Southern bakery Root Baking Co. closes Sunday, April 3, after three years at the central food hall of Ponce City Market and seven years in business. However, while Root Baking is closing, “big news” is on the horizon for its sister business Pizza Jeans, which took over the bakery’s cafe space at the market in 2020.
Baker Chris Wilkins and his wife and business partner Nicole Lewis first opened Root Baking Co. in 2015, operating from an old fireworks stand outside of Charleston, South Carolina. After quickly finding success in Charleston, they relocated the bakery business to Atlanta in 2018, where it became one of city’s best bets for freshly baked breads, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches. Root also began providing its breads and pastries to restaurants around Atlanta and selling baked goods at area farmers markets.
Wilkins was named a James Beard award semifinalist for outstanding baker in 2019 and 2020.
But Wilkins says the premise behind Root Baking has always been to share with customers and other bakers the complexity and nuances of baking breads with Southern heirloom grains, whether that be through retail purchases or the bread classes he often taught at the bakery. And while the pandemic caused hardships for the business, its closure isn’t due to lack of success, but rather a realization that it’s time to move on and find another project.
“We didn’t have to close it. We just reached a point where we’ve said everything we need to say,” Wilkins tells Eater. “There’s some really interesting voices who have come out this thing who have really compelling things to say about Southern baking. I want to hear those voices.”
“This place started as a way of trying to say something. So once you’ve said what you needed to say, you let other people move the ball forward,” Wilkins adds, clarifying that he hasn’t fallen out of love with baking.
Part of moving the ball forward for Wilkins is finding another equally compelling baking project to pursue, while continuing to act as a baking consultant to Atlanta chefs when asked to lend his expertise. For now, he plans to focus on growing Pizza Jeans.
Wilkins and Lewis expanded into the pizza-making business two years ago, opening Pizza Jeans in Root Baking’s cafe space and moving the bakery’s retail counter to a smaller space next door. He says it was always the plan, with the pandemic naturally evolving the shift in business. While he declined to provide further details on what’s next for Pizza Jeans, Wilkins says he’s still involved and to expect more news on its future to be shared in the coming weeks.
All of Root Baking’s employees have either moved over to Pizza Jeans or been placed elsewhere at other restaurants and bakeries in Atlanta, he adds.
“We really care about these people and invested a lot of time and training. We want to make sure they are taken care of and can be successful,” says Wilkins. “We’ve had some really talented people come through the door here and we’ve tried to help them get ready for their own thing. I feel good about that. This closure is definitely bittersweet.”