Tobi Sovak and Michael Landsberg may have taken different culinary paths in their careers, but their mutual passion for quality food brought them together as a couple—and as owners of downtown’s bustling and beloved Noisette Pastry Kitchen. While Landsberg received formal, classical training at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in New York, Sovak says she trained at “the school of hard knocks.” The chefs’ diverse experiences have blended beautifully, resulting in a café full of delicious sweet and savory dishes.
Both East Coasters, Sovak started cooking dinners out of necessity in high school because both of her parents worked. She liked it, so after college she began working in restaurants. Eventually she “staged” (interned) at nice restaurants to glean different pastry chef skills. Meanwhile, during summers on the Jersey Shore growing up, Landsberg found himself a job working in a restaurant—“so he could eat more,” Sovak jokes. “I loved food because I was an adopted child that was malnourished, so food was my happy place,” he explains. After getting his training at the CIA, Landsberg went on to work in fine dining restaurants in New York City and Europe. The couple met working at an upscale restaurant in San Francisco, shortly after Sovak moved there from New York.
Eventually, they moved down to Los Angeles and got married. In 2005, when their child was old enough to attend school, Landsberg decided they should move. “Basically, Michael decided L.A. was not for our family anymore,” Sovak says, laughing. “It was time to move somewhere. So we came up here—me kicking and screaming.” Landsberg had spent a summer in Portland previously and loved it, so he thought working in the beautiful, fruitful Willamette Valley would be the perfect fit for his family. Sovak got a job as a pastry chef at Marché Restaurant, and Landsberg became the restaurant’s chef de cuisine. Later, Landsberg worked as the executive chef at King Estate, with Sovak as pastry chef.
In the fall of 2012, the couple decided to take the leap and open their own business. “I’ve never liked to work for anyone—I’ve always believed in myself and wanted to do something. I wanted my own business,” Landsberg explains. “And I convinced my wife, let’s do this.”
With Eugene looking to attract businesses downtown, the two were able to secure a loan from the city. They felt Eugene didn’t need another fine dining restaurant, so their aim was to offer the kind of tasty food they were trained to make at a lower price point—“pastry-forward grab and go.” Among the fresh-from-the-oven trays of baked goods, the chocolate croissants, sweet bostock, and savory tarts quickly became favorites among their customers.
The duo learned, however, that they needed to adapt to further appeal to customers. When patrons asked for soup, they added it to the daily menu. Then they brought in tables and chairs so people could sit down to enjoy their meals or just hang out. But they also made sure Noisette continued to reflect their original culinary vision. When customers asked for sandwiches, Landsberg created just a few well-crafted options. And they were a hit. “The mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich is like the biggest seller across the board,” Sovak says. “It’s delicious.”
Last August, with plenty of devoted customers and a staff that had grown to 21, Sovak and Landsberg decided to launch a dinner extension at the café called Salt & Sweet Wine Bar. Now, Friday through Sunday evenings, customers can come in for a changing array of small plates, glasses of wine, and table service. The wine bar highlights the couple’s backgrounds and the Willamette Valley’s offerings, showing off, in particular, Landsberg’s charcuterie skills and Sovak’s special seasonal desserts. “It’s been really great, and busy, keeping us engaged in being creative with the food and doing what we’re really trained to do,” Sovak says.
200 W Broadway