Bread & Company: New Member Spotlight

More than 20 years ago, three friends became business partners when they decided to open an artisan café on Highway 100, on the outskirts of Belle Meade. Anne Clay spearheaded the business, which the trio called Bread & Company. They only placed 15 seats in the dining room to start, and sold freshly made breads, breakfast pastries and desserts during the day.

Now with three locations—in Green Hills, just off West End and a newer, bigger shop in Belle Meade—the restaurant has become a Nashville landmark know for the artisan goods baked each morning. And while the quality hasn’t changed, Bread & Company is serving a much larger crowd than they could have imagined when they set out those first 15 chairs.

While Anne remains involved, her son John Clay began working for Bread & Company in 1999 and gained full ownership within five years. Executive Pastry Chef Karen Bess has been with the company since 2000, and has watched the once-small shop grow into a major force in Nashville.

“Bread & Company’s growth has been a natural progression,” Karen explains. “John and Anne listened to their customers and grew based on their wants. Slowly we added the sandwich bar, the salad bar, breakfast and so on.”

BreadCo-7750Today, Bread & Company is open seven days a week, serving anything from made-to-order sandwiches and pasta salads to holiday cookies and coffee drinks, and the special kids’ menu offers picky eater-friendly options like grilled cheese, chicken fingers and fruit. With two decades under its belt, it’s now a go-to spot for business meetings, lunch dates and Saturday brunches.

If you’re still wondering what the hoopla is all about, step into any of the three locations during lunch hours and you’ll find yourself in the midst of organized chaos. People are racing around, filling out sandwich orders, snagging boxed salads from the shelves and queuing up in front of the fruit tea dispenser. Ask around, and some may argue that to be a true Nashville local means knowing how to navigate a Bread & Company lunch rush.

Sure, you might spot Nicole Kidman ordering a Cobb salad one register down from you, but that’s not why the crowds come. It’s because the passion for hand-made, freshly baked goods shines through in every item on the menu.  That’s why regulars keep on working their way to the deli counter and waiting in line for 10 minutes for a side of that delicious penne pesto pasta salad. You know the one I’m talking about.

“It’s definitely a destination spot for locals,” Karen says. “Most people who walk in know exactly what they’re gonna get.”

Some of the restaurant’s most popular items include the strawberry fields salad, the unique-to-Nashville fruit tea that holds many devotees, tomato basil soup served in a bread bowl, the plain sugar cookies and the Iroquois: their award-winning almond-tarragon chicken salad sandwich made with green leaf lettuce and tomatoes resting between two slices of their heavenly cranberry pecan bread.

And then there are the early-morning offerings. With extended breakfast hours on the weekend, customers can enjoy prepared-to-order items like French toast—made out of the previously mentioned heavenly cranberry pecan bread—waffles, yogurt parfaits, French-inspired pastries and personal omelets crafted at the omelet bar.

In addition to the extensive in-store offerings, Bread & Company also caters. Business lunches, book clubs, graduation parties—you name it and the restaurant’s team is there with a sandwich platter, 10 boxed specialty salads and the prettiest cookie and brownie plate you’ve ever feasted your eyes upon.

So what’s the answer to the Nashville staple’s longevity and quasi-religious following? Karen says it stems from Anne Clay’s original business plan.

“We’ve been members of the community for 23 years. Everything’s been made from scratch and made fresh since day one. We’ve never veered from that, and that makes us unique.”