Cody Johnson and Chelsea Everts have made bread their business.
The Baker And The Brewer
Apple Blossom Brewing Co. defies convention in Fayetteville
By: Michael Roberts Photography: Beth Hall
Apple Blossom Brewing Co. is the Clark Kent of brewpubs. Like the famed mild-mannered reporter, the craft brewery’s Zion Road location in Fayetteville is nondescript and unassuming from the outside, surrounded by quiet offices and adorned only by a simple sign.
Don’t let that exterior fool you: There are super things going on at Apple Blossom, which opened in the summer of 2013 and immediately took its place among the elite producers of quality artisanal products. First came a line-up of delicious and innovative beers with names like “Soulless Ginger” and “Hazy Morning Coffee Stout,” but brewing great beer was never going to be enough for brewery partners Evan McDonald, Sammie Stephenson, Joe Utsch, Al Schaffer, Ching Mong and Daniel Smith. The partners desired an edge to set them apart from other breweries in the growing northwest Arkansas craft beer scene, and adding a heavy hitting menu full of great food was a natural fit.
“Good food was always part of the plan,” says McDonald, who brought in experienced chef and baker Cody Johnson to help bring that plan to fruition. “Cody is a guy who should have his own bakery but didn’t quite have the means to open one, so we partnered with him to give him a space to work.” The result has been a brand expansion for the Apple Blossom name into a line of artisan breads that are used in-house by the brewpub and packaged for retail sale at stores like Fayetteville’s Ozark Natural Foods and Blackboard Grocery and Eatery.
“We’re the weird kid,” says head baker Cody Johnson about his bakery’s ever-changing repertoire of breads. “A lot of established bakeries have their things that they do and they stick to it. We’re always trying new things to see if we can make a better product.” This spirit of innovation and willingness to experiment is something that guides Johnson and his assistant and creative partner Chelsea Everts into new territory in their craft, including such things as the use of herb-infused broths and stocks instead of plain water to flavor their breads without changing the texture.
Johnson didn’t start off as a baker, instead paying his dues as a line cook at places like the Restaurant on the Corner and Bordinos. It was at Bordinos that Johnson traded in his position as sous chef to get into baking, relishing the change and challenge that came with moving from one type of cooking to another.
“We’re always trying new things to see if we can make
a better product.”
Apple Blossom serves up tasty bread and beer in a comfortable setting.
“It’s totally different than anything else in the kitchen,” Johnson says of the precise measurements and techniques needed to make good bread. Bread requires understanding and patience, something the baker refers to as “a little bit of science and a little bit like being a parent.”
Johnson continued to hone his craft at Ella’s Restaurant at The Inn at Carnall Hall on the campus of the University of Arkansas, and it was here that he first branched out into retail sales by offering his wares at the Fayetteville Farmers Market. It was this expansion that eventually brought him to Apple Blossom, where he now provides bread for The Hive in Bentonville in addition to his growing lineup of Fayetteville clients.
Johnson and Everts have been doing their baking in a corner of the main Apple Blossom kitchen, but a large expansion for 2016 is in the works. Apple Blossom Brewing has partnered with Fayetteville institution Arsaga’s Coffee to share a space and open a larger facility that will get the bakers out of the corner and into their own location.
The move is part of Arsaga’s own move into the former Kim’s Tire & Auto Shop on Martin Luther King, and the pairing will allow Arsaga’s to carry scones and pastries from the bakery—and allow Johnson more space for creative growth. It’s a logical step for both a coffee company desirous of good pastries and a baker in need of room to sharpen his skills even further.
“Other than our mixer, we do everything by hand,” Johnson says. “Our goal is to be a truly artisan bakery.” It’s a philosophy he’s had throughout his baking career, and one that he intends to implement fully in his new space, building on the skills and attention to detail that has made Apple Blossom’s reputation for quality bread skyrocket in such a short time.