These days, pop-ups, takeout dinner kits, and ordering online are just some options restaurants, and consumers alike have had to navigate in the new pandemic-normal. For Ben’s Bread however, husband-and-wife duo Ben and Megan Campbell have been operating bread pop-ups for almost six years. Last year when brick-and-mortar establishments shuttered temporarily, to later transition to takeout, Ben’s Bread maintained their monthly pop-ups at Southpaw on 12th Ave. throughout the pandemic without missing a beat.
“When we first started . . . I remember having to explain to people, ‘Okay, you just order and you pay for it online, and you show up at this place and time where it’s ready for you. You don’t have to pay once you show up.’” Campbell said. “That was so much of our effort was convincing people that we were real people who weren’t trying to take their money, and they’d show up and there would be bread. Now . . . . People are used to looking online for where to get their food, planning it in advance, going out of their way and making a little extra effort to find something they think is going to be special. We were already set up to do that.”
Over the last year, Ben’s Bread has only increased their production, and picked up a couple of new wholesale accounts: Gravy on Vashon, and the Corson Building in Georgetown. They have collaborated with pop-ups like Blotto and Cookie’s Country Chicken. Ben’s Bread has also tripled the variety of offerings, and expanded to a second pick-up location at Ebb & Company in Ravenna (and sometimes at Willmott’s Ghost in the Amazon Spheres).
All of Campbell’s breads like Seeded Sourdough, Caraway Rye, English Muffins, and Parker House Rolls are made without commercial yeast, with local ingredients, and organic whole grains.
New non-bread items have also filled out their menu, like Malted Milk Shortbread Cookies with Theo’s Chocolate, and Cheez-Isnts Cheddar Crackers, which Campbell said “sells out in like two minutes” after he adds them to the website for pre-order. They have also added a delivery option for both Seattle and the Eastside.
“We’ve been able to drastically expand and reach a lot of new people.” Campbell said. “It seems like people want bread right now. We’re just giving it to them.”
Before launching the family business, Campbell was working as a line cook at Lark, headed by James Beard award-winning chef John Sundstrom. Sundstrom opened his pizza joint Southpaw in 2016. With little bread making experience, Campbell initiated Lark’s in-house bread program.
“People kept really liking the bread and saying, ‘Why don’t you sell this?’ Or, ‘You could do this on your own,’” Campbell remembered. “I had just been so involved in trying to make stuff for the restaurant, and trying to get it all figured out, but that did feel right, to take that and make something that was our own, to have a business together [with Megan], and go from there.”
In 2015, he started Ben’s Bread with Megan, launching a pre-order system on their website and centering around monthly pop-ups at Southpaw. Ben’s Bread donates a portion of their proceeds to Green Plate Special, a nonprofit that empowers youth through growing, cooking and sharing food.
By 2017, Campbell was preparing to leave Lark and bring Ben’s Bread to farmers markets when he was approached by Renee Erickson, chef, author, and restaurateur, and executive chef Bobby Palmquist of the Sea Creatures restaurant group. They were opening several restaurants in the Amazon Spheres, including the Deep Dive bar and Willmott’s Ghost, and wanted someone onsite to bake bread for them. “After some thought, we ultimately decided that was an opportunity that was too good to pass up.”
In about two and a half years, Campbell became the head baker for the company, making bread for other Sea Creatures restaurants around town like Bateau, Willmott’s Ghost, The Whale Wins, Westward, and The Walrus And The Carpenter.
Campbell was recognized as a StarChefs Rising Star, and like the other up-and-coming Seattle chefs, sommeliers, bartenders, and restaurateurs with the same recognition, was featured at the StarChefs gala last February at Block 41 in Belltown.
Campbell prepared his Benne Miso Scallion loaf for the gala. The loaf is a representation of Campbell’s influences, using benne seeds grown in the south, a nod to the baker’s familial Tennessee roots, and Washington-sourced ingredients. Benne seeds are like sesame seeds, but “there’s this real, full, deep flavor to them, more than the simplicity of the sesame seed,” and scallions can be exchanged for leeks, spring onions, or ramps depending on what’s in season. Campbell’s fascination with all things fermentation led him to explore making his own miso as well.
“It’s a really flavorful bread, we brought a lot to the table. It’s really savory. I think the more I made it, the more I was surprised–it sounds like a really specific bread that you can only do one or two things [with it] but it really works with a lot of flavors,” he said.
Since then, and in spite of the pandemic, demand has only increased for Ben’s Bread. Despite the success and expansion of inventory throughout last year, the company remains family-run—for now.
“My wife and I have been working on plans for a retail space,” Campbell said. “We don’t have a lot to share about yet, but later this year we’ll probably be doing some version of that.”
Check out Ben’s Bread offerings on their website, and sign up for email notifications about the next pop-up events.
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