Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

By Bread Alone

Story by Noel Nicholas. Photos by Elyse Butler.

“There’s nothing radical or wacky about how we bake, but this is something different for Hawai‘i,” Christopher Sy says of Breadshop, his craft bread bakery in Kaimukī. It offers just five types of bread, all baked on the morning of the day they’re sold. What doesn’t sell by closing time is donated to a food bank to make room for the next day’s lineup.

Before opening Breadshop, Sy gained a following for his bread at O‘ahu farmers markets and pop-up restaurants, where he sold two styles of sourdough, a tangy white bread called the City and a nutty brown bread called the Country. Those are now fixtures on Breadshop’s roster, along with rotating favorites such as focaccia, brioche, ciabatta and rye. “Our focus is to offer items that we feel either you can’t get here or are poorly represented here,” Sy says.“I wanted Hawai‘i—and honestly myself—to be able to enjoy the style of bread I imagined in my head, and I was tired of waiting for someone else to do it.”

A Punahou graduate, Sy spent four years at the University of Chicago neglecting his studies and cooking lavish meals for his roommates. Upon graduation he began cooking for a living, getting on-the-job training in the kitchens of illustrious restaurants and bakeries such as Cru in New York, Au Vieux Four in France and The French Laundry in California. Back in Hawai‘i, he started the baking program at Town in Kaimukī, making every bun and loaf from scratch. “All the different textures and flavors that can be drawn out of these very simple ingredients—there’s endless creativity there,” he says.

Now he’s focused on making artisanal bread a daily part of the Kaimukī neighborhood. Customers are sometimes seen lined up along Wai‘alae Avenue, waiting for Breadshop to open. The bakery has about seventy “subscribers” who pick up a loaf each week. Sy says he has as many subscribers as he can handle, but he’s hoping to expand his capacity soon. “At the end of the day, it’s just bread,” he says. “It’s not a luxury or something exclusive. Seeing people coming back every week and buying the bread they’ll put on their tables at home—that’s why we’re here.”