Pastry chef Daniel Benjamin finally has a room with a view.
After years in kitchens tucked far away from the guests who savored the pastries he made, his new downtown shop, lucettegrace, features huge storefront windows.
Even from the kitchen, he can peer through a window to see who’s surveying his rows of tarts, brownies, macarons, scones and whatever other delicacies he’s dreamed up for the day.
The view is one that has buoyed him since opening in November on Salisbury Street in downtown Raleigh, as newcomers continue to discover the shop and passersby have become regulars.
“On a really long day, when you’re just tired and you see someone come in and their face lights up and they’re excited, that’s enough to get you through,” Benjamin said.
The shop serves pastries all day and a savory lunch menu after 11 a.m. under the tagline “lucettegrace is a starting point for your day, an escape in the middle, and a reward at the end.”
When Benjamin, 36, the former pastry chef at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, went searching for a space to call his own, he had never considered Salisbury Street.
Then he came across a former CrossFit gym between Martin and Hargett streets and knew he had found just the place for lucettegrace, which he calls a contemporary patisserie. The shop takes its name from his two daughters’ middle names.
Benjamin wanted a place that fit into the landscape, where people could stroll in on their way home or on their way to work. He imagined a modern twist on the idea of a downtown bakery.
“We want to feel like we’re part of the neighborhood and the community,” he said.
It’s an idea that seems to be working. Benjamin said he’s enjoyed support from nearby shops and restaurants, such as Deco on the corner of Salisbury and Hargett streets and Garland around the corner on Martin Street.
The strip of Salisbury Street, long a desolate block perhaps best known for The News & Observer’s hulking parking garage, also will soon welcome more new businesses.
On the corner of Hargett and Salisbury, chef Ashley Christensen is expected to open Death and Taxes, a restaurant focused on wood-fired cooking, as well as Bridge Club, a private event space.
More broadly, Raleigh has seen an influx of other bakeries, such as artisan bread bakers Yellow Dog Bread Co. and Boulted Bread and the Night Kitchen Bakehouse & Cafe in Seaboard Station.
Benjamin grew up in a town an hour outside of Chicago, with a love of food shows and cooking. As soon as he could, he got a job washing dishes at the local country club, then a gig in the first fancy restaurant to make its way to town.
Soon, he was off to New York to study at the French Culinary Institute and further develop his craft in the city’s bakeries and pastry shops. From there, he spent years crisscrossing the country for work, before landing at the Umstead in 2006.
Benjamin said he decided to strike out on his own because the time was right for him personally, but also because the time was right for Raleigh.
He said the influx of bakeries and pastry shops is no surprise, and a pleasant reality. Each is unique and complements the offerings available throughout the city, he said.
“To me, that’s a good sign that they all seem to be doing well,” Benjamin said. “Hope for us all.”