KANSAS CITY, MO — The James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards have been around for over 30 years, and while they’ve awarded an outstanding pastry chef and baker in the past, 2023 marks the first year the awards are also recognizing outstanding bakeries.
The awards define a bakery as “a baker of breads, pastries or desserts that demonstrates consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, hospitality and operations while contributing positively to its broader community.” While a brick-and-mortar presence is not necessary for nomination, eligible candidates must sell products directly to the public and have been in business for the past three years.
For retail bakers, making the shortlist for awards ignites an array of feelings. For Marisca Trejo, founder of Richardson, TX-based La Casita Bakeshop, the nomination serves as a nod to the hard work she’s put into creating her bakery.
“It feels so weird because I truly never try to do any of this stuff, but I mean, it feels really good to get the recognition,” Trejo said.
This is Trejo’s second James Beard Award nomination in the past two years as she was named a semifinalist for the outstanding baker category in 2022. With both nominations, she learned about making the shortlist from someone else but this year she got to celebrate with her team, who were all together for a meeting when the news came out.
“It’s rare that we all are together but all of my people are together on Wednesdays,” Trejo said. “It’s funny because the same people have been with me for two years already and they were like, ‘Oh my god, we got one again?’ We were freaking out, it felt really good to share that with them.”
Caroline Corrente from Middlebury, VT-based Haymaker Bun Co. shared a similar sentiment to receiving the nomination. Familiar with the awards from her time as a waitress in college, Corrente quickly learned the significance of the award and even uses the nomination and winners as a guidebook for dining in different cities.
“I first learned about the [award nomination] in a meeting and I got a text message from a friend saying congratulations,” she said. “I had to excuse myself from the meeting for a second so I could Google it, and that’s how I learned. I was shocked.”
Corrente began her bakery in her home kitchen in 2017. In balancing a business and a newborn, the pastry chef’s business grew to the brick-and-mortar operation it is today selling brioche-based cinnamon buns and all different kinds of pastries in addition to breakfast, lunch and other offerings.
Being named a semifinalist has caused not only a surge of pride for these bakers but also an uptick in sales and foot traffic to their respective bakeries. Given the difficulties from the COVID-19 pandemic the retail baking industry is currently bouncing back from, it makes all the difference to receive this nomination.
“It’s definitely been busier than normal, which is awesome. We’re getting waves of new business,” Corrente shared.
With increased coverage of the nomination in local news, she said that some people were coming from an hour away to try her product.
“It’s been cool to see new people but also just a lot of the community,” Corrente continued. “It’s a small community, people know us and know me. I had a woman come in the day after in tears and she was like, ‘I hope you know this community is so proud of you.’ It was really heartwarming and sweet.”
Trejo likens the increase in sales to the opening day of her bakery, with lots of people and not enough baked goods to go around (she was better prepared this time around.) The nomination also drew in more local customers, some of whom had never noticed the bakery beforehand, and more followers on social media.
“I think we gained over 2,000 followers in that span of time from that moment to now,” she continued. “Our number was just skyrocketing.”
With distinct plans for both bakeries moving, the James Beard award nomination puts Trejo and Corrente on the path to continue to develop and grow their respective bakeries. The winner will be named on June 5.
The full list of semifinalists is listed below:
- Angelo Brocato | New Orleans
- Breadshop | Honolulu
- Buena Gente Cuban Bakery | Decatur, GA
- La Casita Bakeshop | Richardson, TX
- Denise’s Delicacies | Philadelphia
- Friends & Family | Los Angeles
- Fujiya Hawai‘i | Honolulu
- Good Cakes and Bakes | Detroit
- Grist Milling & Bakery | Missoula, MT
- Haymaker Bun Company | Middlebury, VT
- JL Patisserie | Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ
- Kuluntu Bakery | Dallas
- La Patisserie Chouquette | St. Louis
- Mighty Bread Co. | Philadelphia
- Normal Ice Cream | Salt Lake City
- She Wolf Bakery | Brooklyn, NY
- Unforgettable Bakery & Cafe | Savannah, GA
- Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop | San Francisco
- Yoli Tortilleria | Kansas City, MO
- Zak the Baker | Miami