Chef Roy Shvartzapel Talks About His Wildly Successful New Bakery, Common Bond

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Photo courtesy Common Bond
Shvartzapel in the space that would become Common Bond during build-out.
On Tuesday at 6:30 a.m., there was already a line of people waiting to get in. It wasn't a rowdy crowd who'd been camped out all night like the folks who brave the elements and each other to get their grubby hands on flat screen TVs on Black Friday. There weren't any flat screen TVs for sale inside anyway.

No, this crowd had gathered for something else: Pastries.

Tuesday was opening day for Common Bond, the long-awaited bakery helmed by pastry chef Roy Shvartzapel, who honed his craft at some of the best restaurants around the world including El Bulli in Spain and Balthazar and Bouley in New York City. He's gathered a team of equally talented individuals from restaurants around the country with the goal of creating the best bakery in the America.

At least, that's what he told CultureMap back in November, in a quote that he's since gotten a lot of flack for. Who is this guy, coming back here from New York with the aim of taking Houston by storm?

I sat down with Shvartzapel and his wife, Tali, to find out.

Oh, and I also ate some chocolate chip cookies. I haven't had chocolate chip cookies all over America, so I can't definitively say that they're the best. But they are pretty damn good.

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Shvartzapel oversees pastry production in the open kitchen.
Explain to me the philosophy "Only for all."
The slogan comes from the idea that we're creating exceptional products that are within their class aiming to be the best at a price point that is approachable, as opposed to best in class restaurant experiences can be $200-300 a head easily. Casual concept, approachable price points for best in class products.

Why did you want to build this concept in Houston?
There are quite a few reasons I wanted to come to Houston, aside from the obvious that we're all from here. For me, if you'd have asked me years ago was Houston on the horizon, I would have said no. But then, coming back and seeing how the food scene has transformed, it became something that I found interesting from an entry to the market perspective. Doing something like this as a pilot concept in a city where nothing like this exists is probably an easier task than doing your first pilot concept in New York or San Francisco. Not that it couldn't work there, but the barrier to entry is certainly different there than it is here.

Why do you think now is a good time for this business in Houston? What changed since you last examined it and found it lacking?
The food identity of the city has completely changed from being identified as a steakhouse, generic restaurant city to now there are handfuls of chef-driven, chef-owned restaurants and food concepts. That did not used to exist here. It's young and it's changing.

How did you assemble your team?
I don't know.

Magic?
It just fell into place. It started out as just wanting to get one person, and one turned into two, turned into four, turned into six. I don't know. I wish I had a very clear answer and was able to say that I had this methodical plan, but I really didn't. It just happened.

Did people approach you and ask about the business?
I kept in touch, so a lot of them are not only former coworkers but great friends. It was "Hey what are you up to? What are you doing? I know you've never been to Texas...What do you think?" "I'm game." I wish it was more complicated than that, but that's really how it happened.

This story continues on the next page.

Location Info

Common Bond

1706 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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15 comments
Aggie_Kelli
Aggie_Kelli

I went on Saturday and everything we had was amazing.  I had the Grillades+Grits and by far, one of the best dishes I've ever had and that's saying something.  My husband had the chicken torta and couldn't stop talking about it.  My only complaint is that the mimosa that I paid $7 for, high really for Houston, was incredibly small.  It was really an oversized shot glass.  That's where I would definitely improve upon, it was good don't get me wrong but not worth the quantity/price.

jeffajonesjr
jeffajonesjr

" Seth at The Pass and Provisions is a close friend of mine. Because I have a personal relationship with him, when his bread baker reached out to me, I called him and was like, "Hey I just want you to know, one of your employees reached out, and she's very interested in working here, but I do not want to engage if it's an issue."

As a business owner and former employee of others I consider the above comment a  classless act by  a person I could never trust nor want to do business with.


I will never consume his product because I have zero respect for him.


I'm actually disgusted that someone would sink so low and then brag about it.



kitschner
kitschner

Interesting interview, thanks. I was certain his wife's name was Jill though.

flambeau
flambeau

King Blackapple, that's gotta be one of the best names in the biz, sounds like something from Shrek!!

keater4
keater4

@jeffajonesjr That's actually an incredibly courteous thing which is not required by any means. Competition for talent is fierce - he could have just hired her.

morning_sunshine
morning_sunshine

@jeffajonesjr Seriously?  That is how respectable people do business - you don't poach talent from friends. If the employee doesn;t want his/her employer to know he/she is looking, they shoudl say something about it.  In a closed pool like bakers, this is why you never burn bridges, why you network, and why you act honorably and above board at all times. 

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@kitschner Thanks! Her name is Tali Krakowsky. She's super sweet.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@flambeau At the end of the interview, I asked him how it's pronounced. He said, "Smith."

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