Here's the story, of a lovely Belleview bakery cafe...
Bread & water Company was founded by Markos Panas with the help of his father John Panas in 2011. Built on a long established family owned wholesale baking business, Markos and his father began selling handmade artisan breads and pastries in local area farmers markets after they saw a appetite for artisan quality baked goods. They produced unique products to the highest standards, used quality ingredients and brought their own family charm to what was a rapidly developing and popular form of retail- producer/seller. Markos and John, an exceptionally warm and charismatic father and son duo, quickly built up large followings of folks who lined up to buy their bread and croissants. They always took the time to share a moment of personal connection and laughter and customers loved the people and their stories as much as they loved the products. It was hard work with very long hours spent rain or shine producing, packing, transporting, setting up, selling, tearing down and cleaning up. After a few years they decided it was time for Markos to take the reins and open his own artisan bakery.
They found a perfect space in Alexandria, a four thousand foot facility in the Belle View Shopping Center that had formerly belonged to Brenner’s Bakery. From an empty shell, they created a space to do large volume bread and pastry production plus added a café with a full kitchen. Markos named it Bread & Water Company. The name invites conversations with customers- whether you think of harsh prison rations or humble yet nourishing sustenance the concept conjures the joy of genuine craftsmanship to be savored in our otherwise hectic modern lives.
In November 2013, Markos hired Noelie Rickey as chef and General Manager. Noelie is originally from Seattle but has lived and worked in Alexandria since 2009. She is a formally trained pastry chef and has a varied background which includes business ownership, retail and wholesale sales/purchasing as well as extensive experience in business and people management. Together they opened the storefront in December 2013 selling espresso drinks, fresh bread, house made croissants and French pastry along with a few breakfast items and fresh soups. They continued to sell breads and pastry in area farmers markets, where they traded their breads with local farmers to bring local produce back to the shop to be made into food sold in the café. A small family operation, they didn’t have a lot of money to spend on ingredients so bartering became the primary way to supply the restaurant and so it truly was farm to table with daily menu rotation based solely on what was available through trade. Customers quickly began to appreciate the small menu of high quality comfort foods available and regulars would come in each day to talk with Noelie about what she was cooking for lunch. The artisan concept quickly became a daily neighborhood staple where you could pick up a fresh baguette, a cappuccino and a unique sandwich.
In 2018 Markos and Noelie met Dagmawi (Doug) Abedje. He was having a cup of coffee one day in the Arlington location and Markos struck up a conversation. It was the start of a wonderful friendship and eventually business partnership. He has over 25 years experience in restaurant operations and has opened dozens of concepts as a consultant, owner or employee with many very well known DC area brands. From the start, Dagmawi saw ways to help the business grow and become more financially viable. He brought invaluable insights and knowledge to the operation and has become an integral part of all the concepts. His can do attitude helped the business enter it’s next phase which was to develop and open new concepts. He is now a vested partner and manages the daily operations and financial aspects of the businesses.
Over the years the concept grew and more things where added. At the end of 2019 the business had 50 employees, sold at twelve weekly farmers markets as well as servicing over 40 area wholesale accounts that included Blue Duck Tavern, The Inn at Little Washington, The Nationals Stadium and the Sfoglina restaurants in DC. When the Covid shutdowns began most restaurants closed down operations for what they thought would be two weeks of quarantine, Bread & Water made a difficult decision and elected to remain open in order to preserve employment for as many staff members as possible. Overnight the business was transformed into a take out only operation that sold freshly made foods out of our large opening windows at the front of the store. Customers were able to line up outside under a covered walkway at a safe distance from each other and still get all the familiar products they had come to rely on from the same familiar people. Ours was the only restaurant in the community that stayed open and customers were grateful to have a continued sense of the familiar despite the very uncertain times. During this time of dealing with so many unknowns, we learned how to sell food online, how to be a take out only business and how to streamline our operations in order to efficiently operate the business in leaner times. Almost overnight we had to stop selling in farmers markets and wholesale which allowed us to focus resources on retail and eventually lead us to develop several new concepts- Bun Papa, BeeLiner Diner, Tower Cakes, ALX Pizza and Boom Chicky.
In February 2021 Bun Papa was born inside of Bread & Water as an evening pop up store after the bakery closed at 5pm. It very quickly garnered a lot of media and influencer attention and was frequently featured in magazines and on Instagram. The concept was built around providing more work for our talented bakery staff. We make brioche buns by hand using butter, milk and fresh eggs. The buns are beautiful to look and even better to eat and make the perfect vessels for fried chicken and hamburgers. Through a partnership with Chef Patrick Tanyag, an entire concept was built around these amazing buns-- “we make the worlds best buns and put the best stuff in them!” Today Bun Papa has three locations- one at the bakery, one at The Capital Arena and one inside of our newest concept BeeLiner Diner. In 2022 Bun Papa won the RAMW award for Outstanding Pop Up after being nominated in the category two years in a row. In 2023 we won
So that's one story of many, and while it's been hard-fought, as we enter into the home stretch of 2023 it's also been full of happiness as we have grown with you, our community and customers. We look forward to spending this Autumn, the Holidays and ringing in the New Year once again.