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At Butternut Bakehouse, a former Rialto pastry chef rises on her own

Originally from Malaysia, Suzana Samad has found a home (and loyal fans) in Arlington.

Baked goods from Butternut Bakehouse.

I’m wondering if I should share a secret. It’s a food reporter’s eternal quandary: Keep a discovery to oneself or publish it for all to see, risking endless lines and crushing crowds? Ethics must prevail. I’ll spill it.

A former baker for No. 9 Park, Rialto, and UpStairs on the Square operates a luscious little bakery in the heart of Arlington Center — and, soon, in Belmont — called Butternut Bakehouse. Suzana Samad sells morning buns, honey-glazed biscuits, croissants, galettes, and all manner of sweet carbs from a spare little storefront with no frills, no fanfare, and (for now) a modest line of neighborhood regulars every morning.


Samad is originally from Malaysia. She came to Cornell University on a scholarship to study economics. She went into banking. And, as she tells it, “I didn’t really fit in.” So she did the logical thing: switched gears and enrolled in pastry school in New York City. From there, she worked at various Boston restaurants until heading back to Malaysia to run a cake shop. Her family returned to Arlington in 2014. As her kids got older, she began to bake again.

Baked goods from Butternut Bakehouse.Handout

At first, she worked out of her licensed home kitchen and sold croissants at the Winchester and Wayland farmers’ markets.

“It was kind of crazy, now that I think about it,” she says. “I was waking up at 2 a.m. But customers really loved my croissants. I didn’t have any professional experience making them, but it was technically challenging and very gratifying when you get it right. People really responded to them.”

She opened her Arlington storefront in 2019, and now she arrives to work at the slightly more civilized hour of 4:30 a.m. Despite COVID, business boomed. After all, who can resist carbohydrates in times of trouble?

“It was definitely a blessing in some respects because people were mostly home and wanted something comforting, and we could offer it to them,” she says.


Morning buns are the bestseller. Imagine a flakier cinnamon roll, made with croissant dough, dusted with cinnamon sugar and cut with orange sauce.

“It’s not my invention, but we do execute it pretty well,” she says.

She also loves the buttermilk biscuit, glazed with a salty honey butter. It’s a dense, layered web of buttery goodness, delicious with a smear of fruity jam.

I’m more of a savory person, so I prefer the limited-edition tomato galette, made with heirlooms, stacked on homemade pie dough spread with a layer of herbed cream cheese and a ring of capers: It’s juicy, salty, and wholly satisfying, like eating sunshine on bread. And, for a bagel fix, try the everything croissant, rolled in herb cream cheese and sprinkled with everything bagel seasoning.

“It’s my potato chip,” she says.

And, luckily for my cholesterol, they only come one to a bag.

Butternut Bakehouse, 787 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, 781-819-2899, www.butternutbakehouse.com

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.