Hail to the Chefs: The Buzz – Mixing business with pleasure
Story and Photos by Melissa Adler
Mother/daughter relationships can be complicated. After withstanding adolescence, some mothers and daughters leave behind the roles they must play in the younger years to become friends. Deborah Bellotti and Candice Carson did more than that – they became business partners. Six years ago they opened The Buzz, a unique place to eat and gather that fulfills Deborah’s dream of owning a coffee shop and an art gallery, and allows Candice to express her love of cooking.
Neither woman had experience in food service. Deborah had a vision and Candice had a talent for mixing flavors. After 26 years of working in the insurance industry Deborah took her savings and signed a lease. "She’s a both feet first type of person," says her daughter Candice. "I’m much more reserved. That’s a good mix for us."
Candice, pregnant with her first son, intended to leave her banking job to be a stay-at-home mom. Instead she became a mom and a pastry chef.
These days Deborah has taken over the role of pastry chef. She comes in at five every morning to bake cinnamon rolls, carrot cake, apple turnovers, muffins and whatever else she dreams up. All treats are made in house and most of the recipes belonged to her grandmother. People come from far and wide for the carrot cake, Deborah says. Her mom and aunt came up with the recipe and her dad was the taste tester. "All of the carrots were dug up in his garden."
“We are extremely blessed to have such great customers. People love the food, they love my mom, they feel like family, and they just keep coming back.”
– Candice Carson
The partners divide responsibilities so they’re not stepping over each other. Deborah takes the orders and makes sure everyone is happy in the front of the house. Candice designs the menu, keeps the books and fixes whatever is broken. They make a good team. Every once in a while, however, the parent/child relationship bubbles up. "I definitely revert to bratty teenager," laughs Candice. Deborah will tell her, "You’re such a brat!" and Candice responds "Mom, why don’t you go do some dishes or something." It’s all in fun, though, and customers feel like members of the family. "We are extremely blessed to have such great customers," says Candice. "People love the food, they love my mom, they feel like family, and they just keep coming back."
When you approach the entrance of The Buzz, on East Battlefield Road at Lone Pine in Springfield, you may or may not notice two raised beds of plants. This is more than landscaping – it’s Candice’s garden. She grows thyme, tarragon, rosemary, lavender, oregano, chives, parsley, tomatoes and chili peppers. The thyme and rosemary will produce all year. The desire to use fresh, local ingredients can be found in all of the dishes. Candice buys eggs produced by humanely raised chickens, and organic vegetables from Seasons Harvest Eco-Farm in Sparta, Mo. The Buzz uses a local roaster, Rebel Roaster, for its coffee. Candice also gets produce from Amish farms in the Kansas City area. "I would much prefer to have organic products, particularly fruits and vegetables, because most of the time you’re eating the skin and I don’t really like the idea of having pesticides in my food for me or my kids or anybody."
Art was an addition at new location
Someone new to The Buzz may be surprised by the amount of original art covering nearly every space on the walls. When they opened at their first location on East Republic Road, Deborah and Candice hung up store-bought things. They moved to their current location in the Half-a-Hill Center to increase seating, they decided to hang art from local artists. Word spread and more artists came in asking to display their work. The artists, more than 15 at this point, have also become customers and friends. The Buzz doesn’t take a percentage of their sales. "We’re just happy to have something on the walls," says Candice. They’ve sold a lot of pieces, which Candice describes as good quality and reasonably priced. The paintings and photographs are not rotated, but rather rearranged when more pieces are added. Simply put, Candice says they’ll make room until they run out of room. The restaurant also displays aprons and pottery by local artisans. Giving smaller artists a venue to sell their creations contributes to the unique dining experience at The Buzz. "We love it," says Candice. Her mom always wanted a coffee shop and an art gallery. "We got both."
“People tell me that the room feels like home, wherever that is. It’s always a different place.”
– Deborah Belloti
A restaurant with art wasn’t the original plan. The plan was to open a coffee shop with pastries, but Deborah and Candice found a space that had a full kitchen with all the equipment. "We just kind of dove in," says Candice, and she created a full menu. The menu offerings were basic in the beginning and included a turkey sandwich, ham sandwich, chicken salad and a couple side salads. The sandwiches came from things Candice would make for her husband, Jason, based on flavors that she knew tasted good together.
Trial and error over the years has perfected the sandwich menu. For new ideas, Candice reads magazines and cookbooks. Whenever she goes on vacation she eats for inspiration. She brings ideas back to the restaurant and makes them her own. Sometimes Candice tests new recipes at home, but most are tried out on employees who tend to give her better feedback than her husband, who will eat anything. The most popular lunch item is the curry chicken salad.
Some menu items are tried and forgotten for various reasons. Candice may have a concept for a sandwich but the ingredients are too expensive. Other times the dish is delicious but takes too long to prepare. "We had a watermelon salad that took seven or eight minutes to make, so that was on for like two days and then the cook promptly gave it the ax."
Their original cook, with them from the start, left after graduating from college. Now Candice is the full time cook. You can yell at yourself, I point out. "Yeah right," Candice laughs. "I need it faster!"
The menu at The Buzz has grown over the years increasing the selection from three sandwiches to eight. There are several different salads and all soups are made fresh daily. The restaurant emphasizes vegetarian options. Specials are often meatless, which makes preparing organic easier. To reflect availability of local produce, the menu changes seasonally with different dishes appearing in October and April. The Buzz also handles small catering jobs such as office parties. Breakfast wasn’t always on the menu, but it’s a huge crowd pleaser now. Served only on Saturdays from 8 a.m.-11 a.m., this mealtime is extremely busy at The Buzz. Pancakes, omelets and just about anything you can imagine is served up to eager regulars who drink probably 150 cups of coffee.
After everyone goes home:
The hardest part of the business isn’t dealing with a shortage of clean coffee cups, though. According to Candice, it’s all the little things like making sure the outside looks good, ordering supplies and going to the grocery store, that take up a lot of time and energy. By the end of the day, Candice is pretty much out of energy for cooking.
Does she go home and order take out? "Sadly, I do," admits Candice. She always prepares a hot meal for her two boys, but it’s a different story for the grown-ups.
"Peanut butter and jelly, Thai food. By eight o’clock I’m like ‘no, I’m done.’ " Candice says most chefs don’t cook for themselves and she’s no exception.
Too bad, I say, because she’s really quite good at it.
– Melissa Adler