Large glass windows frame rows of wine bottles atop tables. Flanked by navy walls, a tall rolling kitchen cart stands behind the counter, carrying trays full of assorted pastries. Outside, there is no shortage of enthusiastic customers as the line stretches around the corner. The reward at the end of this wait is nothing more than an unassuming cardboard box, but from within comes a warm, sweet and savory aroma: the unmistakable smell of fresh baked goods.
Operating out of Zola restaurant in downtown Palo Alto, Love for Butter is a pop-up bakery offering a collection of classic and contemporary pastries. It is exclusively open on Sundays for online preorder pickup and walk-ins.
A baker is born
John Shelsta, the heart and soul of Love for Butter, grew up in Menlo Park, and fell in love with baking when he found himself working in the restaurant industry up and down the Peninsula. Shelsta opened up his first pop-up bakery in the summer of 2013, and has since gained a considerable following while running pop-ups on and off.
“I would do them [pop-ups] basically whenever I had extra time,” Shelsta said. “I do them for a few months, maybe once a month, and then I just wouldn’t do one for a year.”
“At the start of the pandemic, I wasn’t really planning on baking, but a few longtime customers knew I was back in the area and asked if I would be willing to make some stuff for them.”
— John Shelsta, owner of Love for Butter
Shelsta partly attributes his journey in baking to the croissant, his favorite pastry, which has been a longtime staple in his menus. Over the course of his many pop-ups, he has been perfecting the recipe to acquire a particular flavor, color and size.
“It still is constantly being tweaked and small changes are being made to only try and create an even better and better croissant,” Shelsta said.
Shelsta, a native Korean, was adopted as a child and hadn’t returned to his home country until earlier this year. On that trip, he was fascinated by the culture, and made plans for moving back to Korea.
“So I figured, if I were to want to just take a leap and go spend some time in the country where I was born, there was no better time to do it than now,” Shelsta said.
However, the pandemic changed everything. With all plans for the future thrown out the window, Shelsta found himself stuck at home in the Bay Area, but under these unexpected circumstances, he started up his passion project again.
“At the start of the pandemic, I wasn’t really planning on baking, but a few longtime customers knew I was back in the area and asked if I would be willing to make some stuff for them,” Shelsta said.
Although Korea is still on his mind, with such an uncertain future, Shelsta has his eyes on the horizon with plans such as possibly opening a bakery of his own sometime soon. Intrigued by his passion, Verde tried some of his creations:
This classic pastry is large and encased in a golden-brown, glossy exterior. The crispy outside contrasts the buttery, soft and airy inside of slightly sweet dough. Fruity jam makes the perfect complement to a delicious croissant.
Kouign Amann ($4.25)
This pastry is instantly recognizable by its irregular shape and folded dough. The sugar coated crunchy shell hides layers upon layers of puffy dough inside with a pure sugar filling. This was my personal favorite and is definitely a must try for those with a sweet tooth.
Chocolate Candied Orange Sourdough Epi ($4)
Despite its sweet-sounding name, the sourdough epi is actually a savory pastry. It is a long and dark loaf with distinct sections, topped with small chocolate chunks. The bread gives off a distinct sourdough smell and a bite reveals the bright candied orange inside. The sourdough combined with the bitterness of the chocolate and orange produces a natural and balanced flavor.
Meyer Lemon Brioche ($4.50)
This circular golden brown pastry is adorned with lemon filling and topped with small sugar crystals. I particularly enjoyed the rich and creamy lemon filling which is accompanied by savory dough and a slight crunch from the sugar crystals.
Fromage Blanc/Fermented Tomato Brioche ($5)
This round pastry is filled with dried tomatoes, adding acidity, while the addition of cheese adds a creamy texture. The pumpkin seeds atop contribute crunch, complimented by the softness of the dough.