Transcription of Neighborhood Nourishment #279

Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Brunswick, Maine. Show summaries are available at Here are some highlights from this week’s program.
Briana Volk: I’m in the food and wine community, and I love food and wine, but my knowledge of wine, I can’t speak like a sommelier and I don’t think most people can. I know if it I like it, like if I taste it and I like it, great, but, you know, it’s really hard for me to necessarily pick out great wines and stuff, so I try to… I don’t know, I like talking about wines and those things in the way that I hope someone would talk to me about them.
Briana Holt: One of the things that kind of jump-started me, even if it took a break in me with the baking was working at that place I mentioned earlier, that old bakery. It was quite, quite old, you know, like wobbly wooden planks and huge, industrial-sized mixers that were made in the 30’s. Looked like they could’ve been on a warship or something. Like I said, I made donuts and things there, and it was just, they had this huge, wooden table in the middle. Just huge. Like larger than a king-sized bed. Like two king-sized beds. That’s where everybody kind of worked, rolling things across from each other, next to each other, and I just loved it.
Lisa Belisle: This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, Show #279, Neighborhood Nourishment, airing for the first time on Sunday, January 22, 2017. Eating is an inherently social activity. We choose where we eat based not only on the type of food we seek, but the community we want to be part of. Today, we speak with three Portland community creators, Briana and Andrew Volk, owners of the Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, and upcoming Little Giant restaurant, and Briana Holt, head baker at Tandem Coffee + Bakery. Thank you for joining us.
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Lisa Belisle: Today I have with me in the studio Andrew and Briana Volk who own the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, a James Beard nominated cocktail bar in Portland’s Old Port. This year, which is 2017, they are opening Little Giant, a restaurant and bar in Portland’s West End. The accompanying shop is open daily, currently 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Briana Volk: Thanks for having us.
Andrew Volk: Thanks for having us.
Lisa Belisle: You guys are very busy.
Briana Volk: Yeah, I guess so.
Lisa Belisle: I would say, Portland….
Andrew Volk: We like being busy.
Lisa Belisle: Yes. Portland Hunt & Alpine Club is how many years old now?
Andrew Volk: Three and a half.
Lisa Belisle: You have a child who is how many years old?
Andrew Volk: Two and a half.
Lisa Belisle: You have another one who’s…
Andrew Volk: Five months away.
Lisa Belisle: Exactly. Then you already have Little Giant, the store, and you’re working on Little Giant, the restaurant. Do you sleep sometimes?
Andrew Volk: Yeah, sometimes. Yeah.
Briana Volk: Not enough.
Andrew Volk: We really like what we do. We’re fortunate enough to be able to do it as often as we need to. We get time to relax but also for us I think working is, and certain parts of our work at least, are relaxing and refreshing at least.
Lisa Belisle: I was going to say, I love the enthusiasm that you have for all the things that you do. I know that you work a lot with us here at Maine Magazine, that you’re often helping us out with events. You bring your daughter with you sometimes, and you do seem to really love what you’re doing and live what you’re doing, too, which is important because I think there are people that believe that we can truly separate the jobs that we do, the work that we do, and the lives that we live, but I think the happiest people tend to be the ones who kind of walk in between.
Briana Volk: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s what works for us. I have in all my working career have always had jobs where I’ve never been able to separate from it, but I like getting totally wrapped up and absorbed in what I do. That’s what makes it fun and makes it not as much of a job.
Lisa Belisle: It is important to say that it’s what works for you. You’re right, some people, they need to have that separation…
Andrew Volk: Absolutely.
Lisa Belisle: This is good. Each of you were born and raised elsewhere.
Andrew Volk: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: You are now Mainers. This is your adopted state, on purpose, adopted state.
Andrew Volk: Yep, we love it.
Lisa Belisle: How did you find your way here? I know Andrew, you’re from Vermont, Briana….
Andrew Volk: Yep, so I grew up in Vermont but went to school in Waterville. When I was a kid, worked summers, had summer jobs on the coast, Rockland area. Spent a lot of time here. Spent the four years in Waterville, which is a wonderful fun hill town, and then graduated and moved away and didn’t really know what I was going to be and what I was going to do and we met, Briana and I met, out in Portland, Oregon where I was living and where she grew up. She was working in advertising at a really great ad shop called Wieden+Kennedy, got a job offer in Mobile, Alabama, and we both said, “Hey, we’ve never lived in the South, let’s give it a try and see how we do.” We gave it twelve months and we moved away in eleven months. We started looking for a job in the Northeast. I had family here, I think Briana had an idea that we should give that a try, having done the Northwest and the South. We were looking at places, looking at jobs, had job offers, and opportunities in bigger cities, New York and Philadelphia, you know, the typical big cities in the Northeast. Briana had a job offer here in Portland.
Briana Volk: Yeah. I mean I think, you know, in the course of an ad career, it always makes sense to be in major cities like New York so we were really looking heavily in New York and then actually Andrew’s father, who owns an ad agency in Vermont, recommended Via to me to look at, and I sent off a resume and heard back from them and came up for 24 hours, maybe? Loved the space and loved the agency and trusted Andrew that Portland was great, and we’re both from smaller towns. I actually grew up just a little bit outside of Portland in a town of around 10,000 people and stuff, so we knew we would end up somewhere smaller, New York would have just been a stopover for us, so we decided to skip that whole step and just come here and try it out.
Andrew Volk: Yep. Five and a half years later, here we are. Still.
Lisa Belisle: What it is about Portland that has worked for you versus Mobile, Alabama, which did not?
