Suzu’s Bakery educates CU about Japanese delicacies

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Ryan Ash

The Suzu Bakery, located on Walnut Street in Champaign, rests on Tuesday afternoon.

By Bridget Bastein

Last year saw the unfortunate end to many local businesses, just one of the devastating effects of COVID-19. But thankfully, despite the setbacks, new establishments were able to rise. One of the most exciting to join our Champaign-Urbana community is Suzu’s Bakery, a Japanese bakery located in downtown Champaign. The bakery opened a little over a month ago.

Suzu’s provides bakery fare typical of Japan from Shokupan, Anpan, Shu cream, strawberry cake and yuzu cake. The bakery’s team decided to add some chocolate items, like their miso brownie, and gluten-free and vegan okara cake. Both take an innovative approach to standard chocolate baked goods. Suzu’s cares a lot about the quality of their ingredients and work with both local companies like Page Roasting Co. for their coffee and companies abroad like Koyamaen in Japan for their matcha.

Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud, one of Suzu’s four owners, says that her team’s main goals were to enhance what they can offer the community from a culinary standpoint and introduce the community to new ingredients and culinary techniques. Gunji-Ballsrud, educator and director of Japan House, is happy to teach the community more about Japanese culture through the fantastic food that Suzu’s offers.

While working at the Japan House, Gunji-Ballsrud met Suzu’s current chef and co-owner Suzuko Enomoto. The two became instant friends as they both related to the plight of women workers in Japan’s food industry. Women like Enomoto, no matter how experienced, can be found to be the owners of cafes and bakeries, but typically cannot be seen to be running restaurants, which Gunji-Ballsrud also found to be quite frustrating. Gunji-Ballsrud and Enomoto kept in close touch, with Gunji-Ballsrud visiting Enomoto many times abroad, and the two began to talk about potentially opening a business together in America.

Soon after these talks began, Cream and Flutter approached Gunji-Ballsrud and informed her that they were planning to close. They asked her if she knew anyone who would want to take over the space. Gunji-Ballsrud and Enomoto jumped on the chance in December. They began to work on their dream project right before the pandemic hit in full force, considerably slowing down and complicating production. Despite all the setbacks, Suzu’s was able to persevere and added two more partners to the team—chef Alex Sentowski whom Gunji-Ballsrud met when he was a tea student at Japan House and Nan Goggin, Gunji-Ballsrud’s longtime friend and former university administrator. Thus the name Suzu’s, from the Japanese word for bells—typically seen as auspicious in Japanese culture—and from both Suzuko and Gunji-Ballsrud’s middle name Misuzu, opened on Nov. 17.

One of Gunji-Ballsrud and her team’s other goals is that Suzu’s delectable delights will bring a much-needed smile in these difficult times. And Suzu’s seem to be succeeding quite well in that thus far. Gunji-Ballsrud, a townie herself, says she feels the warmth from the unbelievable outpouring of support Champaign-Urbana has given Suzu’s. Each item is selling well. Gunji-Ballsrud credits her amazing team’s hard work in making outstanding products and her strong belief in the Champaign-Urbana community and their reception of quality eats for Suzu’s success. Gunji-Ballsrud and her team are excited about introducing the community to more of Japan by expanding their menu and having already started selling some new specials and seasonal items.

Suzu’s is a place to check out in the new year for some super tasty treats if you have not been already. The bakery has a fantastic selection, so it may be necessary to come back several times to try out all their offerings. Gunji-Ballsrud says she hopes more students will come, and it’s worth filling out that online order form, popping on a mask, and making a trip off-campus to grab some fantastic food.

 

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