This story has been updated to include a correction.
Friends and family got a sneak peek at the Annex Coffeehouse and Bakery on Monday evening.
The new business is connected to the Fieldhouse restaurant, owned by Ben and Krystal Harman, at 2601 Minnesota Ave.
Ben Harman said he’s still not positive when the Annex will be open to the public, but it could be as soon as next week. Some details need to be completed and the business still has to undergo a final inspection by the city, Harman said.
Among the guests at the soft opening Monday was Brian Williams, a commercial loan officer for First Interstate Bank, who by coincidence is helping with the financing on three similar businesses: the Annex, the MoAv Coffee House on Montana and Harper & Madison, a cafe and bakery on 10th Avenue North that closed for renovations in December and is shooting for a reopening later this month.
“It’s cool to see Billings getting a little more culture, I guess you’d call it,” Williams said. “It seems like downtown Billings is starting to thrive.”
Harman said the Annex will open at 6 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends, staying open until 9 p.m., or as he put it, “9-ish,” until they figure out what their customers want.
In addition to champagne and a variety of coffee drinks, treats laid out at the Monday event included snickerdoodles, gingersnap cookies, red-velvet cupcakes, orange cream cupcakes topped with edible flowers, sugar doughnuts, orange rolls, lemon poppy seed cake and giant chocolate-chip cookies.
An assortment of breads was also on display, types of bread not previously available in Billings, including thick-crusted baguettes and a variety of rustic breads.
Head baker Jeff Birkholz-Wilkerson said the breads, in terms of ingredients, are some of the simplest breads there are, but to make them just right is quite difficult. The challenge has prompted Harman, the Fieldhouse’s chef, to try his hand at bread-baking for the first time in his life.
That’s what Birkholz-Wilkerson likes to see.
“I like having people just as excited as I am about baking,” he said.
Harman said he is not planning to have a menu, but only because they hope to have a constantly changing choice of foods. He said he’d like to have two different sandwiches every day, one vegetarian and one with meat, all pre-made and sold until they’re gone.
He’s also thinking of having a daily quiche and a few other savory offerings, plus little side dishes like an assortment of nuts.
“That’s one thing Ben and I have always agreed on,” Birkholz-Wilkerson said. “We don’t want it to be something anybody else has.”
Birkholz-Wilkerson spent the past five years running the kitchen at Passages, a prerelease center for female offenders, and also led the Culinary Arts Program there. (*This is wrong. Please see correction at the bottom of this story.) He hired one of his graduates, Julie DeShazer, to work in the Annex kitchen.
DeShazer said she’s from the Flathead Valley, but she’s decided to stay in Billings and pursue her new career. “It’s just something I’ve always loved to do,” she said of baking, and at the Annex everyone is being trained to bake everything—breads, cakes, sweets and savory items.
She’s been working there since June, baking cakes and other goods for special orders and bread for the Fieldhouse.
The 1,500-square-foot Annex is located in what used to be a personal fitness training gym. It now has a patio out back, adjoining the Fieldhouse patio, which faces the backside of Carter’s Brewing and the Tracy Lofts building across the railroad tracks.
The new bakery and coffeehouse also features a stunning piece of art, a kind of mural-meets-installation-meets-collage created by Ben Harman’s cousin, Holly Grob.
Among those enjoying the food and checking out the new space Monday was Adela Awner, who described herself as “a total supporter of local business and local food.”
After taking a close look at an abundance of treats spread out on a counter in the middle of the Annex, Awner said, “I’d better warn my husband: No dinner tonight, just cookies.”
*Correction: We mistakenly reported that Jeff Birkholz-Wilkerson ran the kitchen and Culinary Arts Program at Passages. He said he was previously the kitchen supervisor at the prison in Wyoming, but at Passages he worked in the kitchen and helped students with baking and desserts.