Briana Volk: Oh my god….
Andrew Volk: Everything. No, I mean, what’s so wonderful about Portland is there’s a really strong sense of community. There’s a really supportive community here, especially you know, a lot of the worlds we travel in are advertising and PR and restaurants, and everybody in those worlds here are really supportive of each other and kind of cheer on each other, and when somebody’s looking for something, they connect you with somebody else and it’s… it’s a thing that we both, growing up in small towns across the country from each other, we both experienced that you help out your neighbor and you look out for each other and you support each other. Everything we know as a community exists here, and we were quick to embrace it, and it was quick to embrace us.
Briana Volk: Yeah. You hear a lot of times people talk about the idea of, like, people from away and how it sounds very unwelcoming to people who are from away, but I feel that we never really experienced that to the degree that you hear actually people talk about it, and coming here, like, we met amazing people right away, and we were able to be involved as much as we wanted to be involved in the community, and people took us with open arms, which was great, and that was not something we experienced living in the South.
Lisa Belisle: You and I, both of you and I, were joking about the fact that you were not from here. I’ve said multiple times that even though I have lived most of my life here, I actually was born in Vermont. I can officially say that I am also not a Mainer.
Andrew Volk: I was born in Brooklyn, and my parents moved to Vermont when I was one, so I experienced that in Vermont as well.
Briana Volk: You can’t even say he’s a Vermonter.
Andrew Volk: I’m not even a Vermonter. I don’t have a home. Take me.
Lisa Belisle: That’s an interesting thing because I think in these deeply rooted communities, sometimes it can be an issue that people can say, “But you don’t have that depth of background.” Then it just gets silly. If you’ve lived somewhere, it doesn’t really matter. It’s sort of how engaged you are with the community and how much you want your children to be engaged with the community.
Andrew Volk: I think that’s very much how we approach it. You are where you engage, and if you’re engaged in the community, if you’re actively living in the community, working in that community, spending your time and your energy to make that community better, then you’re just as good as the person next to you who’s doing just as much.
Lisa Belisle: What was it about Portland that you’ve brought from the other Portland to this Portland? How have you sort of infused the local scene with the place that you grew up in, Briana?
Briana Volk: That’s a tough one.
Andrew Volk: I think we both… out in Portland, Oregon, sorry, not the answer for you…
Lisa Belisle: No, go ahead.
Andrew Volk: Experienced in our respective industries and advertising and restaurants, this really supportive creative community. I think that any place like our Portland, like Portland, Maine, really benefits from an infusion of outside ideas, bringing, whether it’s a fresh idea about how to do something or a fresh approach or whatever it is, bringing something and making it a part of Portland, Maine is really refreshing and important for a community to grow and for us, what we took from Portland, Oregon was this really supportive, creative community that we both existed in and lived and worked in and we were able to… I think we very actively try and create that feeling here and enhance that feeling here. It’s very much here, but bring our perspective to it, bring our taste to it, bring our energy to it.
Briana Volk: We also lived in Portland, Oregon at a time where we watched the city kind of grow from this, like, eh, West Coast city that no one really cared about to like, now Portland Oregon’s, like, Portlandia and people talk about it all the time and want to go there and visit, and it has an amazing, vibrant restaurant scene and an amazing, vibrant art community. Being there and both being part of it in our own ways, for me working in advertising and Andrew working in cocktail bars, I think, was something that coming here, we were able to recognize that happening here, which was really exciting for us and really gave us energy of wanting to be part of that. Because we have seen firsthand how amazing a city can grow when people work together and really actively are part of their community to make a city better.
Lisa Belisle: When I went this weekend to Little Giant, I brought my daughters and was talking with Andrew about the wine and the food, and one of my daughters was noticing some of the labels that you had written and really liked them. Very creatively done. Definitely showing maybe a little quirkiness of mind and spirit which…
Briana Volk: It’s my decade of copyrighting paying off right there.
Lisa Belisle: It’s great because it really drew her in. It really caused her to look at this and be like, “Wait, is this the name of this wine or is it called, like…”
Andrew Volk: Yeah. Wanna Get Weird…
Lisa Belisle: Wanna Get Weird?
Andrew Volk: That was the one that she was picking out.
Lisa Belisle: It’s a weird wine.
Andrew Volk: It’s a weird wine. It’s deliciously weird.
Lisa Belisle: Doesn’t that speak to the fact that you can…. Sometimes, a product is a product, but sometimes, there’s a bigger story that needs to be told about it that brings people in.
Briana Volk: Absolutely. My background in advertising is… and for actually over a decade as as a copyrighter, and one of my favorite things is telling stories. I love telling stories, and I love telling other peoples’ stories and product stories that I love and our story. It’s nice to be able to do that and find ways to do with Hunt and Alpine or with Little Giant that maybe aren’t the traditional paths you would see in shops or restaurants. I’m putting some of my skills to use, which is nice, I guess. I also, for me too, I’m in the food and wine community and I love food and wine, but my knowledge of wine, I can’t speak like a sommelier, and I don’t think most people can. I know if it I like it, like if I taste it and I like it, great, but, you know, it’s really hard for me to necessarily pick out great wines and stuff, so I try to… I don’t know, I like talking about wines and those things in the way that I hope someone would talk to me about them, so….
Andrew Volk: I think that’s one of the really cool things about wine in particular in the restaurant world, but food and spirits and all this to their extent, but wine has these great stories. Every single product, every single label, has these phenomenal stories to them and to be able to, you know, bring people in and share a little bit about the stuff we’re excited about is just one part of Little Giant that we’re really thrilled about.
