Owning an eatery is difficult — even in the best of times — and parents who are restaurateurs tend to beg or bribe their children not to follow the family business. But most of these children have learned the secret to a restaurant's success: pride, passion and plasticity — the ability to roll with the times. Thus many of these offspring, whether by plan or providence, end up back in the business.
Take Debbie Bartok, for example. She is the daughter and granddaughter of the owners of the renowned Hot Shot Café, which was the oldest restaurant in Asheville, N.C., until it closed in 2007. Bartok grew up in that kitchen, making biscuits. In 2009, Bartok decided to open a bakery with her daughters, Chef Marion Buhrmaster, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University Charlotte with a degree in Baking and Pastry Arts, and Johanna Saruse, an accountant. In October 2010, Bartok opened Sunflour Baking Company in Elizabeth, a modestly sized, but incredibly satisfying, bakery.
Sunflour occupies a bright and crisp utilitarian space with light-colored woods and unadorned tables. The room is fronted by a broad expanse of glass which overlooks a parking lot. If not for that, you might imagine you had wandered into some friendly, hip urban bakery in the center of a busy metropolis rather than quaint Elizabeth.
The draw at any bakery is the items behind the display case, and these will not disappoint. Rows of croissants, cinnamon rolls and sticky buns, muffins, house-made "Pop Tarts," cupcakes, cookies, brownies, pies, cakes and granola bars make the a selection difficult. What distinguishes the case, though, are the expanded repertoire items, like the first-rate spinach and feta croissant.
At the heart of this bakery is Bartok's devotion to all things local. The wonderfully aromatic coffee is from Counter Culture; the flour is milled in Graham, N.C. Jams are local and even the honey comes from the bees in Elizabeth.
The food at Sunflour improves with each visit. The lunch menu is gently priced to turn first-timers into regulars, and more seasonal (no tomato in the winter) than formulaic. One sandwich easy to recommend is the pressed ham and gruyere with whole grain mustard. Too many places offer ham and brie — sweet muffled with sweet. But here the sandwich has a bite. Even better is the egg salad sandwich, truly the best I have ever had. The organic deep-colored yolk and wonderfully flavored eggs are mixed with just enough mayonnaise and then ramped up with basil, dill, rosemary and French tarragon from Bartok's garden — a wondrous treat between two fat slices of toasted olive bread. Sandwiches include a pressed banana and Nutella, and Bartok says she will expand her lunch menu to include more vegetarian offerings and a locally cured pastrami soon.
In addition to breakfast and lunch items, Bartok intends to begin selling a line of bread in January. Also Buhrmaster has had her own wedding cake company for four years and continues that work at Sunflour.
With touches like house-made hot chocolate and environmental-friendly containers, Sunflour Baking Company has much to praise.