Baking together, one croissant at a time

The co-owners of Picasso’s Pastries and Cafe partner to offer from-scratch goods for the Westcott community.

Sun rays cast weak dawn light on the empty glass cases. Steam rises in wisps above the first brew of the day. In pink bunny slippers dusted with a coating of flour, Kayla Brandt balances a tray of warm butter croissants destined for the front display.

It’s 6:30 a.m. on a recent Wednesday, and Picasso’s Pastries and Cafe smells of French bread and apple tarts.

Photo: Christine Rushton
Picasso's serves local Cafe Kubal coffee as part of a partnership.

Brandt, 24, with her boyfriend David Zaczynski, 29, co-own the bakery at 466 Westcott St. in Syracuse. On Wednesday, like every Tuesday through Sunday, the two started prepping for the day at 3 a.m.

“It’s hard to find a place that makes everything from scratch, that doesn’t hold things over for two or three days,” Zaczynski said. “You have a face behind the bakery.”

The two met 15 years ago in Syracuse when Brandt’s father, a Sysco food service salesman, started supplying for Zaczynski’s family restaurant. Each worked in restaurants growing up and learned the basics of running a business.

Although Zaczynski took culinary classes at Onondaga Community College, he learned his baking skills from his mother, books and YouTube videos.

He focuses on mastering one recipe before trying another, like his butter croissants.

“Hand rolled, hand cut, hand laminated,” Zaczynski said. “Where a normal bakery would use a machine or buy puffed pastry that is already cut into triangles, I have a two-day process.” 

Robin Drucker, a 24-year-old Syracuse University graduate student, said she comes in every morning to prepare for class.

“I’m a hard and fast lover of the butter croissant,” she said.

Picasso’s has turned in to a regular stop for many locals, like Drucker. Brandt describes the man who comes in every morning for his almond croissant, the little boy who runs in on weekends with his grandmother for a chocolate donut, and the grandson with his grandfather who buy slices of carrot cake daily to share.

She bakes what makes them smile.  

Picasso’s owners first planned to open a gourmet diner, but when the building on Westcott Street became available, plans changed. The small space was fit for a bakery.

“Dave loves bread, he’s obsessed with bread,” Brandt said, laughing. “So, he went on YouTube, bought a couple books, and learned how to make bread for me.”

He remembers telling his mother, owner of Eva’s European Sweets in Syracuse's Westside, that he would never take a job requiring he get up early and bake. Life changes when you’re happy, though, he said.

Zaczynski said despite their name, Picasso’s does not specialize in style. They bake recipes from Italy, France, Hungary, and Spain.

July 8 marked Picasso’s one-year anniversary. They now cater weddings and have a partnership with Café Kubal to share coffee and pastries in each establishment’s shops.

Dave Ardner, Café Kubal’s delivery and marketing person, said Kubal provides Picasso’s with coffee, tea, syrups, and granola.

“Café Kubal is all about the community and so is Picasso's, so we struck up a great relationship with them,” Ardner said.

Back in the bakery steaming milk for their morning cappuccinos made with Kubal coffee, Brandt considers the future of the venture. A restaurant would fulfill her dream, but in time and with money.

“I figure I can bake a bank a cake and let them give me a loan,” she said while smiling. “I can bribe the city with chocolate chip cookies. You can always bribe people with sweets.”

Zaczynski said for now, Picasso’s will continue baking. He will wake up each morning, roll out his dough, and greet the almond croissant man.

And he will do so Brandt right by his side.

“When you’re half a boss of a place and when you always have to go to your other half for every decision you make, you have to be happy with your partner,” he said. “I’m happy with my partner. I’m happy with my girlfriend.”

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