa Bread, Ruzicka worked a number of kitchen positions at Manresa before taking over the entire bread program. In 2013, Ruzicka took to the streets by baking creative artisan breads for sale at local farmer’s markets. Thus, the Manresa Bread Project was born.

"Avery took the bread program at Manresa to the next level. Being able to share that outside of the restaurant happened naturally for us," Kinch says. "We're excited to start out with a smaller-scale retail space in Los Gatos and see where we go from there."

The new, 800-square-foot Manresa Bread retail shop will stock a rotating seasonal selection of breads and sweet and savory pastries such as polenta sourdough and kuri squash streusel muffins. The operation includes a 3,000-square-foot commissary kitchen just blocks from the retail space.

The new Tag Gas Oven features double steam generators to ensure abundant, constant steam production. The TAG's carefully designed furnace and flues, made of high quality refractory bricks, ensure perfect heat distribution. In addition to expanding the bread and pastry operations at the new space, the team plans to mill their own wheat.

Designing Times

In today’s retail environment, a flair for the unusual makes a big difference and enables your business to stand apart from the crowd. For instance, San Francisco-based r.vH Design recently took on a renovation project that has revived a local favorite and longtime business, and garnered high praise for its design and operational layout.

Since 1919, the landmark Tosca Café in North Beach has been a hangout for the likes of Johnny Depp, Hunter S. Thompson, directors Francis Ford Coppola and Tim Burton. But for all its local fame, the business had fallen upon hard times. “People loved it before because no one was ever in there, and you could just walk in and sit at the bar whenever,” r.vH Design principal Robert Van Horne was quoted saying. “But it’s not a great business model to be known for being empty.”

In 2013, facing eviction, owner Jeannette Etheredge sold the Tosca Café to Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield, owners of several high-profile New York restaurants including The Spotted Pig. The new owners decided to reopen the Tosca Café kitchen for the first time since the '50s.

Tosca Cafe first opened its doors in 1919 and, although it has gone through a number of owners, has remained a North Beach landmark beloved by all. r.vH was fortunate enough to be involved with the most recent change in ownership and the first foray Tosca had ever made to solidify its identity in the modern, digital world. This was as much a project of curatorial practice and archeology as it was design. Through a careful survey of the ephemera from nearly 100 years, r.vH recreated the elements that would be carried through into the new era and continue to solidify the Tosca brand in history.

The café’s food menu features classic Italian pastries and desserts, including cannoli (chocolate, hazelnut $7), tiramisu (grated orange zest, $9) and sorbetto (dark chocolate, $6).

Notable Openings

All across the country, retail bakeries are opening in style, featuring signature new items and convenient services. Baker and pastry chef Helen Pfann has opened Night Kitchen Bakehouse & Cafe in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. Pfann, whose resume includes 3½ as pastry chef at Magnolia Grill, as well as work at La Farm Bakery and Videri Chocolate Factory, aims to bring all those experiences to her first venture.

She is filling the bakery shelves with European-style loaves ranging from walnut batard to rustic sourdough to rosemary focaccia. Sweet treats include a changing assortment of tarts, pies and traditional French pastries. Her bread pudding is an early best-seller, according to partner Jacob Leslie. Pfann plans to launch a savory menu that will include sandwiches on house-baked breads, quiche by the slice, salads and a soup of the day.

Convenience is a key feature at Sweet Hut Bakery, which recently opened its second Atlanta location with a new location in midtown. Sweet Hut is a boutique bakery and bistro established in April 2012 that specializes in Asian delicacies, snacks, and drinks Signature items include Red Bean Bread with Salted Egg Yolk, Taro Almond Buns, Samosas and Coconut Crunch Cookies.

“Blossoming with diverse and exciting cultures, Midtown is the prime place for us to introduce our concept,” says Rachel Ewe, owner of Sweet Hut. “Our new location at Shops at Metropolis will accent the neighborhood with a bit of Chinatown flavor, and will be an inviting place to study, meet co-workers and enjoy our wide selection of specialty baked goods and lunch items.”

From the noteworthy Hong Kong polo bun to the classic Chinese tea-egg to the refreshing flavors of Taiwanese bubble tea, there is always something new in the bakery, according to the owners. Every morning, an array of breads, pastries, and cakes are created fresh. The menu includes specially made coffees, juices and teas.

In Ohio, Panera Bread recently announced the grand opening of its newest bakery cafe in Brimfield, Ohio. The new location features the first drive-thru in Portage County and is conveniently located at The Cascades of Brimfield Shopping Center near Wal-Mart. “Panera Bread is thrilled to be opening our newest bakery-café in the Brimfield area which will be the first drive thru in Portage County,” says Sam Covelli, owner/operator of Covelli Enterprises, the largest franchisee of Panera Bread. “We value our customers’ time and are excited for them to experience the convenience of our drive thru.”

The bakery café business continues to boom, as Corner Bakery Café recently announced its entry into Montana with the addition of franchise partner Anderson Management Group led by multi-restaurant operator Brad Anderson and operating partner Brian Yates. Anderson Management Group owns seven Buffalo Wild Wings in Montana and plans to open five neighborhood cafes throughout the state, joining Corner Bakery Cafe as its 33rd franchise partner.

"As seasoned, multi-unit operators with a history of success in the franchising industry, Brad Anderson and his team at Anderson Management Group exemplify the ideal partner we look for when we expand into new markets," explains Gregg Koffler, vice president of franchise sales for Corner Bakery Cafe. "With Brad's extensive experience as an entrepreneur in Montana, coupled with the void in the region for high-quality, fast casual dining, we know that Brad's market understanding will drive excitement and anticipation for the brand as we enter the state of Montana in 2015." 

According to NPD, unit expansion for fast casual brands is a key contributor to the segment leading the foodservice industry in growth for the past several years. As evident in its five-store agreement for Montana, Corner Bakery Cafe has contributed to the fast casual segment's growth trend with 70 franchise locations currently open and more than 50 in development. Also, the brand has franchise development commitments for more than 345 additional cafes.