Briana Volk: We think food and drink should be fun. When you have a cocktail at Hunt and Alpine, you should be having, like ideally, you’re having fun there, whether it’s a shot and a beer or…
Andrew Volk: Right. It’s not work.
Briana Volk: Or a fancy cocktail, it shouldn’t feel like that, and when you’re drinking wine. Al of that stuff, eating, all of it should be fun because it’s fun for us, so we want it to be fun for everybody else too.
Lisa Belisle: This is a conversation that I’ve had a few times recently and that is that food… when it becomes, or wine or beer or coffee, when it becomes so precious that you’re spending all your time analyzing it, then there may be something that you’re missing out on. I don’t have any problem with people who really, that’s the way they enjoy their food, wine, coffee, whatever, but it’s really more about the experience. Wherever it is that you’re going to, it’s about the interaction with people, it’s about feeling like you’re… I don’t know, part of something. There’s an emotional response that I think is important to have.
Andrew Volk: You know, I think that bringing it back to Portland, Maine, what we really appreciate up here, and I think that what the people that thrive and love Portland, Maine appreciate is authenticity. There are a thousand ways to enjoy wine or coffee and whatever, and professionals that want to really dive in and nerd out, there’s definitely a place for that and there’s a place for that up here, but a lot of people come to Maine for this sense of authenticity and the sense of… you know what, we’re doing it because we love it and we’re doing it because this is our place. I think for wine and food and beer and cocktails for us, that’s what we try and bring to this, that this is meant to be fun, this is meant to be good. This isn’t supposed to be work, this is supposed to be a good time and we truly enjoy that aspect of it.
Lisa Belisle: What do you think it was or is about the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club that won you the James Beard nomination?
Andrew Volk: Why are you looking at me?
Briana Volk: I think a lot of it was Andrew and the bar program he put together. We have an amazing staff there. Our bar manager, Trey, is absolutely incredible and one of my favorite people of all time now. We have an incredible staff that Andrew has been able to lead and train and work with, and they all bring really wonderful things to the table, and I think Andrew’s really good at seeing those great things and pushing those and letting people flourish in ways that make them the best and make them really happy to come into work every day. Not everyone’s doing the same thing or having to dress the same or present themselves in the same way. People get to be themselves, and I think that personality comes out when people come in is they see that the people working there have a great time and really care about their job and care about the guests’ experience, and I would like to think that’s why.
Andrew Volk: Yeah. That’s great.
Lisa Belisle: How will the new restaurant, Little Giant, that’s opening up this spring, how will that be the same and different?
Andrew Volk: I think the thread through for us that we always talk about and that drives us professionally is a sense of hospitality, a sense of feeling comfortable and welcome in a place that you as a guest, an individual, can walk in and start making it your own. With Hunt and Alpine, we certainly had an idea of what we wanted and what we wanted to create, but we also wanted people to walk in the door and have a conversation with us. I’ve never seen it successfully done where you’re ramming something down somebody’s throat and say, “You need to like this.” It comes back to that sense of we want people to tell us what they like, and we want to maybe push their boundaries of what they’re comfortable with a little bit, you know, “Oh, you like vodka? Well, why don’t we try gin and see how you like that?” Things of that nature.
Little Giant, you know, I think is going to be a place that people are going to feel comfortable and have a good time and eat really good food. It’s going to be very different from Hunt & Alpine and a lot of places in that it’s… Hunt and Alpine is a bar. It’s very much a bar that’s intended for the downtown, Old Port of Portland, and Little Giant’s a restaurant that’s intended for the West End community and much more of a neighborhood kind of place. It’s going to be a full restaurant. You’re going to be able to… the place that we’re very much intending where you can take children and have a nice time. You can also go on a first date and feel comfortable, and you can take your grandparents and they’re going to have a great time, too, and to really embrace the community that we’re in is something that we’ve always loved about Portland, and we’re very excited about to be doing that in the West End.
Lisa Belisle: What type of food will you have?
Andrew Volk: Continental European, neighborhood-style food. It’s really going to be simple, simple stuff that’s done better than you would have hoped it would be done. Stuff that you want to go back and have again the same week or the same month. We’re not really trying to create a special occasion kind of place, we’re just trying to create a neighborhood spot.
Briana Volk: Yeah. I mean I think with all our space with Hunt and Alpine and both with Little Giant, we really love the idea of… what’s it called, like, the third space?
Andrew Volk: Yeah.
Briana Volk: Where like, you have your home, and you have work, and then you have this third space which is like a coffee shop or a bar, somewhere. We want to create those spaces where people feel comfortable and can hang out and… One of our favorite places, which is in Portland, Oregon, and actually where we met, Andrew was my bartender there, is this place called Clyde Common. It’s been this way since it’s been opened, it’ll be for ten years this year, actually. It’s kind of… we’ve evolved with it, and it’s evolved with us. We met there, we went on numerous dates there, Andrew proposed to me there, now we go back with our daughter and hang out with our daughter there. It’s been this central location in this city for us that every time we go back, we always end up there, and so we want to create spaces like that where people can have these stories and throughout their lives to be able to tie it back to Hunt and Alpine or tie it back to Little Giant and create those memories and kind of have these places feel like a home base for them.
Lisa Belisle: I was struck… I think it was two summers ago now, but it might have been last summer because time does go by, with how social your daughter is and how willing she is to engage in conversation, interaction, whatever you want to call it, because like you, I bring my daughter or daughters or son, whoever’s available, with me to social events. I’ve always thought it was important because we don’t exist in vacuums as human beings. Your daughter clearly is very comfortable with this idea. Is this something that she… did she spring forth this way? Is this something that you’ve sort of….
