By Sam Prickett
According to Kristen Farmer Hall, “the Bandit journey” started in October 2013, when she and her daughters came up with the idea to bake and deliver pastries to their neighbors.
“We’d ring the doorbell and run away, so we became known as ‘the Baking Bandits,’” Hall said.
Now, with the just-opened Bandit Patisserie, Hall has brought her pastries out into the open. The coffee shop and café occupies the same Homewood storefront that once housed Octane and, later, Revelator’s Sweet Jon’s Café, at 2821 Central Ave., Suite 105.
While most of the space’s floor plan remains the same, give or take a cocktail bar and a standalone coffee station, one big change is a window that allows customers to watch their pastries being made.
“Obviously, this space has had a long history of coffee shops,” Halls said. “This ended up being a perfect space for us because it had that history, but it also had this open kitchen concept for the bakery. We wanted to be able to showcase that all of our pastries are made from scratch and by hand and just to sort of really involve our guests with the experience of their pastry being made.”
That window into Bandit’s bakery is important, Hall said, because “how food is made can be lost a little bit in restaurants because things can happen behind closed doors. Plates of food come out, but you don’t really get to see the art and the passion that goes into the food that you eat. I wanted people to be able to see that what we do is very classic … . We get to wave to people and people just get to see that we love what we do, and I think that would be lost if you couldn’t see it.”
Bandit is the latest in a series of eateries from Hall and co-owner Victor King. The duo previously had started Feast & Forest, a downtown Birmingham restaurant that opened in 2015 before “evolving” into the Essential, a new restaurant and larger space on Birmingham’s Morris Avenue, in 2018.
Hall and King said that their previous experiences opening restaurants meant that Bandit opened with a built-in infrastructure of employees and management. That’s a contrast from their time owning Feast & Forest, Hall said, when they worked “as the managers and the owners and the dishwashers and the plumbers.”
“As we’ve accumulated a really cool community of people that work for us and know us, we’ve really been able to start with a really strong management structure,” King said. “We’ve grown as owners, and opening here, we started with a lot of those bones in place. It’s made it really cool and easier to have a team of people working toward the same goal instead of two people trying to drag everyone else along.”
Culinarily, Bandit Patisserie serves as a continuation of what Hall and King developed with Feast & Forest and the Essential, King said, “very seasonal, simple café food … . but then, we’ve got some new things here, too.”
Croissants are the Thing
Hall is quick to emphasize that Bandit “is a little bit different from the traditional bakery,” mostly due to its focus on croissants.
“You’re going to see a lot more lamination – basically how croissant dough is made with layers of butter and dough together – and there’s a lot more croissant work and a lot less icing,” Hall said. “Lamination is the foundation of probably 60% of our pastry cakes. We wanted this to be a place to gather to celebrate simple things in life, and that involves a lot of pastry.”
Bandit offers items from its breakfast menu from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., which includes salmon toast, breakfast sandwiches and sweet and savory waffles.
“Breakfast is kind of our love language, and a lot of people’s, too, actually,” Hall said. “We knew that this was going to be a place where people were going to grab a morning pastry and coffee and then go to work. Or they were going to stay here and work and do freelance … . We’re really just interested in feeding people light, seasonal food.”
For the lunch menu, which is offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Bandit offers “very seasonal, simple café food,” King said, much of which is built around sourdough bread, which he said plays “a huge role.”
Bandit opened its doors on Nov. 1, and its reception by the Homewood community has been “so kind,” King said.
“Obviously, it’s a very welcoming community, and we went into a space that was already a coffee shop, so I think it’s been a natural progression,” Hall said. But there was also a customer base, she added, that wanted a follow-up to Feast & Forest. “Just over time, I think people knew Baking Bandits and knew my work,” she said. “When Feast closed, there was a hole left to fill … . It’s been six years of investing in relationships specific to pastry and building those friendships along the way.”
The goal for Bandit Patisserie and the way it will differentiate itself from her previous restaurants, she said, is in its role as a neighborhood coffee shop.
“Our other projects have been downtown, and this is our first one that’s been embedded in a neighborhood,” she said. “I think we really wanted to honor the past that was here, but obviously this is a new era for this space and really a sort of revival for a space that had been much-loved and then kind of went away.”