Tag Archives: Visit North Carolina

Simple Kneads, Greensboro, NC

Gorgeous loaves

Duck down an alley, step through a screen door, and feast your senses on simply beautiful breads and pastries.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

[UPDATE: Sadly, Simple Kneads closed on August 19, 2011, the victim of a sluggish economy. It will be missed. The Bakery Boy Blog and its readers wish owner Bill Snider and his staff the best for whatever their future holds.]

A narrow courtyard leads to Simple Kneads.

Technically it’s not an alley but a courtyard you duck down to find Simple Kneads. The narrow passage squeezes between two buildings, lending a sense of secrecy to this artisan bakery tucked just off South Elm Street in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. Come to think of it, the artistic metal gate you pass through, a couple of small tables and chairs for lingering, some over-sized planters, and brick walls peeking from under chipped plaster create a certain “hidden European café” ambiance even before you reach the actual bakeshop.

Well-stocked bread shelves at Simple Kneads inspire awe among bread lovers. Photos by Bakery Boy.

BREATH IT IN Once inside Simple Kneads the full impact hits you—the steamy atmosphere and yeasty aroma of slow-developing Old World-style breads. A tall display case of crusty brown loaves behind the counter catches your eyes. Hefty round portions of Cranberry Walnut, Harvest Curry, and Parmesan Walnut. Football-shaped Asiago Peppercorn, Five Seed, and Olive. Squared-off Ciabatta. Braided Challah. Flat Focaccia. Slender Baguettes poking vertically from wicker baskets. If your timing is right, you’ll also find Garlic Rosemary, Russian Black, Cinnamon Raisin, Jewish Rye, Rustic Farm, and even a bread called Spelt, which hardly anyone makes anymore from a somewhat rare but healthy-for-you strain of wheat. Almost all the breads are priced at or just under $5.

Employee Laura Bauer transfers some fresh Challah.

SWEETS TOO Pull your eyes away from that amazing collection of breads to find the sweeter side of Simple Kneads in a pair of glass showcases. Muffins, scones, almond horns, croissants, strudel, turnovers, Danish, brownies, granola bars, cookies, éclairs, lemon bars, and the day’s quiche compete for shelf space during late-morning prime time, then gradually thin out as the day wears on and the goodies disappear.

FIND YOUR NICHE Vegan desserts such as gooey raspberry brownies or chocolate chip cookies made with ground flax seeds—plus gluten-free treats for people allergic to wheat—attract devoted niche audiences. Organic ingredients and recipes declared trans-fat-free and preservative-free draw health-conscious regulars. A preference for eggs and dairy products bought directly from nearby farms satisfies backers of the buy-local school of thought. All these traits—along with the generally laid-back attitude of nearly everyone working there and much of the clientele—make Simple Kneads a to-go spot for in-the-know Greensboro residents. Lucky visitors either hear about it word-of-mouth or stumble upon it by following their noses.

MANNING THE OVEN Ohio-born owner Bill Snider—once a college classmate of Barack Obama, for years a journalist covering education issues while based in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, and an editor for The George Lucas Education Foundation started by the creator of Star Wars—knew he was ready for a career change when, as he says, “I learned to bake partly as a way to procrastinate from writing.” With his now-former wife Ann, a fashion apparel engineer, he moved to North Carolina from California’s Bay Area. “Out there you find great bread available everywhere from bakeries like Acme Bread Company, Semifreddi’s Bakery, and Grace Baking,” he says. “Here we found nothing like that. So I bought the best bread-making book available at the time, Daniel Leader’s Bread Alone: Bold Fresh Loaves From Your Own Hands, and kept baking until I started making breads I liked.”

He sold his homemade bread at a local farmer’s market, where chefs discovered his loaves and soon served them in their restaurants. A small rented workspace, minimal equipment bought on eBay, and initial ingredients funded by a friend’s loan got Simple Kneads started. Today Bill oversees a bigger and better facility and additional staffers who produce a much-expanded menu that has grown beyond his early devotion to breads.

