Ricky Webster is turning the negative of the coronavirus pandemic into a positive: The Spokane chef and culinary specialist is on track to open Rind and Wheat, his specialty cheese shop and bakery, in the former space of Glorious Artisan Bakery in Browne’s Addition this fall.
The champion of Hallmark Drama’s “Christmas Cookie Matchup” last December – and a successful contestant in other cooking competitions in recent years – announced the news of Rind and Wheat, whose name is a nod to two of Webster’s favorite things, cheese and bread, in recent weeks.
But this is the first time he is revealing the location of his artisan cheese shop and specialty bakery, which shares the building space with Ladder Coffee, Fern Plant Shop and business offices and is just off the Maple Street Bridge and down the street from Brick West Brewing.
The website for Rind and Wheat is rindandwheat.com, and like many new businesses nowadays, Webster has created a Kickstarter campaign at http://kck.st/31meXSy to fund his new business beyond the initial costs and opening. As of Saturday morning, Webster, 38, had reached about 80% of his Kickstarter goal.
In more good news for the upbeat Webster, who always has a friendly smile at the ready, he recently received word that he is one of 12 national finalists in this year’s Real California Pizza Competition for the second consecutive year.
Unlike last year’s contest, this year’s finals at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia in Napa, Calif., will be virtual, with each finalist paired with a chef at the institute. Webster’s entry is called the Wharf and combines a sourdough crust and clams with crème fraîche and mozzarella in an ode to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Webster grew up in nearby Fremont in the Bay Area.
Webster, who has lived in Spokane the last 3½ years with his boyfriend, Andrew Casso, and their two dogs, chatted about Rind and Wheat, cheese, Real California Pizza and more on Saturday morning at Ladder Coffee, steps across the hall from the future location of Rind and Wheat at 1516 W. Riverside Ave:
Ricky, congratulations on your new venture, Rind and Wheat. How excited are you?
Very excited! I’ve been working toward this my whole life to get to this point. This is it, this is real, this is a brick and mortar. This is something exciting, and it means roots are going down in Spokane, which I’m really excited about, too. We relocated here 3½ years ago from downtown L.A.
The universe has answered. I was furloughed in April, and I didn’t want to sit on the couch and be sad and frustrated and get into a funk. I treated myself like a client for the first time and put ideas down on paper and came up with a few business plans. If Sysco brings me back and all is good, at least I will have had some work done that can be used at any time.
But as soon as I started putting things down on paper, the universe kept dropping me little crumbs to follow. And three months later, here I find myself today talking with you about something I hope to open in the next month or two.
How did you come up with the name Rind and Wheat?
The name Rind and Wheat, well the cheese concept has been in the works for a while. I love restaurants that are named after two things. The cheese shop was originally named Rind and Wheel. When you look at the initials of Rind and Wheel and now Rind and Wheat, it’s RAW, which also are my initials, Richard Allen Webster. But I wouldn’t want to name it Ricky’s Cheese Shop or Ricky’s Bakery. That’s not me.
This still puts my initials on the business and the storefront and holds me accountable every day when I walk in and see it there. I’ve been reached out to a lot about wholesale for my baking, so I maneuvered the concept of the cheese shop to include a bakery. After some research, it made a lot of sense to me to combine the two concepts.
There are quite a few pizza and bakery concepts that have opened recently in Spokane even during this pandemic. Why cheese and a bakery?
Cheese is one of the No. 1 comfort foods. In the first four weeks of the pandemic, I found that restaurants who were achieving some success were focusing on comfort foods – Southern foods, fried chicken to go, macaroni and cheese. Warm and comforting foods.
And sourdough went through the roof. Everyone is becoming a home baker and wants to become an expert (laughs). Everyone is making sourdough now. It’s amazing, but it also is teaching people that it is a lot of hard work and there is artisanship that goes into this and time and commitment.
I’m offering comfort food: cheese and bread and pastries. We all want carbs right now to soothe the soul. I grew up Portuguese and Italian … and cheese and bread were always staples and part of family gatherings.
Why this location in Browne’s Addition?
I don’t have a ton of working capital and financial backing. I just kind of stumbled into Glorious one day to speak with Leo (Walters, the owner) about possibly renting some space in his business … knowing that he wasn’t using his kitchen every day.
One thing led to another, and we met with the building manager, and the conversation led to me taking over this space. We also explored working together, but, at the end of the day, it just presented itself, and my business plan that I created during this pandemic factored into opening Rind and Wheat.
It’s a beautiful space, and it feels so right. It’s scary to be opening during a pandemic, but it would be scary any other time, as well. But it’s almost like a soft opening.
What can customers expect at Rind and Wheat?
I’m not going to have any seating because I want to fill the shop with an experience. When that person comes in, they can gather the goods to go home and lay out a cheese board for family, sit on the rug and have this curated experience.
We can’t have a lot of food experiences right now. We’re limited. And if you don’t want to go out to a restaurant right now because you want to feel safe or if you have elderly at home, you can bring this home – bread, cheese and all the wonderful accoutrements.
Expand on the experience you want to offer at Rind and Wheat.
I really want customers to feel like they’re seeing something familiar but for the first time. I’m going to hit upon cultural influences so that I can continue to share my knowledge and experiences and learn and continue to grow, as well.
It’s a celebration of cultures. Some of my fondest memories are of meeting people from diverse backgrounds and heritages and getting brought into their homes around food. Food is a common denominator whether you’re from another city, state or country, and it’s a celebration of what is local and community.
Here at Rind and Wheat, we will definitely be celebrating the local grain and produce communities. I’m sourcing wheat from the Palouse and Montana. This area has a great, great economy.
Is there a product that you’re especially looking forward to offering at Rind and Wheat?
There is a French brown butter cake called a financier that I’ll be making in different flavors and in different seasonal offerings. It’s reminiscent of madeleines or butter mochi. It has that nice texture and chew to it. It’s buttery and crunchy on the outside and delicious!
And of course some exciting cheeses and breads. I’m most excited about the San Francisco-style sourdough that I’m going to offer. It’s a four-day process and a lot of work to make it happen. If I make a few and they sell out, you’ll have to return tomorrow!
Switching gears, you’re a national finalist in the Real California Pizza competition for the second consecutive year.
Yes! I’m so excited. This year is going to look a little different, obviously, which we didn’t know when we first entered the contest and were then notified. I was runner-up last year and felt really good about it and had a blast. My entry this year is the Wharf that highlights my childhood memories of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. I want people to be reminded of a really delicious bread bowl.
It’s going to be virtual, and we will be paired up with a chef at the culinary school. It’s really smart, and I’m excited because you have to be organized and your recipe has to stand up. It’s really innovative, and we need that right now.
Webster, who is employed by Sysco Spokane and, like many during this pandemic, has been furloughed, is aiming to open Rind and Wheat this fall. Leo Walters, the owner of Glorious Artisan Bakery, is closing the shop on Aug. 29 to focus his business entirely online and has launched an exciting new venture that we will feature in Food soon.
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