New Craft Bakery Will Make You Rethink Bread
Christopher Sy opens Breadshop in Kaimukī soon, with artisanal breads made completely by hand.
Renowned for his artisanal breads, which he crafts by hand, Christopher Sy is opening his own bakery in Kaimukī at the end of this summer or early fall.
Photos: RICHARD WALKER
To say Christopher Sy, the beloved baker of artisanal breads in Hawai‘i, has walked a meandering road in life would be an understatement.
After he graduated from Punahou School in 1996, he got a prep job at the now-defunct Indigo restaurant in Chinatown. Then he left the Islands to pursue physics at the prestigious University of Chicago only to switch majors to English halfway through because he loved writing.
But he loved cooking too much and eventually ditched any ambitions of being a physicist or novelist for life in a kitchen.
“College was tough,” he says. “Instead of studying, I went to the bookstore and read cookbooks.”
After graduating, Sy sent his résumé to the best restaurants in Chicago. He got a job as a cook at Tru, the award-winning progressive fine-dining French restaurant, only to be fired in a week. “No one really trained me,” he says. “They just threw me at a station and expected me to know what I was doing.”
A week later Hank Adaniya—yes, of Hank’s Haute Dogs in Kaka‘ako—hired him at Trio and the experience, he says, was transformative. He has since worked at such culinary powerhouses as Alinea and The French Laundry. Not bad for an English major with no formal culinary training.
“Two years working at the best restaurant is not even close to two years in culinary school,” he says. “I got really lucky.”
But baking bread started as just an idea, something inspired by an essay he read back in college in Smithsonian Magazine by Rudolph Chelminski on the legendary Parisian baker Lionel Piolane, who crafted bread the old-fashioned way. Something about it stuck. He dabbled with pasta dough at Alinea and started the baking program at Town in Kaimukī, making all the table loaves and burger buns from scratch.
“When I had visited Copenhagen, I realized that all of the restaurants there made their own bread, no matter how small the restaurant was,” Sy says. “If you wanted to be considered seriously, that’s what you did.”
Sy grew up like the rest of us, eating store-bought bread devoid of texture and taste. His interest in bread led him to read everything he could on the subject, transfixed by the limitless possibilities.
“Baking bread is such a deep subject with infinite things to learn,” Sy says. “I thought, ‘Would it be OK if I baked bread for the rest of my life?’ And yeah, I’m actually OK with that.”
After honing his bread-making skills at Town, Sy went on to sell his country loaves at pop-ups and farmers markets, garnering a loyal following for his soft and chewy breads.
After testing his artisan breads at pop-ups and farmers markets, where he would sell 30 to 40 loaves at a time, Sy is finally opening his own craft bakery in Kaimukī soon, hopefully by the end of summer, with some investment from his family, his own savings and a Small Business Administration loan. The 850-square-foot space will be located at the corner of 8th and Wai‘alae avenues, where Young’s Scale Co. used to be. (That business moved to Kalihi and the entire building is being renovated, which has caused some delays in the bakery’s opening.) The space will house his production kitchen, a small retail area and a take-out window where customers can pick up breads.
“I like [the space] because I wanted to be part of the neighborhood,” says Sy, who will run the shop with his wife, Shazia. “It’s always been my thing. I want people to come by several times a week, as much as possible.”
He plans on starting small, offering loaves of country bread and a few other varieties, using only a few ingredients and all made by hand in a process that takes up to several days. What he won’t be selling are pastries, cakes and donuts. “For me, I’ve always wanted a type of bakery modeled after a European boulangerie, different from a pastry shop,” he explains. “It’s a bakery where you go every day to buy bread. It’s a staple. It’s not just for special occasions.”
He’s bringing back his subscription service, where customers can reserve a loaf every week by paying a monthly fee. (Good news for people who have waited in line at the farmers market only to be told he’s sold out.) Loaves will cost under $10 each and will last two to three days stored at room temperature.
And he won’t be doing any wholesale. His bread is strictly for the customers who walk in.
“That’s part of the thing,” he says. “I feel like I’m trying to serve a community, not trying to serve a restaurant or chef. I consider baking bread a service. It’s something good and nutritious and you can live off of it. It shouldn’t be a luxury product.”