Bread Winners. The name instantly implies a focus on a baker’s trade – the scents, aromas, pastries and breads a bakery so often provides. And it’s part of what Jim and Cindy Hughes’ restaurant provides, but to call Bread Winners a bakery would certainly be to tell only a fraction of the story. Most bakeries don’t sell prime strip steak and eggs with sauteed spinach and sharp cheddar grits. They don’t cook Redfish with Tasso ham dirty rice, and you’ll not often find a baker whose shop offers a honey salmon salad with lemon shallot vinaigrette. Suffice to say, Bread Winners is about more than bread.
Since opening the doors of their first restaurant on McKinney Avenue in 1994, Jim and Cindy Hughes have established Bread Winners as a Dallas staple – now at four locations – where their customers can find home-style, creative cuisine in a comfortable, laid-back environment.
“Bread Winners is breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bakery, where everything is home made – that part especially is very important to us.” says Cindy. “The food here is something we develop and taste and try. Jim and I love food, and we hope that is reflected in our menu. We always want to provide a consistent product, but one that’s always kind of cutting edge and also one that people are looking for.”
The cafe/restaurant/bakery that they initially created in the spot that formerly housed a restaurant called Verlaine’s has for the past 17 years served as a home away from home for not only Jim and Cindy, but also their four children and employees, all of whom are there to give the customer the same feeling of welcome to their restaurant. It’s a family environment even outside of the Hughes family – one that they seek to extend to everyone who crosses their threshold, be it employee or diner.
“Jim and I are involved every day. We have more than 300 employees in our restaurant, but we know almost all of them by name. It’s important to us that people know us and we know them,” Cindy says.
“And that extends to the customers,” Jim adds. “We’ll go with what we’re hearing and what the customer is asking for. We’re not pushing our agenda. We’re basically the neighborhood restaurant that adapts to every location that we’ve gone to. We’ve had to adapt to every neighborhood and try to give them what they’re looking for.”
There’s plenty to be found on the menu at Bread Winners, and a customer seeking sandwiches, salads, steaks or scrambles should have no problem finding something to sate the palate at any of the locations. The deceptively complex dishes are approachable and familiar – to a degree – while also comprising a menu full of enticingly creative options. Breakfast options as simply as steel-cut oatmeal or as intriguing as Monterrey Enchiladas (two egg-and-cheese filled flour tortillas with queso, ranchero and pico de gallo), among many other options, are available in the mornings, while the dinnertime menu rolls out classics like shrimp and grits or the buttermilk pan-fried chicken breast – a customer favorite.
“The pan-fried chicken at dinner is an item we’ve had on our menu for 18 years. It’s our staple, and I think it’s the best chicken dish in Dallas,” Jim says. “A lot of work goes into it to be what it is. There are two different sauces, a chicken demi and a veal demi -we roast the bones, boil, and then there’s the wine that has to be reduced in the herbs, and you have to reduce that down. The chicken is marinated in buttermilk for a day and a half to get the right tenderness, and we dredge them in a special blend before we hand fry them to order. What you get is this awesome fried chicken sitting on top of homemade mashed potatoes with the red potatoes, and a creamy chicken-based gravy that is very deep, rich, and decadent, and then there’s also a little swirl of a veal demi glace. Then we do a homemade apple chutney on the top so you can get that perfect bite. It’s pretty magical.”
And then there are the sandwiches: The pan-fried chicken can be had in that form, as well, but the variety keeps even regular customers on their toes. From steak to chicken to vegetable melts, there are a myriad of between-the-bread meal options from which visitors can choose. Cindy claims the raspberry chipotle chicken as her favorite, while Jim raves about the jalapeno bacon BLT.
But while the menu’s variety and creativity is certainly a draw, Bread Winners is a bakery, after all, which means the bread for the sandwiches and for the meals is all made daily, in-house. Every night, the leftover bread is sold during ‘happy hour’ for half price, opening the shelves and kitchens for a fresh batch the next day.
“The bakery comes in at three in the morning – every morning, every store. It’s a labor of love. There aren’t a lot of people who do that nowadays,” says Jim. “To actually have the smell of baked goods, I’d really have a hard time to tell you where to go to get the smell of a fresh baked item in a restaurant; it’s hardly happening out there at all.”
The smell of freshly baked bread is certainly a difficult one to resist, but it’s only a fraction of what they strive to achieve at Bread Winners. It’s a bakery, sure, and a cafe, too. But as they open their fourth restaurant at NorthPark Center, replete with a patio that sports giant Jenga and other backyard games, Bread Winners is achieving just what Jim and Cindy set out to do – just in a way unlike any other. Three hundred employees and counting, they’re still a neighborhood restaurant.
They’re simply finding more neighborhoods.