House of the Rising Bun

In 2010, Adam Spears left his native Buckeye state and transplanted himself to Charlotte. Fresh out of Ohio State University, with degrees in Hospitality Management and Business, he dreamed of a culinary career.

However, the would-be restauranteur found the Queen City’s recession-era foodie scene hard to crack into. “I can bake, and I’m a good cook,” says Adam. “I fell into baking when I moved down here and couldn’t get a job. So, the easiest way to infiltrate restaurants was doing bread for them.” Adam spent the next several years supplying baked goods to some of Charlotte’s well-known eateries: Zebra, NoDa’s own Heist Brewery, Chef Charles’ Catering, Flavors Café, Fahrenheit, Crave, Craft Growler Shop, and others. At his peak, Adam’s ovens provided twenty-seven area restaurants with breads, buns, and other culinary carbohydrates.

“I think being a really good baker helps you be a really good pasta chef and helps you be a really good pastry chef, because you start to really understand the mechanics and the organic material that work together for the final product. I know how I want something to be, and so then you have to put in all that and work backward—how much butter, how much sugar, how much water, how much yeast to get it to that final vision of rise. It’s definitely a tricky relationship between your ingredients, more so than recipes.”

Having built trust in his crust, Adam opened the first Local Loaf at Seventh Street Market in 2013. Initially, he offered a selection of artisan breads and a menu of eight gourmet sandwiches—with early stars being a BLT, breakfast Rueben, and croque madame. However, the breakout menu item was Adam’s own “Chicken and the Egg” sandwich, made with hand-breaded chicken tenders, a poached egg, and homemade chipotle-Cheerwine sauce.

About four years ago, Adam and his girlfriend moved their home to NoDa. They fell in love with the neighborhood’s sense of community, and Local Loaf began to participate in the NoDa Farmers’ Market.

Fast-forward two more years, and Adam saw an opportunity to get out of the Seventh Street Station spot, stop wholesaling bread to other people’s restaurants, and realize plans for a more personal concept closer to heart and home. One of Heist’s chefs alerted Adam of NoDa Bodega’s imminent move to a new location, and he jumped at the opportunity to lease their former space on 35th Street. He remodeled the interior and kitchen, which took forever due to issues with architects, builders, city permits, and (as Adam admits) a small amount of stubbornness.

Adam reimagined his menu. “When we first opened up, we offended a few people because there were some items that I didn’t want to bring over. I wanted a new start.” He knew he had to keep favorites like the Chicken or the Egg and staples such as French toast and pancakes, but new relationships with local seafood suppliers let Adam add his own non-traditional takes on pescatarian fare such as shrimp and grits, loco moco (a contemporary Hawaiian dish), and fish and chips. There is local and seasonal variation to these menu items. For instance, most restaurants make their fish and chips with frozen chewy cod “products,” but Adam uses whatever local fresh white fish are available—black sea bass, porgy, grouper, scorpion, king fish, or tile.

Inspired by the local shops of his childhood, Adam focused his vision for the new Local Loaf squarely on the residents of the neighborhood and their wants. “I wanted to add a retail side that included a market. You know… olive oil, pickles, coffees, certain beers, certain wines, and bulk items… This is where your kids can run up and down the street and pick up your meat order.”

Even though Local Loaf does wine dinners and wine tastings, it really is more of a casual community spot. “There’s no pretentiousness. This is like our home, and I think that’s part of the atmosphere. We know our customers; they know us. We want to be a place where you can celebrate your birthday with friends and don’t feel pressure to get too dolled up or act a certain way.”

Article and photorgraphy by Ryan Sumner, the creative director of Fenix Fotography. Ryan specializes in artful portraiture of business and cultural leaders, corporate headshots, and other advertising images. He can photograph you and your coworkers at his portrait studio at the Colony in NoDa and is available for location work too. His fine art work is available through his gallery at the Charlotte Art League.