Koselig in the city
Byen Bakeri serves up high quality, authentic Nordic baked goods in Seattle with warmth and hospitality
Christy Olsen Field
Taste of Norway Editor
In a city filled with top bakeries and a sizable Scandinavian community, Byen Bakeri (which means “City Bakery” in Norwegian) glitters with its high-quality pastry and cozy atmosphere.
I was lucky enough to visit Byen Bakeri on May 17 to chat with Rachel Antalek.
Antalek and her husband, Larry Walsh, purchased the bakery in the North Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle in May 2018. Byen Bakeri originally opened in 2013. They have a great relationship with the previous owners, and two bakers with deep knowledge of Scandinavian baking stayed on staff.
Their journey to becoming owners of a Scandinavian bakery is far from typical. Before Byen, Walsh was a school principal who did bookkeeping on the side. Antalek’s career has been in the food/café sector, and she spent years at Starbucks as vice president of concept innovation. When they adopted their two sons, they were looking for a work-life balance that was more family oriented.
“We looked at our skills and interests, and decided what we really wanted to do was to own a bakery,” said Antalek.
When the opportunity arose to buy Byen Bakeri, it was a logical fit.
Antalek studied in Germany in college and apprenticed with a master pastry chef there. Many German baking techniques and ingredients are similar to those of the Nordic countries.
As for their Nordic connection, Antalek said: “My husband’s great-grandparents came from the Lillehammer region in Norway, and they settled in Scandinavia, Wis.”
Byen Bakeri has sparked new interest in learning about the family’s Norwegian roots for the whole extended family.
When Antalek and Walsh took over Byen Bakeri, they refreshed the branding and renovated the café’s interior design, drawing inspiration from Nordic folk art and using clean lines for a modern Nordic look.
While I was interviewing Antalek, I was impressed with the range of customers who came to the café. Antalek greeted several by name.
“With our location, we get a lot of foot traffic from people in the Queen Anne neighborhood and students and staff from Seattle Pacific University. Our café is located right along the Lake Washington ship canal, so we have a lot of customers who work in the maritime industry. And we are so honored to have the support of the Nordic community,” said Antalek.
Byen Bakeri is engaged in the local Nordic community, such as the Nordic Museum and Swedish Club, with occasional bakery pop-ups at Nordiska Shop in Poulsbo, Wash.
People don’t come to Byen Bakeri just because of the Scandinavian connection; they come because the menu is delicious and the atmosphere is welcoming.
“I heard a definition of hygge as the absence of all annoyances, and I love that,” said Antalek. “We focus on good service, so people can feel taken care of while they are here.”
For our conversation, Antalek brought over trays of deliciousness so I could sample the menu. Their commitment to authenticity and quality shines through in every bite.
“When you start with really good ingredients, it doesn’t have to be as sweet. Sugar is there to let the other ingredients shine,” said Antalek.
Byen Bakeri is committed to using quality ingredients: European-style butter is shipped in from Oregon, and almond paste is delivered by the pallet. They make five types of almond filling in-house, including their marzipan.
Byen Bakeri’s top sellers include skolebrød, kringle, braided cardamom bread (my favorite of the day), kneippbrød (a hearty bread that has its roots in Germany but is popular in Norway), and kransekake. Antalek makes sure to have a couple of wheat-free options available, such as kladdkaka (Swedish gooey chocolate cake) and pavlova.
Antalek’s favorite is the mazarin, a twice-baked frangipane pastry with apricot or raspberry jam, with an extra swirl of almond paste on top.
Byen Bakeri is also known for its seasonal cakes. The day I visited, it was a lemon-lavender layer cake. In the winter, they had a gingerbread-lingonberry cake, and it was so popular that they could hardly keep it in stock. The lingonberries were grown near Mount Vernon, Wash., about an hour north of Seattle.
I was charmed by the frosted sugar cookies, which are tooth-achingly sweet (in my opinion) at many bakeries. But these cookies, on that day decorated as Norwegian flags and cheerful Vikings, were buttery with just the right amount of sweetness. I admit that I did not share the leftover cookies with my young kids, but enjoyed them myself with my afternoon coffee for the next several days.
This may have been my first visit to Byen Bakeri, but it certainly won’t be my last.
Byen Bakeri is located at 15 Nickerson St., Seattle, WA 98109. Some items can be shipped nationwide. Learn more at www.byenbakeri.com.
Christy Olsen Field became the Taste of Norway Editor in April 2019. An enthusiastic home cook and baker, she lives north of Seattle with her husband and two young sons. She is a grantwriter for small nonprofits in the Seattle area. Write to her at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the June 14, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.