Bittersweet, a little food and beverage place in the heart of downtown Raleigh, isn't like any other in the area. During the day, baker, bartender and business owner Kim Hammer and her crew run a coffee shop. As night falls, their place transforms into a trendy bar with signature cocktails.
Hammer started her food career with Bittycakes, a small baking business she ran out of her home. When her kids, Max and Evie, went off to school, Hammer found herself with more time than she knew what to do with. She decided to make her dream a reality and open her own storefront.
To set up shop in a downtown locale, Hammer realized she would need an alcohol component to keep her business afloat. She had worked mixing cocktails in the past, and she had many friends in the profession, so it was a no-brainer. Teaming up with a bartender and a barista, she fused three joints into one, creating a harmony of tastes and styles.
We met Hammer during the daytime shift at Bittersweet and got the scoop on how she continues to keep her bar/bakery/café fresh a year after opening. Here are excerpts from the edited interview along with five recipes she shared for your Halloween party.
Q: Why did you pick downtown Raleigh as your location?
A: I'm from Raleigh, and I lived in New York a few times and moved back and forth. When this process started, I had been back here for 11 years. For the longest time, I thought I would go to a different city to start my food business, but then things started to really change here.
An acquaintance said to me, "Everything is changing so much and people are coming from other places and opening businesses and deciding what Raleigh is going to be, and don't you think you should be a part of that?"
Q: And this building in particular?
A:I kept thinking that I wanted to be downtown but also part of a neighborhood, so I was picturing something on the outskirts.
Then the owners of this building came to me and said they really liked my concept and would you come pitch it to us. So we went down there, tattoos and all, and we started shaking up drinks in the boardroom and they were so receptive.
The thing that didn't occur to me was that this is a vertical neighborhood. Above I have residential condos, I have law firms, and this is my neighborhood. That's been really cool because we have a lot of regulars who live right upstairs, and the morning is almost exclusively the people who work upstairs or on this block.
Q: Did you go to college here?
A:I did – well, actually, I went to four different schools before I graduated! I started right after high school at UNC-G and did two years there, and then I went up to New York to go to NYU for what was supposed to be a semester. I started working in fashion for a while and then I started working for a magazine up there.
I decided I was burnt out of all that and I got into UNC-Chapel Hill, so I came back. It was during that time that I did a lot of bartending.
The funny thing is I got into the culture and appreciation of food in New York. I loved it – I was the person who couldn't pay my phone bill one month because I had to get a $35 lobster sandwich.
After Max was born and I was down here freelance writing, I was so bored, and I just started cooking a lot. Once Max was 1-1/2 and started eating, I couldn't find baked goods that I wanted him to eat - good, all-natural stuff like your grandma would make. I started making it and really enjoyed that.
I would bake for all of my friends and their babies, and then one of my friends told me, "You should really be getting paid to do this."
Q: Do you do everything here – bake, make coffee, bartend?
A:Yes.What is not fun about being a business owner is that when an inspector walks through the door it's, "Where's Kim?" One day I thought I was going to lose my mind; I was back there assembling parfaits for our service that night and I counted: I got interrupted 11 times.
So yes, many, many hats. I don't make lattes even remotely as good as these guys, though!
Q: What advice would you give a baker or chef who wants to start her own business?
A: The more small business owners you can work for the better. Watching them, being able to work side-by-side with an owner, or observe, you learn so much. Honestly, being a mom has prepared me so much for this, just being able to multitask.
Q: Have you considered expanding to other locations?
A: I go back and forth about whether or not I would want to do this concept again or do my next idea. What I have learned about myself is that I'm an entrepreneurial spirit. I enjoy the design and the idea process of things – not so much the production.
What's nice about here is that baking is my quiet time; it's my Zen place. I love that I can come in here on a Saturday or Sunday morning and no one's here and I can just quietly do whatever needs to be done.
I like to always be doing something new, which is what I love about this industry – every day is something new. When it starts to become routine, that's when I start thinking about my next thing.
Q: What will your next thing be?
