One Boulder couple’s journey working in the local restaurant industry

We profile chefs Patrick and Lisa Balcom on their journey through the restaurant industry

By Tatyana Sharpton Oct 8 2020

The restaurant industry captures many in its wide net, from college kids looking for rent money as hostesses and busboys, to food lovers seeking first-hand culinary experience and to grow in the industry. The gigs come with long hours and high pressure, both front- and back-of-house. It also sustains a vibrant part of Boulder’s community, providing income to hundreds of workers.

Boulder has over 17,850 service workers, and in addition, over 1,340 food service managers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Two and a half years ago, Lisa and Patrick Balcom moved from the sandy beaches of Charleston, South Carolina to Boulder where Patrick immediately got hired as executive sous chef for a top-rated local eatery, market and butcher shop, Blackbelly, and nearly a year ago Lisa joined the team as its pastry chef.

Lisa and Patrick Balcom

The foodie pair met outside of Charlotte, North Carolina while working for Ballantyne Hotel restaurant, with Patrick as a line cook for the hotel’s restaurants and Lisa as a pastry cook — her first job out of school. Working pastry in the hotel industry means having a hand in all aspects of one mass operation, from catering events to banquets, weddings, room service, and of course making desserts for any of the hotel’s restaurants.

The couple soon moved to Charleston, where they got married and continued working in the food industry, this time at multiple award-winning Charleston Grill, also in a hotel, nominated for multiple James Beard awards, the Forbes Four Star Award and AAA Four Diamond award.

However, after six years of working in the fine dining world, Charleston began to feel small and its constant hurricane threats tiring; Patrick and Lisa took a trip to Boulder and fell in love all over again, this time with the high-desert climate and glorious Flatirons. Neither had jobs lined up or even a place to live when they moved west.

Lisa’s Blackbelly Market donuts each Friday have become a cult favorite, such as these chocolate caramel and Oreo custard donuts. Image: Lisa Balcom.

Initially, Patrick worked as a stage in different spots around town, meaning an unpaid internship test when chef works briefly for free in another chef’s kitchen in hopes of gaining a position. The term originates from the French word “stagiaire” which means trainee or apprentice under the guidance of a mentoring chef. When he popped into Blackbelly, they happened to need a sous chef and before he knew it, he had landed a job at one of Boulder’s top-rated restaurants.

As executive sous chef, Patrick oversees a team of younger chefs at Blackbelly, sources produce and helps with menu development for its nighttime restaurant while Lisa heads up the pastry program which she helped build.

Since the pastry department also provides goods for Blackbelly’s marketplace, she makes everything from in-house dinner desserts to whatever the marketplace needs to stay stocked, such as its delicious brioche tarts — balls of buttery French brioche filled with pastry cream and fresh fruit, one of her favorites. Her most popular dessert on Blackbelly’s menu comes to its Chocolate Pots du Creme, made with whiskey butterscotch sauce, toasted home-made whiskey marshmallows and espresso cocoa nib meringue cookies. Yum!

Lisa’s baking philosophy roots in all scratch-made local goodness, and she plans to take that with her to the farm-to-table restaurant she and Patrick aim to open in spring of 2021, which will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, make all of its bread in-house and highlight locally grown meat and produce.

Some of Lisa’s favorite treats to make, including peach pie, peach brioche tarts and honey cake with lemon chamomile mousse and honeycomb candy. Images: Lisa Balcom.

Local + sustainable

The wedding cake Lisa crafted for Browns’ Farm’s Catherine and her husband. Image: Lisa Balcom.

The Balcoms prioritize working with small-scale local farms, knowing where their food comes from and supporting those who grow it, and this philosophy translates not only into their dining philosophy but into their personal lives as well.

Lisa and Patrick strive to eat pasture-raised meat and local food, though not necessarily via buzzword organic, Lisa tells us. (As many know, it takes capital to get certified organic and not all small farms can afford it though their practices do qualify as holistic and sustainable, with no pesticides or genetically modified seeds.)

With the amount of local farmers and ranchers at their disposal, an exciting combination for chefs, the Balcoms found a perfect fit in Boulder. They plan on sourcing 90 to 95 percent of their products from Colorado, and Longmont especially, with Buckner Family Farm ranch, Red Wagon Farm, Esoterra Culinary which supplies some of Boulder’s notable high-end restaurants, Browns’ Farm which their good friend Catherine Blackwell launched in collaboration with long-time Boulder soil farmer John Brown, and Kingdom Come Mushrooms.

Specifically, they focus on supporting local growth at the right time. “Strawberry doesn’t taste the same in December as it does in May!” Lisa says. “We want to make sure we’re using the best produce at its perfect timing.”

Transitioning to ownership

For many in the restaurant industry, imagining stepping outside of the team and going out on their own can feel daunting, since an established restaurant provides structure, experience and security in a steady paycheck.

Patrick’s creation: dry aged duck breast with mushroom spoon bread, five-spice stonefruit glaze and shaved pluots. Image: Patrick Balcom.

Though they had talked about it for a long time, Lisa and Patrick’s opposite schedules — with Lisa working mornings at Blackbelly and Patrick working nights — made it hard to see each other, but when Covid hit and all the hours changed completely, they suddenly found themselves with tons of time together to plot and plan their new venture, Longmont Bakehouse.

They set out to make a business plan, and by mere luck while out grabbing pizza in Longmont, stumbled upon E for All, a non-profit business incubator that gives participants three months of business classes twice a week and three mentors for an entire year to help get their business off the ground and running.

Patrick will oversees the savory aspects while Lisa heads up the pastry department and as a proper Jack-of-all-trades, will help with the wine list, bar program and service points. The two eventually want to hire a chef to oversee daily operations.

The restaurant will have a full-service dinner, focusing on small plates and a rotating ten-item menu — depending on what’s in season, a lunch menu of sandwiches, salads and quiches, and sourdough English muffin sandwiches for breakfast. And, of course, the bakehouse will have a pastry case with goodies available all day long.

“There’s a lot of carry-over in hospitality,” Lisa tells BLDRfly, “little things you can do that are extremely hospitable that don’t have to be as stuffy as [traditional] fine dining. We want the quality of fine dining without the pretentiousness of it; a more casual, approachable way.”

With their combined culinary and fine dining experience, and now business classes under their belts, the chefs have moved forward into the next phase of Longmont Bakehouse: fundraising mode, finding investors and raising capital.

Check out our IGTV video with Lisa and Patrick for more!

Header image: Patrick Balcom at Blackbelly, in action. Image via Lisa Balcom.