“Simple Kneads lets me give back to my community on a much more ‘micro’ level than journalism did,” Bill says. “We provide simple, healthy food made from scratch and using as many local and/or organic ingredients as possible. We offer a fulfilling workplace. And we make people happy. So, life is good.”

Being slightly hidden makes Simple Kneads even more of a "find" for bakery fans.

ALL AROUND TOWN Simple Kneads itself might be a little hard to find (hidden behind Mary Contrary, a home-and-garden accessories shop, three blocks south of City Center Park at the heart of downtown at 227-B South Elm Street) but its baked goods reach a variety of outlets in and around Greensboro, including:

Greensboro Farmers’ Curb Market Saturday mornings at 501 Yanceyville Street, Greensboro

The Green Bean coffeehouse at 341 South Elm Street, Greensboro

Bert’s Seafood Grille restaurant at 4608 West Market Street, Greensboro

Deep Roots Market natural foods cooperative at 3728 Spring Garden Street, Greensboro

Bestway Grocery at 2113 Walker Avenue, Greensboro

Krankies Coffee at 211 East Third Street, Winston-Salem

Reynolda Farm Market at 1206 Reynolda Road, Winston Salem

WHERE Simple Kneads, 227-B South Elm Street, Greensboro, NC 27403 (three blocks south of the heart of downtown)

WHEN Store hours Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

MORE INFO

Simple Kneads: Click here for the Simple Kneads Facebook Page; 336-370-4446

Greensboro area: Greensboro Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.greenboronc.com; (336) 274-2282  or toll free 800-344-2282

Downtown Greensboro: Downtown Greensboro Inc., www.downtowngreensboro.net; 336-379-0060

Winston-Salem: Winston-Salem Visitor Center, www.visitwinstonsalem.com; 336.728.4200 or toll free 866.728.4200

North Carolina: Visit North Carolina, www.visitnc.com; 800-VISITNC

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Stick Boy Bread Co., Boone, NC

For its impressive baked goods, Stick Boy belongs on any bakery fan’s must-try list, even if the name begs explanation.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Thin bakery owner Carson Coatney often gets mistaken for Stick Boy.

Stick Boy breads include crusty, aromatic loaves, often with inventive ingredients. Photos by Bakery Boy.

With the name Stick Boy Bread Co., I half expected its owner to be skinny. Or maybe, I thought, the menu will involve baguettes (bread “sticks”) and not much else. It turns out Carson Coatney is indeed a thin man and yes he makes some lovely baguettes, but that’s not where the name comes from and certainly not the only thing he makes. A few minutes into my first visit to the Boone, North Carolina, establishment it quickly became one of my favorite bakeries ever, both for the variety offered and the energetic attitude.

“It happens all the time, people thinking Stick Boy refers to me,” says Carson, co-owner with his wife, Mindy. “I hope the real story doesn’t disappoint you.” In short, as they prepared to open in 2001, a friend in Virginia spotted an apparent joke of a sign stuck to a utility pole and sporting the words “Lost—Stick Boy,” plus a hand-drawn stick figure and a fake phone number. She laughed, told them about it, and suggested it as a bakery name. Initially they scoffed, but the idea grew on them.

Spinach Feta French Bread

Mindy’s artistic aunt, Suzie Sadak, designed a logo showing a chef’s-hat-wearing stick boy running with a loaf of bread, and soon the couple’s bakery was off and running too.

A local woodworker crafts baker's peels like this, for sale at Stick Boy.

SO MANY CHOICES Keep your head on a swivel at Stick Boy, because options abound. A wall of shelves holds hefty, aromatic, artisan loaves—crusty outside, softer but firmly textured inside—ranging from Spinach Feta and Roasted Red Pepper Sourdough to Italian Ciabatta, Honey Wheat, Organic Whole Wheat Multigrain, Organic Spelt with Raisins, Cranberry Pecan French, Rustic Apple, Pumpkin, Fig Walnut Wheat, Kalamata Olive, Blueberry Oatmeal, and others. Showcases teem with fruit pies, carrot cakes, chocolate tortes, scones, cookies, and amazing sticky buns loaded with cinnamon, raisins, and walnuts. A hot espresso bar and a cool smoothie station diversify the offerings. There are also beautifully handcrafted cutting boards and baker’s peels (those flat shovel-like tools used to move hot goodies around) made from fallen trees in the Blue Ridge Mountains at a nearby woodwork studio called Elkland Handwerke (see more at Fall Creek Woods).

