Moving To Downtown Tampa: The Bakery Scene

Looking to move into downtown Tampa? Join the club. Whether you have your sights set on the Channel District, one of the newer downtown skyscrapers or an apartment along the Tampa Riverwalk or on Harbour Island, there's one thing everyone needs to know when the craving strikes -- where's the nearest bakery?

Downtown Tampa and its surrounding neighborhoods have welcomed a handful of specialty bakers into its storefronts and weekly markets within the last three years.

So the next time that little voice in your head starts nudging you for a decadent gourmet cupcake or a hearty loaf of freshly baked organic bread, check out these locally owned gems.

20 Shekels Bread

After trading in a brokerage firm for 20 years, Marni Atherton, 42, uprooted her life from Palo Alto, CA and moved to Clearwater, FL nearly five years ago.

Business may have been her college major, but making bread was in her blood line. From an early age she recalls apprenticing her grandmother Marie in the kitchen, learning how to make peasant bread -- a blend of rye and wheat flours -- from scratch.

But in 2007, Atherton found herself unable to continue eating store-bought bread due to a starch intolerance. She began revisiting her childhood lessons of bread baking -- trying different combinations of flours until she found an organic sprouted flour from Essential Eating Sprouted Foods that made it easier to digest bread and kept her blood sugar low.

Three years of experimentation produced a plethora of bread -- and her friends had tasted enough to convince her there was a market for her bread in Tampa Bay.

Today, 20 Shekels Bread's flagship product, Ezekiel bread -- developed by Atherton during her pursuit of additional protein and less saturated fats -- is a flavorful, hearty, subtly sweet and completely satisfying concoction that will change any of your misperceptions about how healthy bread tastes.

Her secret?

"It's the sprouted wheat," she says. "You're eating wheat as it was processed prior to the industrial revolution."

Although Ezekiel is the company's best-selling loaf, it's not the only thing 20 Shekels has to offer. Try the Muesli -- a dense bread packed with dried dates, apples, and cranberries, sunflower, flax and pumpkin seeds -- or the deliciously simple one-two punches of Walnut Pear and Chocolate Blackberry.

You can currently find her bread at seven retail locations -- including Ezekiel bread in the freezers of downtown Tampa's Duckweed Market -- and nine farmers markets in Tampa Bay (Moving to Downtown Tampa: The Urban Market Scene), but her next move could be a game changer for the company. Atherton is currently in the process of launching her product at Whole Foods Market stores in the Florida region, starting with Tampa and Sarasota.

Loyal fans, fear not -- 20 Shekels won't be leaving its roots behind.

"We'll always stay with [the markets]," she says. "It's our research and development. You get first-hand information on how the product tastes, what customers want and how we can incorporate it into our products."

Le Mouton Noir Bakehouse

If you're looking for an array of pastries for your next dinner party or you just want to indulge on your lunch break, head to the corner of East Kennedy Boulevard and Channelside Drive for one of the Channel District's newest tenants -- Le Mouton Noir Bakehouse.

Four months into business and 35 year-old owner Francisco Arias has expanded his staff quicker than he anticipated -- currently employing nine people including Moroccan-born bread baker Chef Hachem Al Aaloui and pastry chef Andrea Benson.

Supportive neighbors from the Ventana and Grand Central at Kennedy pop in for golden-crusted baguettes, tarts covered with a layer of ripe mixed berries, specialty sodas (try the Maine Root Ginger Brew), cannolis filled to order, slices of rich red velvet cake and an expanded lunch menu of sandwiches and salads to meet customer demands.

"The neighbors wanted us to be here as much as we wanted to be here," Arias says.

After receiving his masters degree in business administration from Providence's Johnson and Wales in 2007, Arias spent two years as the catering and sales manager at St. Petersburg's Tradewinds Resort.

A desire to fulfill his childhood dream led him to leave his job in 2010 to develop a bakery concept that emphasized fresh artisan breads. He studied pastry and baking techniques at The Art Institute of Tampa for about a year and collected family recipes from his mother -- often a simple list of ingredients without measurements.

One item in particular -- alfajores -- highlights his family's Latin American roots. Butter, sugar and corn starch are combined to create a melt-in-your-mouth shortbread. Two cookies are adhered by a layer of rich dulce de leche and generously dusted with powdered sugar.

Whether his inspiration comes from heirloom recipes or the pages of his favorite Gourmet magazine cookbook, Arias and his staff are committed to changing things up for their regulars -- peanut butter protein bars for the Powerhouse Gym crowd (Moving to Downtown Tampa: The Workout Scene) or a variant on their croissants, which you can also purchase at both Buddy Brew locations in Tampa (Moving to Downtown Tampa: The Coffee Scene).

Arias' favorite part of being in the Channel District? Seeing the same faces return several times a day.

"I love that most people walk to get here," he says. "A lot of them tell me they bought our bread and ate it before they even got home."

Frostings Etc.

Prior to opening SoHo-based bakery Frostings Etc., nearly four years ago, co-owners Sharon Tabasco, 53, and Joey Barbato, 54, worked as a real estate agent and mortgage broker, respectively. When the market collapsed they found inspiration from the Food Network for their next move -- cupcakes..

A reality show featuring Chef Bobby Flay battling a San Francisco baker for cupcake supremacy led Tabasco to search for nearby shops in Tampa.

"It got to the point where you could show her a picture of a cupcake and she could tell you where it's from," Barbato says.

At the time there was only one shop in Tampa -- The Cupcake Spot on South MacDill, which recently closed its storefront after five years in favor of a pick-up location at the Rainbow Food Mart. Tabasco and Barbato decided to take the leap and began creating their brand. She developed the menu and tested flavors on friends at parties, while he wrote up a business plan and secured a small loan.

The resulting venture, open until 10 p.m. on weekends, steadily earned a cult-like following with South Howard bar and restaurant patrons, and continues to thrive due largely to corporate accounts and wedding receptions around the Tampa Bay area, according to Barbato.

Their Italian heritage comes through in Tabasco's creations. Her personal favorite is a Cannoli cupcake with ricotta, orange zest and Marsala wine served up with Barbato's friendly banter with customers from behind the counter.

"Our customers root us on," he says. "They want us to do well."

Repeat customers know by now that Tabasco is all about thinking outside the box.

"I had a guy walk in with bottles of Jameson and Baileys asking if we could make something for him," Barbato says. "Sharon made him an Irish Car Bomb cupcake."

Although Tabasco is constantly experimenting and adds new additions when creativity sparks -- including vegan and gluten free cupcakes on weekends -- the top sellers remain the same. There's her signature Champagne Pear Bellini, a champagne and cream cheese-frosted white cake infused with pink champagne and pieces of pear, Cookie Dough, Red Velvet and Chocolate Guinness, a rich chocolate cupcake infused with the famed Irish dry stout and topped with a chocolate covered pretzel.

"Nobody really does what Sharon does," he says. "I knew there was a business out there for us."

Matt Spencer, a University of South Florida grad, is a native Floridian who enjoys sharing his love for Patty Griffin, browsing produce stands, spending hours in record shops and gawking at the ice cream selection in grocery stores. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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