A: I have a couple of ideas. We have a decent amount of customers who shop from us. They come in and buy a bag of coffee or a bottle of wine,and I would love to have a little specialty shop. I think it would be nice particularly in downtown Raleigh because we get a lot of tourists, and we can expose them to all the local goods.
It would not surprise me to see me open another bar because I love what I think a good neighborhood bar does for the neighborhood if you're a responsible bar owner.
Q: Which menu item do guests like the most?
A:We have this dessert that I accidentally created and everybody here loves. It's an ice cream sandwich called the salty chip-wich. But it's also our problem-child – we created a monster.
The only freezer we have is behind the counter, and it's very small. This particular dessert takes three days to make, and we can make only 80 of them at a time. We parse them out Wednesday through Saturday because when we first started selling them they would be sold out by 9 on Thursday.
I'm not surprised that it's as popular as it is because it has everything that I want in a dessert: It's salty and sweet and crunchy and smooth. One time a woman started banging on the door yelling, "I can't believe you're not open! How am I going to get my chip-wich?"
Spicy Pimento Cheese
10 ounces softened cream cheese
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 cup chopped pickled jalapenos
6 ounces diced pimentos
5 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce (or more to taste)
In a standing mixer with paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese with the mayo, garlic, onion powder and celery salt on medium speed until fully incorporated.
Add jalapenos and pimentos, and mix over low speed until incorporated.
Add cheese and mix over low speed. Then add sriracha and check for spiciness. Add more until it's as spicy as you prefer. Store in the refrigerator – it will be good for two weeks.
Makes 4 cups
Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie
One disc pie dough (recipe follows)
3 large sweet potatoes, baked until soft and cooled
4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons bourbon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Roll out dough, lay in pie pan and crimp and trim edges in any way you like. Place parchment paper over dough and fill pan with dried beans to weigh down the paper.
Bake for 10 minutes, then pull out the paper and beans and bake for another 5 minutes. Using oven mitts, push down any dough that has risen up—flatten the dough into shape.
Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
Scoop out potatoes into a large mixing bowl. Add butter and sugars. Using a hand mixer, mix on medium speed until fully incorporated. Remove any "strings" of sweet potato that attach to the beaters.
Add eggs, buttermilk and spices, and mix until incorporated. Then add vanilla and bourbon, and mix on high speed until mixture is smooth. As a final step, you can use an immersion blender to get the mix really smooth.
Pour the filling into pre-baked pie shell. Bake for about 20 minutes, then rotate pie and bake for 20-30 more minutes or until filling no longer jiggles and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Makes one 9-inch pie
––– Pie Dough –––
2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
6 ounces unsalted butter, cold, diced into pea-sized cubes
Approximately 1/2 cup ice water
Using a standing mixer with paddle attachment, combine the flour, salt and sugar over low speed. Leaving the mixer running on the lowest speed, slowly add butter, dropping 1-2 cubes at a time.
Once butter is fully incorporated, drizzle the ice water slowly while mixer is still running, adding just enough for the dough to come together like clay. Portion into 2 even-sized discs, seal in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge until using.
Makes enough for two 9-inch pies
Hot for Teacher
Fill a rocks glass with ice.
1-1/2 ounces Kraken Black
2 ounces apple cider
1 teaspoon simple syrup (Mix 1 part boiling water with 1 part sugar, stir until sugar dissolves and allow to cool.)
Squeeze of lemon wedge
Stir all ingredients together then top with a pinch of ground allspice. Garnish with a lemon wheel.
Makes 1 drink
Four A.M. Pancake
Fill a rocks glass with ice and set aside. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce half and half
3/4 ounce maple syrup
1 dash Crude Bitters "Big Bear" Coffee & cocoa
Shake really hard for at least 10 seconds and strain into the glass. Sprinkle pinches of cocoa and fresh ground coffee on top.
Makes 1 drink
Iced Irish Coffee
Fill a tall Collins glass with ice.
1-1/2 ounces Jameson
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Top with cold-brew coffee. (We make our own but you can buy in stores – there are a few great brands like Slingshot that are made in Raleigh.)
Top with whipped cream and fresh ground nutmeg.
Makes 1 drink