Howard Montgomery Jr. and the late Willie Dean Durham Jr. hit it off the first time they met.
"We just clicked. We had a lot of things in common, [even] our middle name," says Montgomery, owner of the recently opened Big Ono Bake Shops on Front Street.
Montgomery, who had come to Memphis from Baltimore, met Durham, a native Memphian and artist, and eventually they found themselves in Hawaii.
"I went to Hawaii to help Willie with a project and thought it would be a working vacation," Montgomery remembers. "Once I got there, I called my friends in Memphis and told them to sell my stuff, because I didn't plan on coming back."
The two stayed in Hawaii for more than a decade, opening two Hawaiian Big Ono Bake Shops. "Ono" means delicious in Hawaiian, though the shops were named after Durham and Montgomery as well. "We were both pretty big guys, so we couldn't just name it the Ono Bake Shops but had to go with Big Ono Bake Shops," Montgomery says with a smile.
Durham, who had moved back to Memphis to look after his mother, died unexpectedly in 2006.
"We had thought about opening a Hawaiian bakery in Memphis but were still in the talking stage when Willie died," Montgomery says.
After moving back to the Bluff City, Montgomery decided to go through with plans for the bake shop.
"That's what Willie would have wanted, and there's really no better way to remember him," Montgomery says.
He closed the two locations in Hawaii and opened the Memphis Big Ono at the beginning of June with partner and co-owner Jody Lees. At the store, customers can read about Durham and see his artwork and designs.
The shop's staples are butter rolls, hula bread, and volcano loaves, made with slightly sweet dough based on a Polynesian recipe. There are also cinnamon, raspberry, and apple spice rolls and a variety of scones.
Montgomery starts his day at the bakery at 3 a.m. to have the first batch of warm bread ready for his 6 o'clock customers. Throughout the day, freshly baked loaves and rolls come out of the oven depending on demand.
"We don't bake huge batches, because we want our customers to get the freshest bread possible," Montgomery says.
But it's not all bread and rolls at Big Ono. Ben Dickey is the bakery's pastry chef, responsible for treats such as tropical cheesecake, bread pudding, and chocolate tarts. Montgomery also plans to expand the menu so that he can provide simple sandwiches for the lunch crowd.
"Our bread makes excellent toast and is great for barbecue sandwiches," Montgomery says. "Hawaiians eat a lot of pork, and I often thought about bringing some of that Memphis flavor to the island," Montgomery says. Now he's brought some island flavor to Memphis.
Big Ono is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Big Ono Bake Shops, 116 S. Front
For a tasting of wines from the Côtes du Ventoux, located in the southeast of the Rhône Valley, visit Encore's wine and small-plates tasting on Wednesday, August 6th, at 6:30 p.m. Drew Wooten of Star Distributors will lead the three-course tasting. The small plates are pissaladiere paired with In Fine Rose (2007), crab flan paired with In Fine Blanc (2006), and panzanella salad paired with In Fine Rouge (2006).
Cost for the tasting is $25 per person. Reservations are required.
Encore, 150 Peabody Place (528-1415)
At Viking Cooking School, you can dive into the world of cheese and wine during a tasting class on Monday, August 4th. On the agenda: triple cream cheeses paired with sparkling wines and the classic combination of red wines with blue cheeses. Cost for the class, which is offered from 6:30 to 9 p.m., is $89.
On Monday, August 11th, the school starts another one of its popular Essential Wine series. The six classes cover the basics of wine tasting and explore white and red wines from around the world as well as sparkling and dessert wines. During each session, participants will taste eight wines and enjoy a food-and-wine pairing. Cost for a single class is $79 and $399 for the series.
To register, visit vikingcookingschool.com or call the school.
Viking Cooking School, 1215 Ridgeway (578-5822)