Dear Atlantans, I hope you like the best damn artisanal bread in all the land because it’s coming your way.
Root Baking Co.’s Chris and Nicole Wilkins are leaving Charleston to open a bakery and cafe in a “prominent food hall” in Atlanta this summer (cue my tears). The couple who brought Charleston some of the most delicious heritage grain breads — you may have picked some up at the Johns Island Farmers Market or eaten in before your oysters at Rappahannock — are returning to their Georgia roots.
[content-2] “It’s kind of bittersweet,” says Chris of their departure. Before arriving in Charleston, the couple — who met in Rochester, N.Y. — lived in Middlesex, Vt. where Chris worked at Red Hen Baking Co. under bread mensch Randy George. Next, he did a stint with esteemed French baker Gérard Rubaud in Westford, Vt. He then was recruited by seed-to-loaf evangelist Thom Leonard and helped him open Athens, Ga.’s Independent Baking Co. And finally Chris got hooked up with celebuchef Hugh Acheson just in time to launch the bread program at Savannah’s The Florence restaurant in 2014.
In Charleston Chris, with lots of help from pharmacist Nicole, quickly established themselves as the preeminent bread biz sourcing to area restaurants along with their loyal farmers market customers. But scaling their biz to a customer facing space just wasn’t working out in Charleston.
“We were looking for retail space in Charleston and couldn’t find anything we could make work,” says Chris. “It’s really hard to pay rent with a seasonal economy.” When the Atlanta opportunity presented itself, they couldn’t pass it up. “We have roots kind already in Athens and the Atlanta area with Hugh and friends there.”
But the news isn’t all tear-soaked dough. Root’s baker Joe Shea is buying their assets opening his own bakery, Tiller Baking Co., in their tiny Highway 17 location.
“He worked as the head baker at Butcher & Bee and he had ambitions to open his own thing so we were like it could be a good opportunity to get into the bakery world,” says Chris. “We love that guy and want him to succeed.”
But the transition hasn’t happened just yet and for now, Chris is still in the kitchen. Your last day to grab a few final loaves and give your farewell will be at the John’s Island farmers market on Saturday, Feb. 17.
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