Andrew Volk: I mean, from the beginning, it’s as much a function for us philosophically as parents as it is practically, as we work for ourselves, both of us, and we don’t have the ability to have full-time nanny care for our daughter. She’s come with us to events, she’s come with us to work every day since she was born. I think she was, what, seven days, two weeks old?
Briana Volk: She was 17 days old when we went to Rhode Island. Yeah.
Andrew Volk: 17 days old, we went to an event in Rhode Island, a professional event where I was serving drinks, and they were putting us up at a hotel for a weekend and so on.
Briana Volk: I had her strapped to me walking around, saying hi to people. She’s been to cocktail conferences when she was four months old in New Orleans, which you probably shouldn’t do with a kid, but… she doesn’t remember.
Andrew Volk: I was going to say nobody would know, but now they know.
Lisa Belisle: Presumably you weren’t having her taste things.
Briana Volk: No.
Andrew Volk: No, of course not. No.
Briana Volk: She was just hanging out.
Andrew Volk: Yeah. Around people who were tasting things. It’s both a function of the parenting philosophy and just practicality that she’s grown up in bars. That’s where we spend our time because we run a bar. She hangs out there, she sees deliveries coming in, she sees people coming in. Sure, I like to think some of it is that she gets her social nature from us and that we’re inherently people who can deal with these situations, but also, it’s a function of nurture and the growth that she’s… the time she’s spent in restaurants and bars.
Lisa Belisle: I personally… I think it’s very important. I think that sometimes, by creating the mom goes to work, dad goes to work, kid goes to school, you have these sort of life silos that, it’s the strange artificial barriers that people experience. Whereas if there are opportunities to bring your child with you, now obviously it doesn’t make sense all the time, but this is life. This is the reality of the relationships in the community that we live in. I know that for you, you talked about Little Giant as being a place where people will bring… obviously, they can’t necessarily bring their small children into the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club necessarily.
Briana Volk: Yeah. They can. Absolutely.
Andrew Volk: People do. We get newborns in there. As you well know and I’m sure remember, when you have a newborn and they’re sleeping, you just go with it and you make it work. If you need to grab a bite or whatever, then…. We see people in the bar at 8:00, 9:00 with a sleeping newborn, having a drink because that’s life. I remember early on when our daughter was born talking to our friend Chris Kast who said, “You know, look. You kind of get two choices as a parent. You either can conform to whatever your child dictates, or you can help them conform to your life.” They can either run with you or you follow them. It’s a choice you have to make. We’ve very much always believed she’s going to come along with us and going to live our life and she’s going to adapt to that, and certainly we have adapted our life plenty to her. She comes with us wherever we need to be.
Briana Volk: I think more and more, at least with our generation or our friends who are also parents, we’re seeing people who are really making those conscious efforts to have their kids involved in their lives and not have that separation and choose to bring them into work if they can or take them out to dinner and stuff. We go out to dinner with friends who have kids, and we all bring our kids, and most of the time, they’re wonderful.
Andrew Volk: Absolutely.
Lisa Belisle: Little Giant will be more of this. Little Giant is a place that you want people to bring their children…
Andrew Volk: Absolutely.
Briana Volk: Absolutely.
Lisa Belisle: Their parents, their grandparents. I guess I wonder how we got to a place where we needed to be separate from children. I don’t know that you guys can answer this question, but….
Andrew Volk: That’s for the generation before us. I don’t know.
Briana Volk: For us, we just work so differently than our parents work in a lot of ways. My father’s a longshoreman, and so it’s not like you can bring your kid to work because that would be frightening for many reasons. It’s just he can’t. He didn’t have that luxury to do that. We were incredibly lucky that we made the conscious effort to do this. I left full time agency work to have my own clients and work with Hunt and Alpine and work with Little Giant so we could be home with our daughter, you know, and take turns taking care of her if one of us has to work. The nice thing about me having clients during the day and him running a bar is our schedules are very different. I work during the day and he works at night for the most part, so it’s been fairly easy to do. We consciously made that decision, and that’s something we wanted.
Andrew Volk: Yeah. Pretty much so.
Lisa Belisle: Do you think this will shift with the addition of another member to the family?
Andrew Volk: We haven’t thought about that yet. Let’s find out when he comes.
Briana Volk: I think we’re in a nice position that our daughter’s in preschool now. She’s there a couple days a week so that takes a little bit of load off of taking care of two kids at once, at least from her. With him, he’ll be hanging out at meetings with me while he’s little.
Andrew Volk: Yep.
Briana Volk: We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
Lisa Belisle: I think that’s wise. You can’t really know until you’re actually there and see what the child’s personality is like and what everything around is going on. What is your hope for this year, besides get the restaurant started.
Andrew Volk: Right, and welcome our son into our family. I think… Is that enough?
Lisa Belisle: Okay, that’s great.
Andrew Volk: No, no, no. Brianna’s got more.
Briana Volk: How political do you want me to get?
Lisa Belisle: I guess I was thinking more personal. Maybe we just keep that….
Andrew Volk: I think for us, for 2017, it very much is… we have a lot of work that we’ve kind of laid the plans for, and it’s the executing of the work, which for us frankly is the exciting part, the part that we really enjoy is going out and opening a restaurant, putting together the program, putting together the staff, putting it all in place and getting those doors open and then seeing how people in the community… how they approach it, how they use it, how they enjoy it, and then certainly, welcoming our son into our family, and it is going to be something we’re excited about and going to spend a lot of time on.