Summer Stollen

SUMMER STOLLEN During the holidays a popular item is a dense Christmas Stollen laced with golden raisins, candied orange peal, cranberries, and almonds. “Instead of waiting all year, we created something similar that works in summer,” Carson says. “The Summer Stollen has blueberries, cranberries, pineapple, candied lemon peel, pecans, and a glaze of blueberry icing.”

"Blueberries and cherries for our pies come from from nearby orchards," Carson says.

LOVE THOSE BLUEBERRIES “In summer we bake a lot of blueberries into pies, scones, bread, and pastries,” Carson says. “There’s a blueberry farm nearby called Old Orchard Creek, and the owner brings me fresh-picked fruit all through July and August. We go through half a dozen 6-quart buckets every week. We like to use local, organic, and fresh ingredients whenever possible.”

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS Carson grew up in western Kentucky, studied economics and chemistry at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and frequented Boone, where he met and married Mindy, a Boone native. “We had the idea to start a bakery before we knew anything about baking,” Carson says.

Pie time at Stick Boy.

“I’d recently graduated when we happened into the Great Harvest Bread Co. in Alexandria, Virginia. We liked what we saw: terrific artisan breads, all kinds of fresh-baked goods, a lot of organic and local ingredients, and bakers who seemed happy with their work. We thought, Boone needs something like this, and we could be those happy bakers.”

Current and former Appalachian State University students make up much of the Stick Boy staff.

Carson completed a one-week bread-making class at a Minnesota baking school and experimented at home until he felt he had enough successes and enough variety to start Stick Boy. “We rented a tiny place, a thousand square feet, just enough room for an oven, a mixer, and a table,” he says. “There was hardly room for customers. We gradually added more bread to the lineup, then scones and cookies and pies. When the laundry next door closed, we tripled our space, rounded up more equipment, worktables, and showcases, and things really took off.”

They hired a friend, then a relative, and then a succession of enthusiastic students from Appalachian State University located across the street. Mindy is at home more now that they have three sons (ages 8, 6, and 4), but remains integral to the operation.

SERIAL ENTREPRENEURS “I think I’m genetically wired to be an entrepreneur,” Carson says. “I had an uncle in Kentucky who was always launching some sideline that I’d help with. At Duke I started a laundry service for students.” Following Stick Boy’s success, the Coatneys partnered with a former employee (Katie Dies and her husband Josh) to open a second Stick Boy Bread Co. in Fuquay-Varina, about 200 miles east on the outskirts of Raleigh. Along with another trusted employee they recently bought the Boone restaurant Melanie’s Food Fantasy from a bread customer who was ready to retire. “As serial entrepreneurs,” the ambitious Carson says, “we always look for opportunities.”

LOCATION Stick Boy Bread Co., 345 Hardin Street, Boone, NC 28607 (across U.S. 321 from ASU)

HOURS 7 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Mon-Fri, 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sat

INFO www.stickboybread.com or 828-268-9900

AREA INFO Boone Visitors Center, Boone Chamber of Commerce, Visit North Carolina

Winkler Bakery, Winston-Salem, NC

A wood-fired brick oven, hand-mixed dough, and a pioneer spirit mark this historic bakeshop in Old Salem, little changed since 1800.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Winkler Bakery faces a quiet brick lane in preserved village of Old Salem.

If you want to see how bread was made before modern machinery and taste the all-natural results, go to Winkler Bakery in Old Salem. You’ll find a wood-fired beehive-shaped brick oven and dough mixed in manger-like troughs by bakers gripping long wooden paddles. These period-costumed artisans are as much interpreters as bakers, patiently explaining each step in the process to curious visitors.

