Before Ben Campbell built a reputation as a savant of Washington grain, he was a line cook at Lark, trying to wrap his culinary brain around an unfamiliar assignment: start an in-house bread program. He had no experience with sourdough starters or the finer points of shaping loaves. Clearly, the learning curve didn’t faze him—two years later, Lark was making 10 different styles of bread in house.
He went on to found the Ben’s Bread popup, remaining a farmers market and preorder favorite even after he worked as head baker for Renee Erickson’s Sea Creatures restaurant group. Now, Campbell and his wife and business partner, Megan, are opening a bread-focused cafe in Phinney Ridge. The menu will loop Campbell’s original culinary training back into his subsequent status as part of the vanguard of local-grain breadmaking.
Ben’s Bread Co. will sell whole loaves and english muffins, plus morning coffee and a pastry lineup that includes doughnuts, biscuits, pound cake and “obviously lots of cookies.” Expect toast at breakfast and sandwiches (and salads and grain bowls) at lunch. “It’s in the name,” says Campbell. “The thing that we really like to do is be able to make and sell bread.”
He loved Italian breadmaking traditions even before he devised the Roman-style pizza and ethereal focaccia at Willmott’s Ghost. The latter, plus ciabatta and a simple pizza bianca will likely make their way to his Phinney Ridge kitchen. The simplicity and emphasis on flavor over perfection captures what he’s about, says Campbell. “All that shaping and beautiful scoring, the pristine nature of bread—that’s not ever going to be what we do.”
Perfection comes in plenty of different shapes. Campbell's wares might not embrace perfection in the manner of a precisely laminated croissant, but Ben’s Bread surely achieves greatness. The baker was an early advocate for local grains recently available thanks to operations like Cairnspring Mills. Campbell tries to source his grain and flour within Washington, an impressive feat even if “sometimes we creep into Oregon or Idaho.”
The Campbells plan to add brunch service and even some baking classes. The longer-term plan includes a dinner menu. Pizza nights, perhaps, or other “things that are centered around bread or dough.” For now, though, Ben’s Bread will open evening hours to popups or other food businesses trying to get a toehold in this town—a way to repay the universe for all the restaurant owners who let him do popups and production out of their spaces along the way. A takeout window near the back of the building will help with evening food handoffs.
Ben’s Bread Co. will open in late fall in a new construction project at 7009 Greenwood Ave N. Meanwhile, Campbell is exploring another, vastly underheralded, style of pizza. Look for a french bread pizza collab with Post Alley Pizza July 22.