Barrio Bakery and Café
One of the best parts of neighborhood living is discovering the spots that make it feel like home, whether a library, a community center or, more often than not, a café. Residents of Burlington’s Old North End can count themselves among the lucky ones. Only a brief jaunt from the center of downtown Burlington, meandering along North Winooski Avenue, lies Barrio Bakery & Café, where sun streams through large windows and gently warms buttery pastries just waiting to be enjoyed with a cup of Vermont Artisan coffee.
While the love behind this venture is palpable to any patron who tastes a tea cake at their Burlington Farmers’ Market stand, the husband and wife duo Ryan and Jessica Bunce, who run Barrio with their two young sons, are the reason why. The couple met at the end of their freshman year at Northern Arizona University. Ryan asked Jessica to study for a final exam together and so began their joint pursuit of life and business adventures.
As the couple became acquainted, Jessica learned that Ryan had a background in baking and hailed from a long line of Italian chefs. Food was a significant part of his upbringing, and Ryan nabbed his first kitchen job as a dishwasher at the age of 14, quickly working his way up the ranks to a cooking position. Since then, he has worked in numerous restaurants, whereas Jessica’s background is more business focused, an ideal complement. Jessica, a self-described “breakfast fanatic,” has had a lifelong passion for bakeries, which has made having one around the corner from wherever the couple has lived an absolute requirement. When taken in sum, all of these elements led to the natural conclusion that opening their own bakery was in order.
Barrio’s location, smack in the middle of a thriving neighborhood, makes it it integral to the community. People can grab a coffee on the morning commute or a post-work pizza on the way home. Jessica and Ryan knew it was the spot for them as soon as they laid eyes on it. “We saw it as the center of the neighborhood, the community gathering place, the neighborhood’s living room or, more so, the neighborhood’s dining room,” Jessica says.
The Bunces purchased the bakery from David Cannizzaro and Lyndsay Klepper in 2010. Cannizzaro had started as a vendor at the Burlington Farmers’ Market in the early 2000s. Several years later, Canniz- zaro and Klepper opened a small brick and mortar in the Old North End in what is now Barrio’s kitchen side of the bakery. Within a year of the Bunces’ purchase of their bakery, they expanded to what is now their café/ restaurant side, formerly Viva Espresso.
When the Bunces bought the bakery, it was named Panadero, but as they expanded, so did Panera Bread nearby, creating confusion among customers.“We had one customer alert us to a rumor about how we were getting frozen goods delivered to our back door, and it turns out the rumor was about Panera, but just like the childhood game of telephone, Panera had turned into Panadero. At that point in time it was just Ryan and myself working very hard for way too many hours to make everything from scratch and up to Ryan’s quality standards ... with two babies underfoot. So it was that much more heartbreaking that customers could be thinking that of our products,” Jessica recalls.
Since they had purchased the business with the Panadero name, there wasn’t an emotional attachment to contend with when the need to change it arose. They chose the name “Barrio” because it means neighborhood. The perfect fit for the location and the couple’s concept. “First and fore- most, we are a neighborhood bakery, just like the neighborhood bakeries that were so important and inspirational to us when we were younger,” Jessica says.
Over the years, like many business owners, the Bunces have had their share of highs and lows, like when their cooler broke down when a na- tionwide cooking show, Bite This with Nadia G, came to film for the Cooking Channel. However, as a whole, making it onto the show was a major coup for Barrio. Another re- warding aspect of their business continues to be interfacing with customers, fellow vendors and farmers alike at the Burlington Farmers’ Market, where the overarching sense of community is strong.
Just two years after purchasing the bakery, the duo felt it was time to launch another aspect of their busi- ness: a pizza restaurant! Five nights per week, the lights get turned down low and soft music emanates from speakers or live, local musicians such as Eric George or vocal trio EmaLou. Wine, beer, salads and seasonal specials are thoughtfully prepared and beautifully presented. The ambience is at once gracious, comforting and enticingly aromatic. The Bunces thought if they did it right, “It could feel like a hidden (hopefully, not too hidden) gem of a restaurant in the Old North End.” Well, they have succeeded. Pizza Barrio will be celebrating its fourth anniversary this summer.
The selection of salads, pizzas and desserts at Pizza Barrio evolves seasonally; think an arugula salad with fresh buffalo mozzarella, asparagus and lem- on to welcome spring or a local straw- berry rhubarb tart enjoyed in one of their Adirondack chairs at sunset. The pizzas themselves range from classic combinations like tomato, basil and mozzarella to the Green Mountain, a combination of Gore-Dawn-Zola blue cheese, ricotta, arugula and honey. All pizzas are available on a gluten-free crust as well and are equally as deli- cious.
Now staffed with 13 employees, including full-time manager Leah Daws, a “wonder worker” in Jessica’s eyes, the couple is finally beginning to feel that there are enough hours in the day. So is Barrio here to stay? “Oh yes!” Jessica exclaims. “We will stay here for as long as there is the demand. The Old North End supported us as we grew and changed, and we plan to support them with coffee and good food for as long as we can.”
Corey’s favorite Barrio delicacies are the gluten-free lemon lavender tea cakes and, in the height of summer, the pizza festooned with local heirloom tomatoes.