Focaccia at White Elm Café Bakery (Photo by Shannon O'Hara)
Christopher "Chico" Ramirez and Chef Scott Simonson are two of the four talented owners at White Elm Café Bakery. (Photo b, masked for COVID-19, y Shelby Hodge)
Sexy banquette seating at the French inspired White Elm Café Bakery on Memorial Drive at Kirkwood. (Photo by Shannon O'Hara)
The amazing PJ&B croissant at While Elm Café composed of Peanut Butter, Strawberry Jam, Cream Cheese Chantilly, and Roasted Salted Peanuts. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Bread Man Baking owner Tasos Katsaounis in charge of breads and baked goods at White Elm Café Bakery. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
The interiors of the White Elm Café Bakery were done by Wyndy Ramirez, principal designer and owner of Wynne Design Works and wife of Chico Ramirez.
Duck Bahn Mi at the White Elm Café Bakery (Photo by Shannon O'Hara)
The front entrance of White Elm Café Bakery presents a comfy living room setting for guests who will eventually be able to wait indoors for tables. (Photo by Shannon O'Hara)
Three Greens Caesar at the White Elm Café Bakery (Photo by Shannon O'Hara)
Tumeric Focaccia at White Elm Café Bakery is a nod to Bread Man Tasos Katsaounis' mother. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
It should have come as no surprise to the foursome behind White Elm Cafe Bakery that on its official first day of business, they were “slammed.” The Memorial Drive at Kirkwood restaurant had been holding occasional pop-up dinners months before opening and the line for customers each evening was out of the door and down the sidewalk.
What they had not counted on was the electricity going out for a bit, one of the servers not showing up, the loss of their ticket printer and a computer snafu.
“Considering COVID-19, we are slammed today,” quipped Christopher “Chico” Ramirez of Dinner Table Investments, as he surveyed the capacity crowd.
Ramirez, who sold his interest in Field & Tides in June of last year, approached Tasos Katsaounis, owner of The Bread Man Baking Company, which had been providing bread to the restaurant, about opening a cafe. He then reached out to his longtime friends Scott and Stacy Simonson, chef/owners of acclaimed French restaurant Chez Nous in Humble.
“We hatched this plan of a full scale bakery in-house producing fresh bread and pastries every day,” Ramirez said, “in conjunction with a chef-driven menu, French-themed from two operators that had been in the business for 30 plus years.”
The charming yet causal French-inspired decor along with the “cafe” moniker belie the intrigue of the menu that includes such interesting dishes including duck bahn mi; lamb meatball pizza with red onion, tomatoes, feta, black olives and tzatziki sauce; red snapper in a spicy pineapple nage with coconut rice; and a bistro filet with bone marrow butter.
“There is French influence, obviously. My wife, Stacy, and I having Chez Nous in Humble for many years,” Simonson says. “We wanted to bring the techniques without the pomp and circumstance.”
Katsaounis’ Greek heritage is present in many of the dishes such as the tumeric focaccia and the tiropita, a rich cheese tarte filled with ricotta, feta and cream cheese. The Bread Man explains that he learned to cook at his mother’s knee and to this day she is still encouraging him to take turmeric as a health aid. So in a nod to his mitéra, Katsaounis created the special focaccia.
Ramirez jokes, “Insanity led me to do this.” But he adds, “I don’t think we could be any happier than if we had won the lottery. . . this is a product and a project for us that we really believe we can do again and put in different parts of the city.”
Daily operations of White Elm will be led by executive pastry chef Jamie Orlacchio, general manager Richard Brown and chef de cuisine Jesus Salinas.