Tatte Bakery and Cafe, which has grown into a local powerhouse in the greater Boston area but has recently drawn criticism from employees who say it hasn’t done enough to combat racism, opens its first store outside of Massachusetts this week in D.C.
Self-trained pastry chef Tzurit Or, a former film producer, started the bakery in 2007 and eventually grew it into a group with 16 locations across Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline, Massachusetts. Tatte is ramping up expansion plans while drawing from a $300 million fund created by Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich.
Starting Wednesday, August 26, Tatte will serve halloumi breakfast sandwiches, shakshuka, and Israeli-influenced pastries out of the West End space that formerly housed the flagship of Cantonese restaurant Meiwah (1200 New Hampshire Avenue NW). Two more Tatte locations are en route: a Dupont Circle location is expected to open in October, followed by another in downtown Bethesda.
Operating hours in the West End are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. to start. The shop won’t allow seating inside a bright interior lined with mosaic tiles just yet. Customers can place to-go orders inside, with the option to eat on a plant-filled patio with room for about 40 people. Delivery is available on DoorDash, and the cafe will add Uber Eats next month.
“Money is important but it’s not the top priority,” Or says in reference to indoor dining. “I don’t feel it’s safe.”
Earlier this summer, amid a national uprising to protest social injustice and police brutality, Tatte employees called out Or for publishing a “performative” Instagram post to support the Black Lives Matter movement. A Change.org petition alleged “employees have seen or heard racially charged or insensitive behaviors or statements from those in leadership positions,” and called for Tatte to diversify its executive team.
Or acknowledged a need to “confront the microaggressions that occur in our everyday interactions” and promised to meet demands outlined in a petition that called for the company to match Tatte employee donations to Black Lives Matter funds (compiled through GoFundMe) and to diversify an executive team which had no Black members.
“We’ve done so much work,” Or says. “We listened and learned a lot — we were kind of the poster child of this in Boston because it was easy ... go to all our locations in Boston and here in D.C. and the feedback and reaction from the team is completely different. They are completely hurt by it.”
Or says as soon as the novel coronavirus began emerging in China last year, the company put a policy in place to offer employees nine weeks of pay even if they chose to stay home.
“As an immigrant I’ve experienced so many hard times and built and created [a place] to provide this sense of belonging and home and safe place,” she says.
When asked if Tatte plans to support social justice organizations in the District, Or says says she will take her time researching groups.
“I’ve reached out to the right people to find out what would align most with our mission. In Boston all these years we’ve focused on women and children. It’s what we’ve put a lot of time and effort in,” she says.
“You can talk about it or do it the hard way and plow your way through D.C. and get to know organizations you have shared values with that have the most impact,” she says. “It’s not something you can just announce in a week.”
For new customers in Washington, the menu is a replica of that of its Boston counterparts, with a fall refresh expected to drop October 14. Along with its breakfast sandwiches and a croque-madame, Or says “any salad with chicken” is popular.
“People are so emotionally attached to the food,” Or says.
A poached rhubarb variety comes with strawberries and maple labneh drizzle. Tartines are also topped with peaking produce like snap peas, fresh sliced tomato, and roasted peaches. Or, who was born in Israel, says she brought many lamb dishes from home. A lamb sandwich cooked with warm spices comes on ciabatta with pickled red cabbage and roasted garlic labneh. A lamb plate with pine nuts (mansaf) arrives over basmati rice.
The bakery is on full display near the central coffee bar, where customers take in the sights and smells of croissants, focaccia, sourdough, and brownies made throughout the day.
“We wanted to come here in a humble and quiet way, learning who we are all over again. It’s important for me to tell our story in a visual way — I find it powerful,” Or says. “Many places now lose sight of what matters.”
Or says Anthony Young, Tatte’s head pastry chef in D.C., told her the open layout in the store marks the first time he can work by daylight and have customers observe him preparing pastries.
The setup is designed to create a sense of community — something she craved most when she moved to the U.S. with no friends or family.
“Eating by myself it was important for me to gather around food and coffee. Even if you’re by yourself, you won’t feel lonely,” she says.