Briana Volk: Yeah, and beyond that, just personally, I want to have more dinner with friends.
Andrew Volk: There we go.
Lisa Belisle: Is that why you created a restaurant so that people just… come hang out and have dinner with you?
Andrew Volk: You think that would be that easy. When you open a bar or restaurant, you don’t necessarily get to spend a lot of downtime there. Nor do you want to. Hunt and Alpine, it took us a couple of years at Hunt and Alpine to really be able to go in there and not be working. I still go in and I’m always working, but it does definitely, you create these places that you’re excited to spend time in, and our approach to restaurants and bars very much is we’re trying to create a place that we want to spend time in, and then of course the cruel irony is that when we spend time there, we’re working.
Lisa Belisle: You want to have dinner with friends but maybe not in the restaurant.
Andrew Volk: Yeah, at home.
Briana Volk: Yeah, like at our house. I want to cook dinner for friends.
Andrew Volk: We like entertaining people, yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Okay. Well, now it’s out there, so you’ll be having people calling you up and say, “Hey. Let’s have dinner.”
Briana Volk: Yeah. Call me.
Lisa Belisle: I’ve been speaking with Andrew and Briana Volk who own the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, a James Beard nominated cocktail bar in Portland’s Old Port, and this year are opening Little Giant, a restaurant and bar in Portland’s West End. They are also the parents to one fully formed and one in-formation human being, so good job with all of the work that you’re doing and keep up all the creativity, and I can’t wait to see your little child and your…
Andrew Volk: Little Giant.
Lisa Belisle: Little Giant, exactly. Thanks for coming in.
Andrew Volk: Thank you, I appreciate it. Thank you.
Briana Volk: Thanks for having us.
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Lisa Belisle: Today in the studio with me, I have Briana Holt, who is the head baker at Tandem Coffee and Bakery in Portland. She moved to Maine in 2013 and helped owners Will and Kathleen Pratt open the bakery on Congress Street in 2014. Thanks for coming in today.
Briana Holt: Thanks for having me.
Lisa Belisle: That’s a pretty fun place to work over at Tandem, I would imagine, I don’t want to assume anything, but….
Briana Holt: Yes. It’s a total blast every day. It’s really fun. I think if you get to work with your closest friends, it can be challenging and fun, but mostly it’s fun for us.
Lisa Belisle: I brought both of my daughters this weekend to Tandem. I was doing a little tour around Portland.
Briana Holt: Oh, awesome.
Lisa Belisle: I have been to the Tandem over… I think it’s where the coffee is actually roasted.
Briana Holt: Yep. In East Bayside.
Lisa Belisle: In East Bayside, and I had never been to the bakery and oh my gosh, my daughters, 21, 16, they were both, like, “When can we come back here again?” It’s such a fun, vibe but the food is really great.
Briana Holt: Thank you.
Lisa Belisle: Tell me about baking for you. Why is this your thing?
Briana Holt: Well, I think that’s a huge question. Let’s see. There’s a lot of reasons. I started doing it when I was really young, watching my grandmother and mother do it all of the time, which was pretty special. My grandmother, my mom’s mom, is from was from, Austria, and so she had, like, a little bit of an Eastern European bent to her cooking and her baking, which was really interesting, and so I got into it there. I started baking pretty young, 13 I think I was when I got my first baking job, which was at this really tiny bakery down the street from my house that had been there since the late 30’s, early 40’s. I just made donuts and hermits and lemon bars and all kinds of weird vintage, old school pastries.
Lisa Belisle: I actually know what hermits are. This is what my meme, my grandmother used to make for us, gourmet.
Briana Holt: Nice. I think of them as a Massachusetts thing because people have them all over the place there, but really they’re just kind of like a 40’s, 50’s bakery staple.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. What do hermits actually have in them? I’ve eaten….
Briana Holt: Molasses. They’re like a molasses thing. It’s a bar.
Lisa Belisle: They have raisins?
Briana Holt: Yep. Normally raisins. Sometimes nuts, but I think that’s sort of a divisive, polarizing ingredient.
Lisa Belisle: A little powdered sugar on the top sometimes?
Briana Holt: Unclear. I don’t know the answer to that.
Lisa Belisle: I think my hermits did used to have those.
Briana Holt: Ours did not at the place where I worked, but I was also 13, and I don’t really remember to be honest. I may have just forgotten the powdered sugar, which could be what I remember.
Lisa Belisle: I’ll have to go back to my meme on that and find out if I’m actually just misremembering this. Doesn’t this speak to something interesting, that you’ve just brought up a whole bunch of different really fascinating themes and one is the cultural aspect of food and one is almost the historical aspect of food, if you’re talking about hermits being from the 40’s and 50’s. How is it that something gets baked for a few decades and then doesn’t get baked anymore?
Briana Holt: I think it’s a really interesting question. I think it’s a lot of different reasons. I think you’ve got, you know, the idea of food trends, which, believe it or not, is not a new thing. People wanted, in the 40’s and 50’s, they wanted things that were really easy. That’s when industrial food started really making its way into everyone’s homes, things in cans, things in boxes, boxed brownie mix, stuff like that. That changed people’s tastes a little bit. I think anything can fall out of favor, especially if it’s hard. Things that people used to make that their grandmothers used to make, things you’d have to roll out a lot, puff pastry, strudel. Strudel, my god, like, my grandmother would make it, but you need a farmhouse table, and you roll out this dough and it’s like, ten feet long and really thin, and then you just keep doing it and keep doing it. People don’t want to do that anymore. Things that are troublesome or tricky, I guess, fall to the wayside and things take their place. I don’t know, I think people come back to flavors a lot is what it is. Something that’s comforting or exciting because they haven’t had it in a while.
