Photos by Madoline Markham.
0512 Food Studio BSandwiches like the Cubano Monday special at Food Studio B in Chelsea are served on house-made bread with a salad of seasonal vegetables and your choice of house-made dressings.
Sean Butler is carving meat amidst shelves of dried fruit, nuts and labels for his snack food lines when I walk into Food Studio B to interview him.
Butler speaks fast, rattling off the farmers he knows and how they fit into his vision for the new space. A man from Rora Farms in Coosa County walks in to deliver eggs. Butler points out his one and only shelf of dried goods. His focus is obvious: Make food from scratch and foster community.
“We want to sit down with our customers and get to know them,” said Butler, who has lived in Chelsea since 2006.
The café, located in the former Chelsea Café location behind the BP on Highway 280, had a soft opening in March and is now serving salads, sandwiches, soups and specials daily—as well as homemade desserts—on weekdays.
Lunch and breakfast are only the start of Butler’s vision for the storefront to be a market, bakery and café.
“We want to be a one stop shop for all things food,” he said.
The word all is not an understatement for his plans. There will be steaks and seafood, prepared meals, fresh frozen yogurt and ice cream made from local dairies’ milk and yogurt, cooking classes for kids and adults, and more. Their hours will extend, and Butler will start to work more with schools and churches in the area. The reclaimed pine wood walls of the interior will open up to an outdoor kitchen and picnic tables.
A Friday Night Supper Club started in April with a four to five course meal each week ($55). The menu is released online on a Sunday, and reservations close on Wednesday. The events for 36-40 people allow guests to bring their own beer or wine and center on fostering community and conversation. Part of the profits will be shared with a specific nonprofit, the first of which was the American Stroke Association, an organization close to Butler’s heart.
It was Butler’s father’s heart attack a decade ago that inspired Butler to first change his diet from the classical European culinary styles in which he was trained. He traveled on weekends to learn flavor profiles and spent weekdays recreating the flavor of fatty meats with ingredients that kept it healthy. He learned to make macaroni and cheese and squash casserole healthier, and taste good, while feeding 3500 people each day at Blue Cross Blue Shield as their chef.
In 2008 Butler left Blue Cross to open Food Studio B, named for his son Braden, now a kindergartener at Chelsea Park Elementary, in a retail space in Greystone.
Around that time, Butler began to create fresh packaged meals for people on the Paleo Diet, which consists of meats, vegetables and seeds with no dairy and no grains; Food Studio B now delivers 800-1500 of these meals, some of which are packaged for IronTribe’s brands, throughout Birmingham each week. Butler himself follows an 85-95 percent Paleo Diet; he eats legumes but not dairy. Food Studio B also creates a snack line of granolas, protein bars, raw bars and trail mix named for Butler’s grandmother, Maria.
Butler believes that the Paleo Diet works and makes sense, but his café does serve freshly baked breads, cakes, cookies, and whoopee pies created by baker Ginny Bryant. They serve gluten-free baked goods as well.
Regular customers have already learned about their daily specials. On Monday they serve sandwiches like a Cubano and a Corquette Monsieur (ham and cheese). Tuesdays are for tacos; three to five varieties like a braised short rib and a tilapia and catfish are $2.59 each. Wednesday brings crispy, baked wings from Springer Mountain Farm in Georgia; flavors vary from pineapple jerk to a Cajun dry rub to “The Screamer” with sriracha, roasted jalapeños and chipotle peppers. On Fridays they will soon serve chicken and waffles, with the choice of a classic malted waffle or a multigrain waffle.
“We are just trying to be ourselves,” Butler said. “We listen to our customers and adapt what they want to our scratch-based style.”