Great American cities several things in common: vibrant culture and arts offerings, a thriving restaurant scene, strong local colleges and universities and notable bakeries and bread makers. It’s true—bread and doughnuts are as important to a major city as its sports teams. And as Charlotte aspires to become as relevant as its other southern neighbors—ahem, Atlanta and Charleston—it’s no surprise that chefs are stepping up to fill the bread and pastry void in the Queen City. “Every great city has to have a vibrant restaurant scene,” says Peter Reinhart, chef on assignment for Johnson & Wales University and author of nine books on breads and pizza. “One of those things on the checklist is great bakeries. There’s something special about bread. It’s affordable by the masses so it’s loved by the masses. It’s so intrinsically tied to various cultures and religions.” Which might explain why the presence of a really fantastic bakery serving European-style breads and pastries is so integral to the framework of a great American city. Today, a mix of culinary wizards and Johnson & Wales alumni are opening storefronts and delivery-only bakeries and cafes that pride themselves on all-natural, rustic artisan breads and pastries in a city where biscuits have reigned supreme. And with Charlotteans’ palates slowly catching up (and becoming smitten with rustic, European-style breads), it appears these bread makers and chefs are on to something. Charlotte is finally taking the final step to becoming the next great U.S. city one baguette at a time. Your Mom’s DonutsWhen Benjamin Fry and Courtney Buckley lost the lease to the Concord farm where they’d been raising sheep, Peking duck, dairy cows, and pigs, they knew they wanted to continue providing locally-made and raised food for Charlotte residents. After scouring the Queen City for a “good doughnut,” says Buckley, the husband-and-wife team decided to make their own. The result: Your Mom’s Donuts, deliciously rich doughnuts deep fried in pig leaf lard, a much cleaner and, according to Buckley, flavorful option courtesy of the pigs the couple continues to raise. Eggs, dairy, meats, and more are all sourced from local farms not to mention the duo makes their own jams and caramel in house to create rotating flavors such as raspberry jam with lavender sugar, beer and glazed bacon (the former from Sycamore Brewing in South End), and Chai custard. Though there’s no storefront currently, Fry and Buckley will deliver within 10 miles of Charlotte for a minimum order of a half dozen. www.yourmomsdonuts.com; Find them at Matthews Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings, www.matthewsfarmersmarket.comSunflour Baking CompanyHaving grown up rolling biscuits in her parents’ and grandparents’ Asheville restaurant, Hot Shot Café, Debbie Bartok had a knack for baking. But it wasn’t until years later in 2010 that the self-taught bread connoisseur opened Sunflour Baking Company with her two daughters, pastry chef Marion Burhmaster and Johanna Saruse. Located in the heart of Elizabeth, Sunflour prides itself on being a scratch-made bakery, which means the almond raspberry cupcake that’s developed a cult-like following features house-made raspberry jam, almond-flavored cake, and sweet buttercream and cream cheese frosting. (Bartok heads to Asheville each fall to gather apples for various pastries including the popular apple galette, a mini version of a traditional pie.) Croissants, pies, cupcakes, breads, and soups, are also made fresh daily by Burhmaster and her team of culinary wizards.2001 E. 7th St., 704-900-5268, www.sunflourbakingcompany.comDukes BreadTo Adam Duke, bread making is an art and science. To develop the bread’s deep flavor, Duke—who began Dukes Bread with his wife, Ellen, in 2010—uses a 200-year-old sourdough starter, which is incorporated into all of Dukes’ doughs and aged for up to twenty-four hours prior to baking. The result is all-natural bread sans artificial additives, chemicals, or stabilizers. Dukes Bread’s location is fitting for the simply-made but wholly flavorful breads: In the small 150-square-foot brick-and-mortar storefront, you’ll find a dozen-plus bread options—rosemary sea salt, garlic oil, and rustic sourdough are the most popular—and various accompanying olive oils for tasting. While the husband-and-wife duo, who both boast pastry degrees from Johnson & Wales, are planning to open a larger café-style storefront, for now Charlotteans can purchase Dukes Bread at their Plaza Midwood store, Whole Foods, Reads’ Fine Foods, and area farmers’ markets not to mention enjoy it at restaurants like Fern and Something Classic Café. 1217 The Plaza, 704-313-8537, www.dukesbread.comFourth Ward Bread Co.After a stint in the catering world in Chapel Hill, Jonathan Schneider decided to pursue his dream of opening a restaurant. The Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef—who completed a rigorous nine-month course on pastry, cuisine, and bread at the esteemed London culinary school—teamed up with his dad, Ken, last September to open Fourth Ward Bread Co., a bakery and café with a focus on European-style, hearth-baked bread with big, dark crusts and nutty, rich aromas. The concept was genius for a city aching for a true bakery—and a mouth-watering breakfast sandwich. (Schneider crafted a house-made croissant filled with bacon or house-made sausage and house-made fresh mozzarella topped with an egg that’s become their best seller.) Fourth Ward serves a little bit of everything: kronuts, baguettes, galettes (delicious, rustic free-form pies), spiral muffins (their version of cinnamon buns), pain au chocolate, not to mention French baguettes, three naturally-leavened loaves (country sourdough, golden wheat and whole wheat), and brioche all in a European café-style setting. 312 N. Graham St., 336-946-2072, www.fourthwardbreadco.comLocal LoafFor Adam Spears, it was about what was missing. After working at a bakery as an undergrad at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, Spears was exposed to true European, artisan-style bread. So when he came to Charlotte in 2010 to attend Johnson & Wales, “I tried every in Charlotte and there wasn’t one that had hard, crusty, artisan-style European bread,” he says. “It was cinnamon swirl bread, muffins, sweet rolls. I just wanted bread where I used to work [in Columbus.]” Fast forward three years—and a stint as executive baker and sous chef at NoDa’s Heist Brewery—and Spears is now helming Local Loaf in 7th Street Market where, he says, he’s churning out one of the best baguettes around. (Spears’s 7th Street Market spot also boasts hot sandwiches, hand-rolled brioche buns, croissants, and flavored bread including ones like in-house hickory-smoked bleu cheese and caramelized onion, sautéed spinach and caramelized onion, and fruit and nut.) “The part that keeps me going is that people tell me, ‘I haven’t had bread like this since I went to Europe’,” says Spears, whose breads have become so popular restaurants like Dandelion Market, Fahrenheit, The Asbury at the Dunhill, and many more are exclusively serving Local Loaf.