James Beard Semifinalist Evan Andres Talks Baking and More

Columbia City Bakery owner was formerly an environmental analyst
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For Evan Andres, life could have gone in various directions. After completing a Bachelor's Degree in environmental policy analysis at the University of California Davis in 1992, he could have stayed on at his San Francisco firm writing environmental impact reports. Alternately, if he'd pushed for his dream from age 5, he might be a cowboy.

Instead, the Berkeley, Calif., native took up baking, and while we've long considered his 10-year-old Columbia City Bakery a local gem, he has recently proven himself a talent of national fame, as a James Beard Semifinalist for Outstanding Baker. (Other local Seattle area semifinalists include Cafe Juanita's Holly Smith for Outstanding Chef, Canon for Outstanding Bar Program, Canlis for Outstanding Restaurant, Ethan Stowell Restaurants for Restaurateur of the Year, Wild Ginger for Outstanding Wine Program, and eight chefs for Best Chef: Northwest. Find the full list here).

We caught up with Andres to learn more about how he got into baking, his favorites at Columbia City Bakery, whether the recent honor was a surprise and more. The 2015 James Beard Foundation Award nominees will be announced Tuesday, March 24. 

1. How did you get into baking? Have you always enjoyed it?

I didn't do much baking as a child but did cook a lot with my mother. While at the environmental job, I started dating a woman who had gotten into medical school and deferred for a year to go to Chile on a Rotary scholarship. She invited me to come with her. While there, I would watch bakers through the windows at grocery store bakeries. They appeared to be having fun while getting a lot of work done. I returned to the U.S. with the idea of becoming a baker, because baking was apparently fun.

2. What was your original vision for Columbia City Bakery?

To bake the freshest bread in Seattle, to stay small, to work with small batches of dough and to keep my hands in the dough. I opened with a partner, Andrew Meltzer, who I worked with at Dahlia Bakery. He left after the first year of being open.

3. Where did you bake (and cook) before Columbia City Bakery opened in October 2005?

1996: Began baking in Berkeley, Calif., at Metropolis Baking Co.

1997: Hired as the lead baker at Macrina

2000: Took a trip with the Bread Bakers Guild of America to France, and took some time eating bread throughout France, Germany and Italy.

2000 (October): Hired at Tall Grass Bakery

2001 (April): Hired at Dahlia Bakery. Working at Dahlia gave me the opportunity to experiment and make whatever breads I wanted to.

2003: My wife, Julie, and I bought La Medusa Restaurant and I stopped baking for a year to help her with it. When the space where the bakery is now became available in 2004, Andrew Meltzer and I decided to open Columbia City Bakery together.

4. How has Columbia City Bakery changed since opening?

We opened with 12 employees and now have 45. Originally we were open five days and now we are open seven.  As the neighborhood grew, so did we. Growth has been challenging to say the least but I cannot say enough great things about the people of the Columbia City neighborhood. They are so supportive and welcoming.

5. What do you primarily bake at Columbia City Bakery now? Do you focus on breads or pastries? Why?

Originally, CCB was a bakery that made bread and also served pastry and coffee. Now we are a bakery that makes pastry and coffee and we also serve bread. The retail side of the business has gone crazy and most Saturdays there is a line to the door.  This can be attributed to my pastry chef, Karra Wise . . . It is remarkable to watch her work and to taste the perfect balance of flavors and textures of her creations. Karra and I had worked together at Macrina.  We continue to sell bread to Seattle restaurants, but most of our growth has come through the front door and that means croissants and coffee. Sweets and coffee drive our sales.

6. Was the announcement that you were among the James Beard semifinalists a surprise?

Yes, absolutely.  I first heard from my friend Melissa Nyfler from Dinette who called to congratulate me. I said, "For what?" 

7. What do you think makes Columbia City Bakery different from other bakeries locally and nationally?

Everyone at CCB wants to be here. Everyone gives 100 percent participation to be the best baker, co-worker, barista, friend, employee that they can be. We all care for each other and it comes through our products and service.

8. What are the four products you sell that are you the most proud of?

The Pain de Campagne (my desert island bread), the pistachio cake, our croissant (comes in plain and chocolate) and our danish (has a cream cheese and fruit filling). 

9. What are you looking forward to for the future?

Continuing to work with and teach new bakers the craft of bread baking. Also nurturing my connection with all things not CCB, especially with my wife, Julie, who has been a "bakery widow" for too long.