Houston’s bread man keeps rising. Over the course of two years, Tasos Katsaounis has turned Bread Man Baking Company from a side hustle into a rapidly growing small business that provides artisan bread to many of Houston’s top restaurants as well as several locations of Whole Foods Market.
Now, Katsaounis is getting into the restaurant business. He’s partnered with Chico Ramirez, formerly of Field & Tides, and Chez Nous owners Scott Simonson and Stacy Crowe-Simonson to open White Elm Cafe Bakery.
Slated to open in January 2020 in a former location of The Egg & I at 14079 Memorial Dr., White Elm will feature a bread and pastry program developed by Katsaounis and Bread Man baker Desirae Vasquez alongside a savory, French-influenced menu created by Crowe-Simonson. Ramirez, who sold his ownership stake in Field & Tides in June, will manage the cafe day-to-day as its operating partner.
“He had known it was an interest of mine to do something from a retail perspective,” Katsaounis says about Ramirez. “I think the stars just aligned and the timing was right.”
With their partnership established, Ramirez recruited the Simonsons to join. As he explains, he’s been eating at Chez Nous for decades and admires the Humble restaurant’s status as a beloved institution where people go to celebrate special occasions. The structure of White Elm allows the couple to become involved in another restaurant without having to take time away from Chez Nous.
Katsaounis didn’t use the term “dream team” to describe the project, but it’s certainly a veteran crew that’s earned a laudable reputation for executing at a high level. That confidence shows itself in the cafe's name; "White Elm" is the street in Dallas where he grew up and learned to bake bread from his mother.
“If you’ve got a good solid product that’s doing well in the market and you’ve got other people with talent on the savory side, you put those together with Chico who’s been operating in this market for years and had success,” Katsaounis says. “To us, it was a good equation for everything you need for a successful concept.”
Although the menu is still under development, Simonson-Crowe, Chez Nous’ executive chef, describes it as French-Mediterranean influenced with a focus on comfort food. Locally-sourced, seasonal produce will feature prominently in the dishes. As at Chez Nous, all dishes will be made from scratch.
On the pastry side, expect breads made with heirloom and artisan grains such as those sourced from Barton Springs Mill. In addition, the cafe will serve croissants, Danish, and other items Bread Man typically features at its stand at the weekly Urban Harvest farmers market.
Scott Simonson also promises service in line with what diners have come to expect from Chez Nous.
“The customer service we’re going to bring to this place, too, not just food knowledge but the feel that you get when you come in,” he says. “It’s a better feel when people actually give a shit, because they love what’s happening.”
According to Ramirez, part of the location’s appeal is that the neighborhood seems relatively underserved for this kind of casual cafe. If White Elm takes off, more locations could follow.
“This is something we think has legs,” Ramirez says. “It’s something we all enjoy. Who doesn’t like the best bread in the world?”