New Cedar Rapids Bakery Brings Asian Delights, Artisan Bread to NewBo City Market

CEDAR RAPIDS — In the six years since she arrived in the United States, Anh Le has gone from someone with no sense of direction in the kitchen to a busy bakery owner with a unique niche in the NewBo City market.

After moving to a rural Connecticut farm to live with her husband, the former English teacher was craving a change. She couldn’t teach in the United States, but she could make the most of her time at home.

With a garden, herbs, fresh eggs and pork raised on their farm, cooking became a necessity at home, where they were 40 minutes from the nearest market. Eventually, she grew to love her mother’s job as a chef in Vietnam, so she enrolled in culinary school to advance her craft.

A loaf of sourdough bread finishes baking in the oven on Friday, July 5, 2024, at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

A loaf of sourdough bread finishes baking in the oven on Friday, July 5, 2024, at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

In 2019, the couple opened a bed and breakfast, where guests quickly appreciated their cooking. But with the arrival of the pandemic, a glaring gap in the farm’s ability to be self-sufficient emerged: baked goods.

At home, baked goods were store-bought, not homemade.

“In Vietnam, baking is something that is untouchable for households. You don’t make it yourself,” Le says. “But here, I realized that you can make your own pastries.”

If you are going to

What: Anh’s Bread Therapy

Or: NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids

Website: anhsbreadtherapy.com

Hours: 10am to 8pm Wednesday to Saturday; 10am to 4pm Sunday

Details: Artisan sourdough bread, Japanese Shokupan bread and Hong Kong-inspired coconut buns are baked fresh daily, alongside a rotating menu of other pastries like kolaches, lemon coconut tarts and cupcakes.

A talent on the rise

When her husband’s new job brought her to Cedar Rapids, she discovered a passion for baking she didn’t know she had before. Shortly after moving to Iowa in 2022, she enrolled in a baking certificate program at Kirkwood Community College.

In no time, homemade baked goods began to gain popularity in the city. A new outlet opened at NewBo City Market, where she set up shop in May.

Pastry chef and baker Anh Le works on upside-down Hong Kong coconut buns Friday, July 5, 2024, at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Pastry chef and baker Anh Le works on upside-down Hong Kong coconut buns Friday, July 5, 2024, at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

What’s in the oven?

With a niche for Asian specialties, Anh’s Bread Therapy offers three permanent locations anchoring a rotation of specialty pastries, all baked fresh daily.

Shokupan, a lighter Japanese milk bread with a delicate crust, balances the heavier loaves of artisan sourdough bread carved on the same shelf.

Le’s best-seller, Hong Kong Inside-Out Coconut Buns, is one dish you might have to wake up early for. Inspired by a Chinese bakery she grew up near in Vietnam, it’s a specialty found nowhere else in the Corridor.

Pastry chef and baker Anh Le works on upside-down Hong Kong coconut buns Friday, July 5, 2024, at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Pastry chef and baker Anh Le works on upside-down Hong Kong coconut buns Friday, July 5, 2024, at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

The recipe, crafted to taste exactly as she remembers, produces deliciously soft rolls slathered with butter and filled with a hint of sweet coconut in the center.

Other rotating specialties feature sweet and savory dishes in European and Asian styles. Last week, customers had their choice of fruit-filled kolaches, savory beer kolaches, lemon and coconut tarts, and pandan and ube cupcakes.

What makes his bread therapeutic?

Before coming to the United States, Le wasn’t very good at baking. Recipes can be boring if you follow them exactly, she thought. And baking involves an exact alchemy that demands precision, leaving little room for the creativity she loved to express in the kitchen.

“I hate following directions,” she said. “The most effective factor in a recipe is the chef.”

But when the pandemic hit, Le took up the same hobby many novices found themselves pursuing in their free time during lockdown: artisan bread. Once she got the hang of it, she turned to banana bread, recipes on the back of flour bags, and anything else she could find online.

Pastry chef and baker Anh Le works on upside-down Hong Kong coconut buns Friday, July 5, 2024, at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Pastry chef and baker Anh Le works on upside-down Hong Kong coconut buns Friday, July 5, 2024, at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Although the self-described night owl doesn’t enjoy the early mornings that have become part of her daily routine, the smell of fresh bread rising in the oven serves as her daily coffee.

Bread also taught her a new skill that cooking never could have taught her. And as she struggled with the culture shock of living in a new country, finding a new way to reconnect with her homeland helped keep depression at bay.

“Bread helped me a lot. I’m not a patient person, that’s why I chose baking,” Le said. “But with baking, I tried to rush a lot of times. It taught me to be patient and not rush good things.”

Pastry chef and baker Anh Le removes loaves of shokupan, a type of Japanese milk bread, from the oven on Friday, July 5, 2024, at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Pastry chef and baker Anh Le removes loaves of shokupan, a type of Japanese milk bread, from the oven on Friday, July 5, 2024, at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Comments: Reporter Elijah Decious can be reached at (319) 398-8340 or elijah.decious@thegazette.com.

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