For years, pastry chef Thoa Nguyen dreamed of running her own Parisian-style Asian fusion bakery in Colorado. It just took a family business, a few years, and the perfect location to finally bring Banh & Butter Bakery Cafe to life at 9935 East Colfax Avenue.
“It was like a full five-year plan,” says Nguyen. “I left the family business, worked at Whole Foods to learn the corporate side, went to Escoffier School of Culinary Arts and worked as a pastry instructor. All of that left me time to work on the business plan.”
The first time Nguyen truly embraced the art of French pastry was in 2010, when she moved to France from Denver to attend school. She fell in love with the delicate layers of pastry, flaky croissants and signature baguettes. She knew then that of all the dishes to be prepared, it was the French pastry that was close to her heart.
She also knew she wanted to bring those skills home. While she was abroad, her parents, who owned Vietnamese restaurant New Saigon, started building New Saigon Bakery with the idea that their daughter would take over when she got home and have the bakery of her dreams. But it didn’t happen that way.
“My mom let me create a menu and take care of my French pastry and the cake side, and she took care of the banh mi,” says Nguyen of New Saigon Bakery. “But because of banh mi’s reputation, there was nothing we did that I could really bring my French experience to.”
She caused a stir with her perfect pancakes, their delicate layers rising to create soft rainbows and chocolate masterpieces. But while Nguyen loves pancakes, it became the only thing she did in New Saigon. Everyone wanted one, and since she was alone on the bakery side, there was no time for those buttery flaky pastries and puff pastry she dreamed of making.
“New Saigon was a family vision, not my vision, and my parents knew I had plans and was looking for my own space,” notes Nguyen, who struggled to leave the business his parents had built for him. her but knew she needed her. own project. “I couldn’t put my skills in French, because it’s more about Vietnamese pastry.”
With Banh & Butter, she wanted to use the French techniques she learned while adding a bit of her own culture to the mix. That’s why guests can get a slice of her signature crepe cake as well as an ube-mochi cupcake and an almond croissant parfait with a matcha-infused cruffin, which is a cross between a muffin and a croissant. The place also serves banh mi alongside classic Parisian-style ham and butter sandwiches. Nguyen uses the same bread recipe as New Saigon, but with a slight hydration tweak to make the baguettes more like those in France instead of the big, hoagie-like puff rolls at his parents. Both are delicious, but unique to each location.
“I remember walking in Lyon [France]and every bakery had a baguette sandwich that you grab on the go and eat,” Nguyen recalls. “That’s why I wanted this sandwich experience here. »
Nguyen has found his dream bakery in the former third culture space on East Colfax next to Baba & Pop’s Pierogi. The neighborhood slowly transformed into an arts district, something that appealed to her and helped her decide what kind of vibe she wanted. The idea, she says, is to create a community around coffee and support artists like her. After all, she adds, a pastry chef is also an artist.
Inside, among cases laden with artfully designed pastries in shades of purple, pink, brown, green and beige, artwork by local designers line the walls. In one corner, shelves of beautiful plants curated by Living Decor Store occupy their residence, along with pots and even more photos and paintings. All of this is available for purchase, and this aspect is something that Nguyen wants to continue to develop and promote in his bakery.
Not only does Nguyen now run his own bakery, but his sister, An Nguyen, owns Savory Vietnam (2200 West Alameda Avenue), Westword’s 2022 Denver’s Top Pick for Best Vietnamese Restaurant. Saigon’s new bakery is still going strong, with her parents running the show and making those popular banh mi sandwiches and other Vietnamese treats. As for her parents, Nguyen says they love her new bakery and cafe and are very proud of what she has built – and from the lines of a recent Saturday, the neighborhood is happy too let her be there.
Banh & Butter is located at 9935 East Colfax Avenue and is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit banhandbutter.com.