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Josh Short‘s day began at 4 a.m. The pastry chef at Alexandria’s Buzz Bakeryarrives as the night crew finishes baking the day’s cupcakes. Many of these will be sold at Buzz, but Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which owns Buzz, also wholesales to places like Peregrine Espresso, Misha’s in Old Town, and On the Fly. Short and his crew also make many of the desserts for NRG’s other restaurants—Evening Star in Del Ray, Vermilion in Old Town, Tallulah and EatBar in Arlington, and Rustico, which is across the street from Buzz.
Short shows me the kitchen’s three ovens and proof box, as well as a fridge full of unbaked cookies.
Buzz takes a lot of care to source its ingredients. Six hundred pounds of King Arthur flour arrived yesterday, along with 500 pounds of granulated sugar. These “will be gone by Monday,” says Short, who writes me a list of what Buzz went through last month.
Short brings me into the cake-decorating room, where an array of clear boxes hold different sprinkles. There’s also an ice cream machine, which Short says came from the Willard. Here they make the ice cream for all NRG’s restaurants, in small batches, three quarts at a time. Short takes down a jar in which he’s making his own vanilla extract.
Inside a large number of vanilla beans swim in a half-vodka, half-bourbon solution. Short lets it stew for a couple months, discards the beans, and presto.
Short, like Carman, is from Nebraska. He started his professional career in Las Vegas and moved to D.C. to work at Red Sage. Later he and Frank Morales, now chef at Rustico, worked together at Zola. Short started his own business in Charlottesville, From Scratch Bakery Co., but he’s not involved with that anymore. He came back up here and is very happy at NRG.
One of the things he likes to do is collaborate with other NRG chefs on desserts. For example, Evening Star’s Chef Candy Bar. Short does the brownie with peanut butter mousse part of that.
Out in the front of the house, it’s 6:58 a.m. and Feist is playing. Shift Manager Patrick Stilwell is bantering with customers, getting one to try a blueberry muffin. Regulars wander in. “Hey guys, two mochas?” says the other counter worker.
Much of Buzz’s clientele lives in the Slaters Lane area, a weird development between Del Ray and Old Town that has been locked between Route 1 and the George Washington Parkway for years. That’ll change with the massive development going on by Potomac Yards, which will stitch Slaters Lane and Del Ray together. During some of the road construction, Short says, business at Buzz dropped. But the coffee shop’s “huge neighborhood following,” he says, plus NRG’s Star Catering, pulled them through.
At 7:05, Assistant Manager Megan “Sully” Sullivan arrives. A native of New Hampshire, Sullivan joined Whole Foods after attending the College of Charleston, S.C., and was on a leadership track there, which brought her to D.C. She worked at a bunch of area Whole Foods, including P Street.
One day she stopped into Buzz and “was like, Oh my God, I love this place, it’s so cute.” A friend got her an application, and she became a barista to make some extra cash. She loved Buzz and eventually had to decide whether to continue at Whole Foods, where “as nice as some of the perks are, there’s also a list of guidelines,” and Buzz, where she could exercise her creative impulses, some of which are manifest on the menu boards.
“I really like the community aspect” of Buzz, says Sullivan, who says that though Whole Foods had regulars, it was mostly a “constant flow of whoever.” Plus NRG, a family-run business, runs very much like a family. Last year, when gas was over $4 a gallon and Sullivan’s commute from D.C. was causing her a lot of trouble, she mentioned it to someone at work. The Babins, who own NRG, called her to tell her about an apartment in the nearby Rosemont neighborhood that they found out about, and she’s been very happy there. Also they’ve arranged her schedule so she has time to let out her dogs during the day.
A customer with a New Kids on the Block T-shirt comes in. Sullivan tells her about how much she and her friends loved NKOTB when they were younger. Stilwell scoffs at the New Kids’ upcoming concert. “Pat, I know you’ve already bought your tickets,” Sullivan teases.
Short brings me out a strawberry from a farm in North Carolina. They’ve just gotten them in and will make jam from them this weekend. It’s the best strawberry I’ve ever tasted.