I don’t know, I think now, there’s this huge resurgence of whole grains, heritage grains, and I think it’s really wonderful, but I also think what it does is it reminds people how things maybe used to taste and then they start to look elsewhere for those older flavors or older ways of baking or making things.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah, that’s an interesting point. I think that we got to the time of wonder bread, where even the bread was basically blank, and now we’re getting back to this….
Briana Holt: I wonder what’s in there?
Lisa Belisle: That’s exactly right. Now we’re getting back to a time where we want to kind of recognize the little bits that are actually popping out of the crust in our whole grain breads.
Briana Holt: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And where they came from and who grew them. Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: You grew up on Martha’s Vineyard.
Briana Holt: Mm-hmm. Sure did.
Lisa Belisle: Not to be confused with Nantucket.
Briana Holt: Not to be confused with Nantucket, a smaller, fancier island.
Lisa Belisle: But it’s still an island.
Briana Holt: Yeah. The vineyard?
Lisa Belisle: Yeah.
Briana Holt: Oh yeah.
Lisa Belisle: What was that like?
Briana Holt: It was pretty special and wonderful and perfect. I really love it there. I loved growing up there. Even if I wasn’t clear at the time on how wonderful it was, which, I guess, you’re not when you’re 14 through 17. I loved it. It’s small, and it is surrounded by the big, beautiful ocean, which I love to be around. It is full of farmers, dairy farmers, artists, cooks, musicians, and I think that I’m so lucky to have grown up in a place like that. I think it breeds a desire for creativity and also a really strong sense of being interested in things, you know? I guess if you’re the right person, and for me, that’s what it did. I think being surrounded by farms and cooks was pretty intrinsic to learning that I loved food and wanting to know what ingredients are or how to use them or why this cheese is different from this cheese or whatever. I’m pretty lucky to have grown up around that, I think.
Lisa Belisle: Trace your steps from growing up on Martha’s Vineyard to getting to Maine in 2013. What was your path?
Briana Holt: Well, it was varied. One of the things that kind of jump-started me, even if it took a break in me with the baking was working at that place I mentioned earlier, that old bakery. It was quite, quite old, you know, like wobbly wooden planks and huge, industrial-sized mixers that were made in the 30’s. Looked like they could’ve been on a warship or something. Like I said, I made donuts and things there, and it was just they had this huge, wooden table in the middle. Just huge. Like, larger than a king-sized bed. Like two king-sized beds. That’s where everybody kind of worked, rolling things across from each other, next to each other, and I just loved it. Even though I was young, I worked there from 13 to 15 probably.
Then I got through high school and went to college and kind of tried to find that culture, you know, anywhere that I could. I worked at a macrobiotic, hippie, kind of restaurant when I was in college in Northampton, which was pretty funny. Mostly it was brown rice and salmon that was served there, but there was some really good baked goods, and I kind of learned about using less sugar and things like that. That was fun to do. I would come home to Martha’s Vineyard in the summers and work at this kind of dingy, sweaty little pie shop in the back of a general store in my hometown called Alley’s and the little pie shop was called Back Alley’s. We served sandwiches and breakfast sandwiches and stuff and I made all the pies there and the muffins. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of muffins. I don’t make muffins now because I can’t…. It’s like some sort of PTSD. I worked there in the summers and then, it’s actually funny, I came back….
I worked at a few different places while I was living in Western Massachusetts but then I came home to Martha’s Vineyard and lived for a couple of years. My mother was dying of cancer, and I came home after college and lived with my parents to spend as much time as I could. Eventually, I found my way to Montauk, Long Island, where I was the pastry at a very, very fancy-pants kind of yacht club called the Montauk Yacht Club. Montauk is a very weird place. It’s pretty strange. It’s a little bit like Martha’s Vineyard, maybe a little bit like Portland. It’s full of weirdos. It’s full of people who truly believe they’ve been abducted by aliens and experimented on. There’s a old army base with a lot of ghosty stories surrounding it. There’s also quite a bit of money and several really fancy yacht clubs. I had this opportunity to run a very fancy kitchen. Lots of employees. Plated desserts, the whole nine yards, which is sort of a step in a different direction than anything I had ever done before, and it was a really great learning experience on how to tighten everything up, make everything really professional, work in a more efficient manner, learn to make things ahead of time. It was sort of like the grown up version of everything I had been doing. That was pretty special.
Then I moved to New York City, where I became one of a couple of bakers at a place called Pies & Thighs, which is a really wonderful fried chicken shack in Williamsburg. That place had been owned by a couple of friends. I was again moving forward in my baking career, always step by step, working with people that I already knew and loved. I feel like not everybody gets to do that and that’s pretty special. I baked pies and donuts at this place in Brooklyn for about four and a half years. That was really great. I made a lot of connections there, met a lot of people. Working in New York City is really great and I think that if anybody ever gets the chance to do it, they should. It’s exciting, it’s really hard, it’s really romantic. You take the train to work at 4:00 in the morning and walk through the streets of Bushwick, I don’t know. It’s just, I loved it. I loved every second of it.
