Godfrey McKenzie’s passion for baking started in his mother’s kitchen in Jamaica and has taken him around the world. Now, McKenzie and his wife Tatiana are making a longtime dream come true with the opening Dolce & Ciabatta in Leesburg.
The bakery has been open for just three weeks in the Kings Corner retail center along Catoctin Circle. But with its clever name, sleek orange and chrome interior and truly delicious breads and pastries, Dolce is already creating plenty of buzz with locals.
“I think people are very excited we’re here,” Tatiana McKenzie said. “It’s something different and they understand this.”
The raves are flowing in for master baker Godfrey McKenzie’s artisan creations.
McKenzie, 47, remembers Friday baking days as a kid in Jamaica, when his mother would offer treats to neighbors who were suffering under the country’s economic downturn in the 1970s.
“My true love for pastry has been in me since I was a child,” he said.
And McKenzie followed his passion after emigrating to Miami with his family as a teen. He scored a job out of high school washing pans and floors in bakery near his home, and that was when his decade-long apprenticeship with his mentor, noted South Florida master baker Keith Rinaldi, began.
McKenzie started out on the bottom rung and worked his way up to making bread when Rinaldi spotted his talent.
“One day he looked at me and said, ‘You have a good eye—you’re going to be a pastry chef,’” McKenzie recalled. And the European-style apprenticeship was more valuable than any formal classes he’s taken, he said. “It was more than culinary school. I’ve taken a lot of classes at different schools, but those classes were not even close to what he taught me.”
McKenzie followed Rinaldi to the Hilton in Reno, NV, before earning a pastry chef position with a high end European cruise line based in Monaco. That experience eventually led him to Northern Virginia when McKenzie’s European connections landed him a job in the research and development arm of pastry giant Vie De France in Tysons Corner in 2012.
Shortly after starting his job developing a range of pastry products for big name retailers and restaurants with Vie De France, McKenzie met Tatiana, a native of Russia also working in the DC area. The couple now live in Sterling with their two young children.
And while his nearly seven-year industrial foodservice R&D job was rewarding, McKenzie dreamed of opening his own shop. The couple was on the hunt for the right space to make the jump when they heard through friends that the Layered Cake Patisserie, which previously occupied the Catoctin Circle space, had closed.
The McKenzies jumped on the space during the summer and have spent the past three months redoing the interior with a warm and welcoming flair and bringing in specialized equipment, including a stone hearth oven from Germany, to make old-school artisan breads and authentic croissants and pastries.
With its fresh look and a breakfast and lunch menu that includes creative sandwiches, the bakery is already a hotspot, with a weekday lunchtime buzz and lines out the door on weekend mornings.
Things are going so well in Leesburg that the couple is hoping to expand the brand throughout Northern Virginia and beyond with business partner Bo Biabani.
With Godfrey working the dough, Tatiana managing the business and a team of about 20 around-the-clock employees, the bakery is a hit. And while visitors are greeted with gorgeous cases full of handmade European pastries, artisan breads are McKenzie’s true love, and the bakery’s specially designed bread racks look like they’re straight out of Paris.
“This is his passion. When he molds the bread and makes the dough, I look in his eyes and I see so much love,” Tatiana said. Not a lot of people do what they’re passionate about. … It makes him so happy. It really takes a special person to take these ingredients and make this art.”
And McKenzie still embraces the craft as learned from his Miami mentor, including fermenting the dough for 18 hours.
“I could make bread all week with no sleep. … There’s nothing as magical as taking flour, water yeast and salt and ending up with something that you can eat, and it’s beautiful,” McKenzie said. “Making bread is an art and there are no shortcuts about it.”