This is going to be a long post, so grab a cup of coffee or martini, depending on what time of day it is, and read on.
We toured several Portland bakeries this weekend, with the express goal of helping to figure out how the sugar shop will look. What works, what doesn't in terms of layout. What the appropriate feeling of the shop should be based on the desserts we're going to sell. Oh, and taste a bunch of stuff to get inspired to bake again.
Our first stop was Sahagun Chocolates, which was difficult to find, and we had to resort to calling for directions, but we made it to their tiny little shop. When we say tiny we say less than 300 square feet! The atmosphere was casual and the furnishings were a mish-mash, which meant to me that they were serious about the chocolate, and that's all. There wasn't much of a theme to the decorations, but there were interesting things to look at. They had about 3 seats that faced the window with a small case and tiny espresso machine. The owner gave us a tour of the back room, and we chatted about how she liked it better than hauling stuff around to the farmer's market. They had been there 2 years, and settled into a nice flow. They had a bunch of customers stop in over the 30 minutes or so we were there, so neither the size nor "hidden-ness" of their location didn't seem to be hurting them. We bought several truffles we haven't tasted yet, had a really fabulous homemade soda, and an even better hot chocolate, which was so rich and complex we melted with every sip.
Back in the car for a few minutes for our next stop at the Pearl Bakery. We really liked how there was a big open space to walk into with a nice hexagonal tile floor and rich wood furniture. The main case was open on the top with a big glass sneeze guard in front of them. The bakery specializes in bread, and everybody had a shirt which said "eat bread" which probably doubled as a good way to get somebody to buy the shirts. We tried the bouchon, a brioche rolled in sugar, and a fig cookie. We also liked how some of the huge bakery production space was visible, but not to cluttered looking, mostly because the oven in front of the doorway was massive.
Walked a few blocks in the rain to the beautifully appointed chocolate shop called Cacao, a fairly new shop. You walked in the door through a few seats. On the left was a bunch of chocolate bars, cool looking hot chocolate, and other bits and pieces of paraphenalia scattered about. On the right was a bar with a small jewel like case with one piece per flavor of chocolates from various sources. The shop specializes in drinking chocolate although they only had three or four flavors (probably because their drinking chocolate is made in these fancy schmancy apparatus that look pretty spendy). I have to say the drinking chocolate at Sahagun was a bit more to our liking, but it was certainly nice to see the genre taken to the next level.
We then hooked up with a couple of friends to continue our tour. On the way back to the car, I stopped at a fairly new shop called Sweet masterpiece. I was initially not going to buy anything, but then I saw that they had Sea Foam, john's favorite, so I picked up a pack and then walked over to the case and started talking to the woman behind the counter who turned out to be one of the owners. Her shop included chocolates from a number of companies including her own; however they weren't really noted as such (for that matter, they weren't noted at Cacao either). The shop looked a bit like Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor with marble-ish countertops and a whole lot of brass trim. It felt "family", the sort of family with kids.
Next stop was Ken's Artisan Bakery, another place specializing in bread. The layout was really nice with a diagonally placed case which started with the cold case and then moved on to the dry case and then the register. The menu for prepared items was above on a chalk board (albeit a bit smudged). The decor seemed a bit plain, but functional. Some of the production areas were visible, but not overly so. There was a nice big communal table, which matched the comfy decor perfectly.
We did a quick stop at Voodoo Donuts, a tiny little punk (I must say supremely punk) shop tucked away near what seemed to be a part of town with a bunch of bars. Their big deal is that they stay open late and catch the bar crowd when they need a little sugar and grease after drinking. The shop was clutter-ific with tons of little clippings strewn across the walls. A dusty grimy giant foam donut hung on the wall. The case was a vertical rotating case with several different donuts haphazardly placed inside, representing what was currently available. With the grumpy staff, so-so donuts, there was almost a complete disregard for quality of anything about the experience, but it was worth stopping in, if only just to see the rawness of the shop. Like punk, it seemed it was not about the quality of the music, but about the angst in expressing it.
After Voodoo, we hit the new Pix Patisserie. We had been to the one on Hawthorne, and we were actually suprised to see that they had in three years expanded to three locations. The shop looked like a parlor with red velvet wallpaper and a series of salon-style gold mirrors along the wall. The case ran along almost the width of the shop, and it was jam packed with all sorts of chocolates, cakes, gelees and treats. there were little signs propped in each of the desserts with descriptions. It was a lot to take in. On each of the tables, there was a photo album menu(remember the shop is called "Pix") with descriptions. Pictures would have been over the top, but that's an awful lot of work for a pastry chef to take on ;) The treats were very creative and elaborately designed, almost too fussy. I know how much work it is when each piece has several different garnishes, and thusly, I know that you have to increase the batch size to make the labor work out. It's more about the bravado of the chef than the flavor of the pastries.
Then it was nap time.
The next day we only hit one place, Crema, which was more of a coffee focused place. Clean, beautiful, elegant. A bit homey and uncluttered, but the layout was not ideal for the pastries, which were just cast off to the side. We liked the light wood that was unvarnished, and the big rollup windows really opened up the space. The place was full with people parked with their laptops, and there was lots of traffic in and out of the space.