The idea that food is infused with the emotions of its creator is not a new one. It is on display in movies like Chocolat, and many have probably experienced it on a particularly special occasion. The memory of a holiday dish lovingly prepared by a mom, dad, or grandparent is something many hold dear long into their dotage. It is more than just love; it is a dash of magic.
This kind of culinary alchemy is rare to find on a commercial level, at an everyday restaurant or bakery. Somehow, Elizabeth Chambers Hammer, the CEO and founder of BIRD Bakery in San Antonio and Dallas, imparts that effervescence, along with the finest ingredients, such as Valrhona cocoa, Plugrá® butter, and Madagascar vanilla, into the exquisite cupcakes and treats made from scratch every day.
Hammer said what she loves most is the people. “My favorite thing about my job is sharing the celebrations and milestones and seeing the looks on people’s faces when they bring their baby in for their first cupcake [for example],” Hammer said.
She recounted a memory of a young couple on a first date who came in for cupcakes after the bakery had just closed. Hammer treated them to a couple of beautiful cupcakes and the staff was delighted to watch the two enjoy them as they sat, sparks flying, on the trunk of the car.
“Months later, they were engaged, and we got to do the wedding cake,” Hammer said. “They said that BIRD Bakery was a part of their romance. They now have three children.”
BIRD Bakery opened in San Antonio in 2012 in the distinguished Alamo Heights neighborhood and has since become a favorite stop for a scrumptious pastry and cup of superb coffee in the morning, as well as a satisfying cup of soup and a sandwich for lunch or dinner. Then, of course, there are the cookies for dessert.
The second location in Highland Park Village in Dallas opened in 2016. The menu is the same, although the vibe and customer favorites vary. While the San Antonio location is chic yet homey, the Dallas location a little more swanky with white marble and a hot pink neon sign that declares, ‘Let Them Eat Cake!”
The San Antonio location sells four times more cupcakes than the Dallas location, while Dallas customers buy more cookies and pastry bars.
Their glass case filled with sweets will make guests salivate, with such options as their award-winning cupcakes, Sea Salt Peanut Butter Bars, Monster cookies, and the perfect chocolate chip cookie, of which Hammer is very proud. The bakery is also known for their savory options.
“When we first opened up in San Antonio, we didn’t serve anything savory,” Hammer said. “I was eating the same thing every day because there wasn’t a place to go in this area for a good sandwich. Eight out of ten people asked when we were going to start serving savory foods. So, I called my mom and said, ‘You need to get on a plane and come to San Antonio and teach us how to make your tarragon chicken salad, egg salad, and tuna salad.’ Growing up, I always knew my mom’s food was the best I’ve ever had, but I was pleasantly surprised when people freaked out over our chicken salad.”
One of Hammer’s favorite sandwiches served at the bakery is the California Turkey, which is made with roasted turkey, Havarti cheese, arugula, avocado, tomato, red onion, their signature raspberry chipotle mayonnaise (just like mom made), and seeded bread.
A few little tips Hammer shared is that visitors can request their bread be toasted, or order any sandwich on one of their house-made croissants – either a traditional butter croissant or whole grain. She also likes to add avocado to the chicken salad sandwich.
As for the sweets, Hammer said she adores the carrot cake, which has shredded carrots, crushed pineapple, golden raisins, flaked coconut, walnut pieces, a buttermilk glaze, and a citrus cream cheese frosting. “There are layers and layers of texture and flavor,” she said.
Of course, visitors cannot go to BIRD Bakery without getting a cupcake and one of those famous chocolate chip cookies. “Literally they’re the perfect cookie – soft and gooey on the inside with a crispy edge,” Hammer said. “They’re not too big or too small, and they’re obviously best when they’re right out of the oven. Everything we make is from the very best ingredients. I’m most proud about that. Since we started, we’ve never cut corners.”
Hammer started developing her chocolate chip cookie recipe about fifteen years ago. Growing up in her mom and grandmother’s kitchens, she learned early on how to bake. “My mom has always been an amazing chef and cook,” she said. “Everything’s made with so much love.”
Also, as a Hollywood star, “I joke my success in television is because I bribe people with cookies,” Hammer said. “Making cookies was therapy for me.” She recommended keeping frozen cookie dough in the freezer at all times, so the kids can enjoy homemade cookies in just ten minutes.
Cupcakes for a Cause
When the bakery first opened, Hammer was inspired by the altruism of Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS® Shoes. “When starting a company, it was important that we had that element that gave back to our community, especially with San Antonio being such a tight knit one,” Hammer said. “It feels like we’re infusing all of that BIRD Bakery love back into the community.”
They put on various local community events throughout the year and have a program called Cupcakes for a Cause. Every other month, they create a special cupcake that is not on the menu and a hundred percent of those proceeds go to a cause, varying from local foodbanks, breast cancer research, anti-bullying, or relief for specific natural disasters.
They also work directly with dozens of charities. Each day, the food that is not sold is boxed and picked up by local non-profits, including churches, fire departments, the police department, Fisher House Foundation, the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation, and the list continues. Sometimes, they give away hundreds of dollars’ worth of delicious baked goods.
“There’s one church we work with run by a husband and wife that come in with their minivan three times a week and load up to take to homeless shelters,” Hammer said. “We get to hear how grateful people are. Typically, people donate bread and staple items, so for them to have a cupcake made so lovingly from scratch, with no shortcuts, topped with perfect buttercream frosting and hand finished with our signature BIRD bakery swirl, is a special treat.”
Everyone who has had the pleasure of enjoying any of BIRD Bakery’s creations can certainly attest to that!