By Jan Mercker
Here’s something you should probably know about the new Baker’s Crust in Ashburn: it’s not really a bakery.
Yes, there’s plenty of fresh, homemade dough going on at the six-month-old hotspot, but the menu goes way beyond bread. It’s a full-on, farm-to-fork focused restaurant with plenty of fresh greens and proteins on the menu—and a rocking bar program to boot.
With a seasoned general manager, an enthusiastic young chef and creative culinary direction from its Virginia Beach home base, Baker’s Crust is cultivating a growing Loudoun fan base of devotees thanks to fresh lunches, addictive homemade potato chips and fries, and daily happy hours with creative cocktails and tasty eats.
The opening of the Ashburn location is something of a new horizon for the seven-restaurant regional chain. Baker’s Crust started 24 years ago as a small bakery and café in Virginia Beach, where owner John Stein focused on baked goods, sandwiches and pizzas. In recent years, Stein has opened locations in the Tidewater and Richmond areas while expanding and evolving the menu over the past five years with the help of Chief Operating Officer and culinary guru Patrick Gordon.
“People know Baker’s Crust because of the breads and the sandwiches, so coming out with the [bar program] and some of the different foods we’ve been doing over the last five years is critical to helping evolve our concept,” Gordon said.
Mark Pearson, general manager of the Ashburn location, said that in Loudoun, where the Baker’s Crust brand isn’t as familiar as in other areas of the commonwealth, folks are often surprised (in the best possible way) by the depth of the menu.
“Over the years we’ve morphed into a full-blown restaurant with some really great entree items. A lot of people are surprised—they’re thinking a bakery and they’re blown away by our fresh wholesome concept,” Pearson said. “When we built this restaurant, there was more of a focus on getting into the dinner scene and the craft cocktail scene. That’s been one of the distinguishing factors for this restaurant.”
Gordon adds that part of the idea with the Loudoun location was to move away from the breakfast program at the chain’s other locations and instead focus on building a strong evening clientele.
To help execute that vision, Gordon and Pearson tapped chef Rebecca Anthony, 25, from the company’s Carytown location in Richmond to oversee the kitchen in Ashburn. Anthony has picked up stakes and moved from Richmond to Aldie to pursue a promotion at the new location, part of a wave of millennials moving to Loudoun for jobs in the craft beverage and restaurant scene.
“I’m excited to be here. I’ve been with the company for five years and I feel like this is a growth opportunity,” Anthony said. “I love the made-from-scratch cooking—the new ways to cook with good, fresh ingredients.”
Anthony works regularly with Gordon, who collaborates with the owner to oversee the company’s culinary R&D program from its Virginia Beach flagship and travels the state to train and educate its cadre of chefs.
Like lots of so-called “fresh concept” restaurants, Baker’s Crust has embraced the farm-to-fork craze. But in this case, the owner actually has a farm, sending produce to forks around the state. Stein owns a hydroponic farm in Suffolk and supplies fresh greens and herbs like baby kale, basil and arugula to his restaurants in addition to operating a Community Supported Agriculture service for consumers.
And while you might not think it would be easy to go low-carb at a place called Baker’s Crust, the salads, like the high-protein Frisco Cobb and the toothsome beet and goat cheese are delish, with zippy homemade dressings.
But if bread is your thing, there’s plenty to love in that area, too. Sandwiches, like the crowd favorite Charleston Chicken and Avocado (also a favorite of chef Anthony’s) are served on homemade rolls with utterly addictive parmesan chips. The restaurant’s Neapolitan pizzas (like the tangy/sweet fennel, sausage and sweet onion) are made with homemade dough and sauce.
Word is also getting out about the restaurant’s bar program, with craft cocktails like a smoked rosemary Manhattan, blood orange and rye mule and melon/sage cosmopolitan, along with wine and beers on tap and in bottles. And regulars rave about daily happy hours with $7 craft cocktails and tasty $5 sliders on homemade rolls.
Atmosphere is also key, Gordon said, and the Loudoun location let him and owner Stein get creative, their first chance to build a restaurant from the ground up. With the help of Chicago-based Aria Group Architects, the partners brought to life their vision of reclaimed wood and rooftop dining.
“The Ashburn location is the look we’re looking for and we couldn’t have been happier with the way it turned out. We’re firm believers that half of the restaurant experience is the guest feeling comfortable,” Gordon said.
With a gorgeous new restaurant in the food-centric Belmont Chase retail center, the Ashburn location is also an important foothold in the Northern Virginia, new territory for the Tidewater-based chain, which is looking to expand in a hot market.
“We’re excited about the growth potential and we’re excited about the future,” Gordon said.
Baker’s Crust is located at 19890 Belmont Chase Drive in Ashburn. For details, go to bakerscrust.com.