Baker Bobby James with honey-wheat loaves fresh from the wood-fired oven. Photos by Bakery Boy.

Every step in the slow-paced process is done by hand.

Established in 1800 by Moravian families from Eastern Europe who settled in what is now Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the bakery uses methods unchanged for centuries. Bakers stack split white oak firewood into little log-cabin-like ricks, shove them into a 9-feet-deep, 7-feet-wide, 10-feet-high oven with a flat floor and a domed ceiling, and light them early in the morning. As fire heats the oven to 600 degrees, the bakers mix dough, weigh, knead, and shape loaves at a sturdy wooden table, and set them near the oven’s warmth to rise.

Split white oak fuels this old-fashioned operation.

They also make sugar cakes and cutout cookies, timing each batch to bake as the oven, swept clear of embers and ashes, slowly cools to just the right temperatures: 450 degrees for bread, lower for cakes, and lowest for cookies. The workday isn’t complete until bakers haul more firewood from a nearby shed and arrange it for the next day’s production.

Glowing embers heat the bricks.

“This is the way bakers have done things here for more than 200 years,” says baker Bobby James. “People can step in, watch us work, and ask questions. They’re always interested in how things happened before everything became so mechanized. It’s really a very simple process.”

Baker Jeffrey Sherrill shoves bread into the radiant oven.

One thing is different. “We use a thermometer now to determine oven temperature,” says baker Jeffrey Sherrill. “In the old days bakers knew from experience. They would toss in a pinch of flour and count how many seconds it took (24 was good) to turn a golden brown.”

ABOUT THE NAME The first bakers to work here weren’t named Winkler. Christian Winkler arrived a few years later in 1807 and baked for 30 years. His descendants ran the bakery until 1926, plenty of time to make the name stick.

WHAT THEY MAKE Winkler Bakery makes three main products daily, all for sale in the next room from women wearing long cotton dresses and neat white aprons and bonnets or from men in suspender-held trousers reminiscent of the early 1800s.

  • Peek into the cave-like chamber to see bread baking. As many as 90 loaves can fit inside at once.

    Bread: They start with the basics—water, flour, butter, eggs, sugar, and yeast—then for variety add honey, rosemary, garlic, and other ingredients to some batches.

  • Moravian Sugar Cake: A dense, gooey coffeecake similar to what some call honey buns or monkey bread, it’s rich with brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon.
  • Cookies: Thin cutouts, often laced with ginger, come in the shapes of flowers, stars, leaves, crescent moons, Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas trees, and more.

In the shop you’ll also find oatmeal raisin cookies, cinnamon raisin bars, banana nut bread, and other treats made at a newer facility nearby. There’s an entire line of construction-paper-thin cookies too, packed in tubes or tins, that feature ginger, lemon, cranberry-orange, apple, maple, chocolate, and other flavors.

Tools of the trade.

MAIL ORDER Can’t get to Winston-Salem soon? Some baked goods, especially a variety of thin spice cookies, as well as Old Salem beeswax candles and other items, are available by mail. Click here to see the mail-order menu.

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD Winkler Bakery sits at the heart of Old Salem Museums & Gardens, a lively historic village that recalls the community’s formative years in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It includes 100 acres of restored landscapes, heirloom gardens, 80 preserved buildings, a tavern, a gunsmith shop, and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.

Old Salem staffers look the part. Photos by Bakery Boy.

Also in the historic village stands Salem College, the all-female liberal arts institution founded in 1772 that pioneered equal education for women in this country. Just seeing so many young people (the student population is about 1,100) moving around Salem’s brick streets and grassy paths lends a surprising exuberance to a setting known for showcasing antiquated farming, baking, building, and blacksmithing skills. Their presence reflects the original Moravian settlers’ philosophy, which held schooling in high regard.

LOCATION Winkler Bakery, 525 South Main Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27101

HOURS 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon-Sat, 1-5 p.m. Sun

INFO www.oldsalem.org, 336-721-7302 (Winkler Bakery), 336-721-7300 (Old Salem); for more about area attractions contact Winston-Salem Visitor Center and Visit North Carolina.