Kristen Hall takes croissants very seriously, and that will certainly be the case when she and Victor King open their new bakery café in the former Octane location on Central Avenue on Nov. 1. Inside you’ll find a bright, light space where you can see pastries being made and can sit and enjoy them and/or a meal seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The newly painted white brick exterior is just one sign of the new life you’ll find inside, and we got a sneak peek chatting with Kristen and Victor in the new space.
We’ve followed your baking from Baking Bandits to Feast & Forest to The Essential and now to this new bakery café. Can you tell some of that back story?
Kristen: I started baking with my daughters in the summer of 2013 as a way for me to get them acquainted in the kitchen. I really enjoy baking, it’s very therapeutic for me. We started delivering packages to our friends and neighbors with pastries. To make it more exciting, we’d ring the doorbell and run away, and that’s how we became known as the Baking Bandits.
After that summer, I participated in the Revive pop-up shop in Woodlawn through REV Birmingham, and I did Pepper Place Market in 2014. That fall I won the Big Pitch through REV Birmingham to open a retail storefront. About that time Victor and I met and had natural conversations about food and Birmingham, and we started working on our first café, Feast & Forest.
And then what happened?
Kristen: Feast was a really busy shop, and we outgrew the space. From there it was always the concept to have a café and bakery that worked synergistically. We opened The Essential in July of 2018. We were supposed to open a bakery, Bandit, next to The Essential, and due to some lease issues, we ended up not being able to open there and started looking for another space. We finally landed here in Homewood, and we are thrilled!
How have you made the space your own?
Kristen: We really wanted to honor what had been here before. We painted everything white including the ceiling, and wallpaper lovers will not be disappointed. We have a 12-foot pastry case you’ll see when you walk in the front door, and you can look to the left and see an open production facility. We wanted people to see the hand-made nature of our work and see croissants being rolled and cakes being iced. You’ll order at the counter, and we’ll give you a number for your food and coffee. We’re using Ellen Godfrey for interior design and Pryor Construction, and we have been really happy with our team.
Can you tell us about the pastry and food menu?
Kristen: We were specifically calling this a patisserie because it really is a pastry shop. You’ll expect a lot more croissants and a lot less icing. We’ll have four to five different croissants each day, and scones and muffins. We’ll have pop tarts all day: a Nutella, a fruit-based and some sort of seasonal one as well. They are that perfect balance of modern and nostalgia, and sprinkles are fun. We’ll also have all the cookies we had before—dark chocolate sea salt, brown butter snickerdoodle, all different kinds of shortbread—and probably a seasonal cake by the slice. Breakfast is from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and our lunch menu starts at 11 a.m. We’ll serve beer and wine too.
Victor: For breakfast we’ll have a couple of sandwiches and some composed toasts, and some gluten-free options. Lunch will be sandwich- and salad-centric with all local ingredients and super fresh. We’ll have some staples you can count on every day and a good bit that changes seasonally. You’ll recognize waffles and French crullers on the weekends from Feast & Forest and a breakfast sandwich from the brunch menu at The Essential.
In some ways this sounds really similar to Feast & Forest. What will be distinct about it?
Kristen: We’ll have retail bread for the first time: brioche, burger buns, baguettes and sourdough bread. We’ll produce all of our pastries and breads for The Essential here, and we’ll pick up some wholesale accounts too. There are plugs in all the banquettes and power for your laptop everywhere. That’s what made Octane so great was it was such a great hub for meetings and freelancers. We will have a holiday order menu with holiday pies, probably one special cake and Bandit boxes with a nice assortment that are good for teacher gifts. We’ve also been planning for to-go business for people with limited lunch hours, and we’ll have lots of merchandise.