Courtesy of The Buttermilk Drop Bakery & Café
When the indie-film sensation Beasts of the Southern Wild won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, one lead actor, Dwight Henry, was busy handing out buttermilk drops–a sweet biscuit much like a glazed doughnut without the hole–to anyone who might take one. That’s because Henry still has a business to promote in his hometown of New Orleans, The Buttermilk Drop Bakery & Cafe. Propelled into the spotlight thanks to his debut-acting role in Beasts as Wink, the lovable yet conflicted father in a magical story set on a stormy Louisiana bayou, Henry is now expanding on his pastry venture. He has plans for a second location, partnerships in the works with actor Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme), and is in talks with Nobu co-owner Richie Notar about a potential Harlem project. Henry took time from getting ready for the arrival of Hurricane Isaac, to talk to Food & Wine about his new life as a baker-turned-actor.
What initially sparked your interest in baking?
When I was in high school there was this local bakery in the neighborhood. My brother got me a summer job and I fell in love with baking ever since. What kind of inspired me to open up was McKenzie’s. They must have had 60 bakeries throughout New Orleans and one day they closed every store down. There was a big void in the industry.
How does your experience as a baker influence your acting?
With Wink, it actually showed some of my leadership qualities. The characters looked up to Wink and he had to be a sort of leader to this group of people. I was one of them old holdouts during Hurricane Katrina, protecting my store. Being an employer, people look up to me for their livelihood. I have to be there for them.
What sort of New Orleans specialties do you make?
We try to bring back some of the old things that people loved but are not around so much anymore. The buttermilk drops are by far the most popular. We make raisin squares that are an homage to the now-closed bakery at Woolworth’s. The beignets are great with any of the fillings. With my king cakes, the cream cheese filling is the bestseller.
You are currently working with actor Wendell Pierce and his Sterling Farms markets and will soon be opening a second location in the New Orleans’ Central District called Wink’s Bakery & Bistro. How will these differ from the original?
We’re putting bakeries in each of the Sterling Farms locations. That menu will be a smaller version of the one at Buttermilk Drop. Wink’s will be a different theme in order to capitalize on some of the success we’ve had with the movie. I want to give homage to the character. I always had plans on opening another location and that name just felt like it would be perfect. It’s going to have a few things added, like a variety of ice creams. Plus, we’re aiming for a healthy line of items, including gluten-free options.
What’s next on the horizon?
I’ve been talking to Richie Notar about a project in Harlem. It’s looking good, whether it’s going to be a Buttermilk Drop or Winks, we don’t know. He just wants a New Orleans flavor in Harlem. Like my acting career, I’m always open to opportunities anywhere, but New Orleans will be my home.