Kolonaki Journal: Yes, stunning design and pain chocolat are quite compatible at new Athens bakery.

by Ron Bernthal

View of product in windows (design: en-route-architecture/photo: Mariana Bisti)

One of the nicest looking bakeries in the world opened in December, 2020, in the city of Athens, Greece. The bakery is not only beautifully designed by the Athens-based firm called en-route-architecture (e-r-a), with designers Katerina Kourkoula and Hannes Livers Gutberlet leading the team, but the pastries and breads taste like they have been highly designed as well.

Window display at Kora bakery (design: en-route-architecture-
photo: Mariana Bisti)

The tasting part comes from Kora Bakery founders Maria Alafouzou and Ianthi Michalaki. Maria is a writer and editor who later became involved in the bakery industry, and Ianthi is an acclaimed pastry chef and baker who has worked in some of the world’s finest restaurants. To understand how truly unique this bakery is here are some of the attributes which the owners claim is important to them:

“We have a goal of becoming a carbon neutral certified business by 2022.”

“We work with Protergia (the Electricity and Natural Gas Unit of MYTILINEOS S.A., the largest independent electricity producer company in Greece) to ensure that all of our machinery runs on electricity from renewable resources.”

“We practice low waste initiatives in our bakery and are conscious of food waste. Any unsold products are donated to Athens Municipality to help people in need.”

“All of our packaging is either biodegradable or recyclable. We charge 10c ($.12) for each of our carrier bags, and 100% of those proceeds go towards supporting the efforts of World Wildlife Fund Greece.”

“We donate portions of our sales to charitable organizations. As of February 2021 we’ve partnered with Doctors of the World Greece by donating money from each brownie that we sell.”

Exterior facade from street level (design: en-route-architecture-
photo: Mariana Bisti)

Kora, which means “crust” in Greek, is located on the edge of the stylish neighborhood of Kolonaki, an Athens hub for upscale shopping, where Greek designer boutiques share space with sleek concept stores and galleries. Mid-range and fine dining restaurants offer international menus, as well as the best Greek cusiine, and trendy bars offer live jazz or DJs. Walking paths and a funicular railway lead to the summit of Mt. Lycabettus, with panoramic views of the city and the Agios Georgios chapel. The bakery is also just a 30-minute walk from the Acropolis.

Kora stands out among other stunning little shops nearby with its two white tiled columns topped with yellow. A few exterior stairs lead to a terrace, and a lovely glass windowed facade where the shop displays its pastries and breads.

Wide view of customer window (design: en-route-architecture/photo: Mariana Bisti)

“We are a sourdough and viennoiserie bakery,” say the owners. “We use long fermentation methods, which make our products more nutritious and digestible than conventionally produced breads. We search for the finest ingredients on the market, championing dedicated growers and producers across the country.”

Kora owners Maria Alafouzou (left) and Ianthi Michalaki (photo provided)

Viennoiseries, which translates as “things of Vienna” are baked goods made from a yeast-leavened dough in a manner similar to bread, but with added ingredients, which give them a richer, sweeter character that approaches that of pastry. The dough is often laminated. Viennoiseries are typically eaten at breakfast or as snacks.

Two views of Kora side facade (design: en-route-architecture/photo: Mariana Bisti)

Kora makes their sourdough bread using only water, salt and flour. Their starter, the leavening ingredient that gets air into a loaf of bread, contains various types of wild yeasts that make their bread tastier and easier to digest than breads that are made with fast-acting yeast. All of their breads are fermented for at least 16 hours, giving the yeasts time to pre-digest the flour. This process also allows for better nutrient retention when the bread is eaten, it is said that many individuals who have had issues with gluten sensitivities are able to eat sourdough breads.”

Their viennoiserie takes a total of up to 72 hours to make, an obsessive, detailed process. Their croissant doughs, just like their bread doughs, go through long fermentation periods, and are layered with a type of French butter that has a particularly high fat content, giving the pastries the perfect flake and crumb, and they are filled with “the best seasonal ingredients we can get our hands on.” The prebiotics and lactic acid contained in the bread also help extend its shelf life to up to ten days, when stored properly.

In an interview with Metropolis newsletter, Maria Alafouzou said that “I think we have a good eye, aesthetically, but we definitely went into this hoping that our design firm [e-r-a-] would be translating our ideas into a space,” says Alafouzou. “We needed the space to be functional, we needed our machinery to fit in, we needed a display that wouldn’t appear empty even as we started to sell out. We weren’t disappointed with their effort”

The design team created a system of shelves that can be rotated towards the facade and act like screens when emptied. It’s a unique detail that creates a continuously changing window frontage, and lets customers get more visually involved with the actual production taking place right before their eyes. The celebration of functional elements on the inside compliments the perpetually changing spectacle in and around the façade. Producing and consuming bread (and pastries) turns into a performance, whereby the boundaries between performers and spectators are blurred.

Kora interior with shelves and view of street (left) and white tile sink (design: en-route-architecture-
photo: Mariana Bisti)

According to the design team at e-r-a the threshold between inside and outside is joined by an interactive perforated metal wall. A kinetic wall that can act as a shutter, an aperture or a display surface. The metal wall is comprised of 50 individual trays that rotate independently around a central axis into different positions. When vertical they offer the least transparency while allowing for views of silhouettes and light coming through the perforation of the metal. When horizontal they provide the maximum transparency and also become a functional surface for display, ready to accommodate a great variety of baked goods.

Making product using dark Valrhona chocolate (design: en-route-architecture/photo: Mariana Bisti)

Finally, the 45-degree angle allows for partial views to the background as well as an ideal product display for the visibility of customers. Through the addition and sale of different goods, the kinetic wall is thus always changing in its outer appearance. It simultaneously acts as shutter, boundary towards the outside, aperture to the spectacle of baking and a mechanism for displaying baked products along different scenarios.

Beyond the front doors and the customer service area, customers can watch the weighing of flour and rolling of dough on wheeled work counters, separated only by plastic strip curtains which are needed to assist with keeping a constant temperature in that part of the shop.

Plastic strip curtains separate customers from the production area (design: en-route-architecture/photo: Mariana Bisti)

For the designers, the decision to highlight the baking processes was a reaction against the design of most other, more traditional bakeries in Athens. “Baking wasn’t considered a very high-profile job, it was something hidden in the back,” said Katerina Kourkoula of e-r-a. “But there’s a lot of artistry in baking, not only here, but with every baker. We wanted to glorify that.”

Menu items and ingredients change based on seasonality (design: en-route-architecture/photo: Mariana Bisti)

Suggestions: The pain chocolat, alot of dark Valrhona chocolate within the classic croissant. The lemon meringue, custard and chocolate ganache tarts to order (10-12 tarts). The seeded sourdough with toasted poppy seeds, black and white sesame and pumpkin seeds.