click to enlarge Brittany Williams worked hard for over two decades to open her first brick-and-mortar location for Café Beignet at 17th Street Market in Shockoe Bottom.

Scott Elmquist

Brittany Williams worked hard for over two decades to open her first brick-and-mortar location for Café Beignet at 17th Street Market in Shockoe Bottom.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Beignet Bliss

Café Beignet is bringing Louisiana’s favorite flavors to 17th Street Market.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2022 at 10:06 AM

Brittany Williams can hardly remember a summer from her childhood that wasn’t bursting with beignets. As soon as school would let out, her parents would send her to stay with her grandfather in Monroe, Louisiana. The warm dough, both crispy and chewy at the same time, dusted with powdered sugar, seared itself into her memory as one of the purest forms of joy.

When Williams began her studies at a culinary institute 16 years ago, she knew that she wanted to use her prowess in the kitchen to one day offer customers the same servings of bliss that she enjoyed as a child. After two years of study, she graduated with a degree in pastry and baking, but the goal of owning her own shop was still a long way off.

“Unfortunately, I don't come from money, so I had to save up and do it on my own to start this business,” says Williams.

She spent the next fourteen years working at a military commissary in every position and department possible, from customer service to driving a forklift around the warehouse. Stints working at McGuire Veterans Hospital and Johnson Willis anchored Williams to the idea of the River City as the perfect place to finally pursue her passion for pastries. Despite the uncertainties of the pandemic, Williams opened Café Beignet as a food truck nearly two years ago.

“I just felt like beignets were something I really wanted to bring to Richmond,” she says. “Many places stuff them, but I don't like anything stuffed, whether it’s jelly donuts or beignets. I wanted to bring the traditional as well as tossed and topped beignets so our customers can have something more exciting than powdered sugar.”

click to enlarge The Acadians first brought beignets to the Americas, but from their arrival in New Orleans, the small French donuts have been evolving. Café Beignet brings traditional as well as tossed and topped beignets. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • The Acadians first brought beignets to the Americas, but from their arrival in New Orleans, the small French donuts have been evolving. Café Beignet brings traditional as well as tossed and topped beignets.

The Acadians first brought beignets to the Americas. But from their arrival in New Orleans, the small French donuts began evolving to meet the tastes of the moment and those who made them. Williams sampled every variation, from French villages to New Orleans, before setting out to craft her own custom recipe true to the memory of her grandfather’s more fritter-like creations.

“A lot of people associate beignets with New Orleans, but they’re actually popular all over Louisiana,” Williams explains. “Some people don’t think my beignets are close enough to the New Orleans style and others tell me mine are 100 times better than Café Du Monde, but all I want is to offer folks a hot, delicious pastry.”

Although her choice to use toppings may make her beignets unconventional, it also makes them undeniably delicious. Williams’ top seller, the Honeybun Beignet, takes a standard beignet, tosses it in cinnamon sugar, and then glazes it with a vanilla and honey-infused icing.

Perhaps her most requested (and somewhat off-menu) order is a combination of her blueberry pie and lemon pound cake beignets. The blueberry pie beignets enhance a standard order with French blueberry preserves and a vanilla icing. For folks who are in the know, Williams will combine the two orders on one plate and even spread the fresh lemon zest glaze over the blueberry beignets in a decadent combination of flavors.

click to enlarge A menu board from Café Beignet. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • A menu board from Café Beignet.

Another classic dessert Williams recreates with her beignets is a strawberry cheesecake. Topped in whipped cream, a strawberry glaze, and graham cracker crumbs, the flavorful result is far from the traditional beignet. There’s a reason her specialty beignets outsell the standard powdered sugar variety.

Rarely does Café Beignet alter its signature batter, but the shop will make an exception for seasonal assortments like the apple fritter or ginger bread. Looking for fall flavors? Try the pumpkin pie beignet for a crunchy chewy treat with pumpkin, sweet potato, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and brown sugar blended straight into the batter. The caramel spice glaze only enhances the autumnal ecstasy of the dish.

Although coffee may not be the star of the show, that doesn’t mean that Williams, a former barista, doesn’t serve up well-brewed beverages.

“I’m a coffee-holic,” she says. “I worked as a barista all throughout culinary school to pay my bills, and my grandmother was a coffee drinker, so when I lived with her while my mom was in college, I had some coffee every morning starting at about age five.”

It also doesn’t hurt that coffee pairs incredibly well with beignets. Whether you want the classic café au lait accompaniment or the very New Orleans chicory root coffee, Williams’ shop will serve you up the perfect cup of joe. If it’s a latte you’re looking for then check out the honey lavender and brown sugar cinnamon options.

click to enlarge Café Beignet  is located at 3 N 17th St. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Café Beignet is located at 3 N 17th St.

After the nearly two decades of hard work to get to the point of owning her own shop, Williams could not be prouder of Café Beignet RVA's first brick-and-mortar location on 17th Street Market in Shockoe Bottom.

“As a woman of color, I've had to go through a lot of obstacles,” she says. “It means a lot to me to be the only entrepreneur and the first person to start a business in my family. It’s really easy in this society to feel discouraged from going after your dreams, but I hope I can inspire other people, and especially women of color, to go after what they really want to do.”

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