I moved back to Martha’s Vineyard, where I ran a very tiny, little pastry kitchen at the renovated dingy pie shop that I had baked before. Some other friends of mine, Dan and Noni, took it over and turned it into a beautiful, beautiful spot called 7a. They have a little farm, they grow vegetables, they bring them there, they make sandwiches, soups, salads, and I took over one little corner with a table and made pies and scones and biscuits and stuff. I did that for two seasons while my dear friends Will and Kathleen were here building their coffee roasting company Tandem. Then I heeded the call and showed up here, and I was actually a barista in East Bayside for a little bit, and then we found this really great garage on Congress Street. It sort of fell into our laps in this funny way and we couldn’t say no. We jumped at the chance and built a kitchen, and now that’s where I go every day.
Lisa Belisle: It’s also where there seemed to be… I think we were there at 5:00 on a Saturday or something, and there’s still tons of people there and little families. It was the sweetest thing to see, that there were moms and dads and their toddlers and people just seemed really relaxed and the people who were working there knew the people who were eating there. It was like this little community.
Briana Holt: Yeah, and I think that is, if anything, like, the zenith of what we want to create is a little community hub. All three of us care so much about having a place where people know each other and know the people working and come and feel comfortable. I think in some ways, we’re so happy that that is something that has happened, and it is a really warm, welcoming space. It’s got those huge windows, it’s got the awning, it’s practically reaching out to you on the street. I think we’re so grateful that that fun space landed in our laps. It’s such a beautiful old building. Used to be a gas station or a place where they worked on your brakes and stuff. It still has that awesome sign that says Brakes & Shocks. For a while, I don’t know all the details about this, it would be fun to find out, but for a while, it was an eBay store. I think before it was empty for quite some time, it was an eBay store. You could go there if you didn’t have the skills to open up your computer and sell your own items on eBay, you could pay someone a hefty fee to do it for you.
Lisa Belisle: You have a very lyrical bent to your descriptions.
Briana Holt: Thanks.
Lisa Belisle: When you’re describing the large tables and the working side by side and your grandmother rolling out the dough, I can picture it. I can feel it. I can be there. Where does this come from in you?
Briana Holt: Huh. I don’t know. It would be fun to find out. I love music, maybe that might have something to do with it. I love it a lot. Listen to it all the time. I certainly don’t play, but I pretend. I learn a song here and there on my roommate’s ukulele or something. Maybe it’s some sort of deep desire to also be a singer that is reaching out through the ether. That could be it, who knows? That might be it. I read a lot, too.
Lisa Belisle: What did you study when you were in school?
Briana Holt: Well, when I first went to college, that was at U Mass Amherst, and I studied film. I was taking all the avant-garde film classes and film theory classes. I took as many as I could as a freshman. They also make you take all kinds of other classes that didn’t seem important to me, so I didn’t come so eventually they kindly asked me to leave. When you only go to your film screenings, you can’t really keep up your GPA. When you live in a town like Northampton and you have just moved from Martha’s Vineyard where your parents don’t really let you do anything, you tend to take a lot of trips in your brand new 1971 Ford LTD, and you don’t ever come back and go to class.
By studying film, really what I did was party a lot and go to film screenings. I wouldn’t change a thing, I met some really great people, and I cemented my love of film, which is something that is really important to me. I took a bunch of time off and then I went back to school at Greenfield Community College, where I studied drawing. I majored in drawing and minored in photography, I guess, but really it was drawing for me, which I still do as much as I can, or as often as I can. Taking a bunch of time off and going back to school was really great and I recommend it to anyone.
Lisa Belisle: It’s interesting that you have this remarkably creative spirit, and you physically create things, that you are actually putting your hands in dough and forming it into shapes and people eventually eat it.
Briana Holt: Yeah. That’s like the drug for me is making the thing and pulling it out of the oven. That moment of pulling it out, you know, a tray of biscuits is… when it comes out, and they do the thing that I have asked them to do with my hands, they pop up in the right way, the top looks right, they lean over just a little, that is the moment that keeps me doing it. That’s the thing that I’m addicted to, I think. It is kind of like drawing in a way. I guess it’s really important to me to share that kind of a thing with people, which is why baking in a bakery is so special, is because I can’t help it, I’m just watching people look at the biscuit they’re about to buy and hoping and wondering if they notice how it looks or how it feels. It’s really important to me…. Collaboration and sharing is really important to me, and I think that making a thing for a person and having them hold it and look at it and put in their hand and notice what it is that I’ve done is… that’s it, that’s the moment that I’m looking for every day, all day.
Lisa Belisle: It’s interesting that this is something that’s important to you and yet we have in this culture and country, we have an interesting relationship with food. We both want that, we want that intimacy, we want that beautifully created, carefully concocted piece, and then sometimes, we just think, “Oh. I just need fuel,” and we completely overlook the fact that somebody made something and put it in front of us. That’s kind of an interesting place for you to be, that you’re putting something out there into the world, and you have no idea whether somebody’s going to actually appreciate it or not.
Briana Holt: Yeah, and in some ways, it almost becomes a meditation and you, or I at least, think to myself, it doesn’t even matter if someone notices in some ways because I am making it, and I am putting it out there, and I’m doing it for someone else. In a way, that’s like a kind of energy that moves forward, regardless of what the end result is.
Lisa Belisle: That’s very Buddhist of you.
Briana Holt: I think that it is.
Lisa Belisle: This whole non-attachment thing.
Briana Holt: Yep. You have to practice non-attachment in some ways, I think, as a person who creates food, especially in a restaurant where you are kind of closed… An open kitchen may not seem this way, but it can be this funny thing where the non-attachment is harder to pay attention to because you make a thing, you watch a person take it away, so that I’m paying attention and I’m looking. In other kitchens, you make your thing, you’re looking at it, you’re making it perfect, and then you send it away. It is this funny combination of the desire to feed people and be nurturing and also just make something beautiful and just send it off into the world and hope that it does its job.
Lisa Belisle: Which is not unlike art in general. It’s not unlike writing a song or writing a story or whatever it is, that you create something, and you hope somebody will appreciate it, but you just don’t know.
Briana Holt: You don’t know. In terms of food, the thing is though is that we’re lucky because we do kind of know. Someone is eating it. It is doing it’s job. I do think there’s a brand new level of consciousness about what people are eating that, it’s meeting this idea in the middle, this idea of nourishing people, and now people who are consuming things and eating things, you know, whether it’s because healthier foods or local foods or farmed foods are definitely a food trend. People wanting to know where their food comes from or who grew it, even if they’re not sure why they want to know that. They just want to because it says so in this cool food magazine. I don’t care because I think it’s pretty great that that’s happening, but I do think we’re working towards this thing where my desire to make something and nourish someone is meeting in the middle with someone else’s desire to be nourished, a little more than it has been in the last ten, twenty, thirty years.
Lisa Belisle: I like this idea of putting energy out there and the energy of food is something that, you can look at Chinese medicine or Ayurvedic medicine or probably Western medicine….
Briana Holt: Ayurvedics love butter, I will tell you that right now. They love it.
Lisa Belisle: I don’t know what the energy of butter is specifically, but in other cultures, food actually has a specific energy to it. You’re describing a human energy that is put into the food, and I think there’s also this idea of energy that is put into growing a food. I’m not sure that all of us, it seems like kind of a, it’s almost an unprovable thing that there’s energy that goes into this, and yet we know it’s so.
Briana Holt: Yeah. It’s funny, I do feel like we all have to come together in general in the world, especially now, but in some ways, you have to get a little bit of the way on your own and figure something out, and sometimes I think that involves just trusting a feeling you have and knowing even if you don’t understand necessarily what, for instance, what a certain type of food, like what kind of energy that has, which can come from anything. It can come from a culture or a religion, like saying, “Oh, oil has this property, this spiritual property.” It can also come from, “This oil was produced in this type of way with this type of machinery and that produces this kind of energy and hires this many people.” All those things are real. All those different energies are real. I do think that in some ways, you have to figure that out for yourself or hold that within yourself in order to offer it out. It’s something that I’m growing and learning about right now as well. I think everybody is coming together in this new understanding of what eating is and cooking, which is exciting.
Lisa Belisle: Each of my daughters bought something that had a biscuit in it. They get a lot of good food, they’re very lucky that way. One of them ate the biscuit, loved it, ate it right away, she just couldn’t stop raving about it, thought it was wonderful. The other one, who, you know, she’s a little picky, if something doesn’t taste good, she’ll throw it away or compost it, whatever. She actually ate half of it and saved the rest for the next day and then went to the trouble of heating it up in the oven so she could eat the rest of it the next day. Whatever energy it is or ingredients or combination of things, even going to Tandem itself and having that experience, really made for these little special delicacies that both of my daughters appreciated.
Briana Holt: That is so nice to hear. I love when someone doesn’t finish something, saves it, and heats it up, or even just eats it the next day. I think that’s a true compliment. Something I know about myself is that I am very celebratory, whether or not there’s something that needs to be celebrated. I think that’s kind of how I spend my days is getting excited about things and wanting to celebrate. It comes out in my food. If you stand at the pastry counter on a Saturday morning at 8:00 when everything is out, you won’t really find too many things that don’t have a little bit of fireworks in them. There’s a few things, more than a few things, topped with flaky sea salt. There’s more than a few things that have too much butter in them. There’s more than a few things that are frosted with brown butter cream cheese. It’s something that’s in me that I can’t deny, and so it’s nice to hear when people get something there and eat it and feel kind of, like, celebratory in that way. I get excited, and I think it comes through.
Lisa Belisle: I encourage people to go to Tandem, actually, either one, but if they want to go to the bakery, then they need to go to Congress Street.
Briana Holt: Yep. Although we do send every day some tasty things down to the little shop.
Lisa Belisle: I will definitely be doing that myself and I’m sure anybody who’s listening now probably wants to go have a biscuit with maple butter on top of it on a Sunday morning. That’s probably going to happen, so you just now started a big stampede towards Tandem.
Briana Holt: I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m going to make more.
Lisa Belisle: That’s good. That sounds great. I appreciate this. I appreciate the fact that you’re bringing this great energy into the world and great food into the world, and thank you for feeding my daughters.
Briana Holt: You’re welcome.
Lisa Belisle: That was very nice of you. I’ve been speaking with Briana Holt who is the head baker at Tandem Coffee and Bakery in Portland. I really appreciate the work that you’re doing. Thank you so much.
Briana Holt: Thank you. It is what I do, and I can’t help it, and I just can’t wait to do more of it.
Lisa Belisle: You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, Show #279, Neighborhood Nourishment. Our guests have included Briana and Andrew Volk and Briana Holt. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as Dr. Lisa and see my running travel, food and wellness photos as bountiful1 on Instagram. We’d love to hear from you, so please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are privileged that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. I hope that you have enjoyed our Neighborhood Nourishment show. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your day. May you have a bountiful life.
Speaker 1: Love Maine Radio is made possible with the support of Berlin City Honda, The Rooms by Harding Lee Smith, Maine Magazine, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music have been provided by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producer is Paul Koenig. Our assistant producer is Shelly Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Lisa Belisle. For more information on our host production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at