Pane di Vita

Pane de Vita supplied hamburger buns to Little Jack's Tavern. Hanna Raskin/Staff

While the recent rash of downtown Charleston restaurant closings has been highly visible, a wholesale bakery getting out of the business has thrown the food-and-beverage sector into a behind-the-scenes tizzy, with up to three dozen restaurants seeking a new source of bread and pastry.

Pane Di Vita, which supplied the buns for Little Jack Tavern’s acclaimed cheeseburgers and the baguettes that helped put Bon Banh Mi on a path to expansion, closed on Aug. 31.

Owner Richard “Chip” Plaistowe attributed his decision to the same factors cited in closing announcements issued by Josh Keeler (Two Boroughs Larder) and Rob Laudicina (Spero): Because of the dire shortage of capable staff, Plaistowe was forced to work punishing hours in order to keep his company afloat.

“Fifteen-hour days were not uncommon, at least for me,” he said. “I’ve gone away two times in seven years, and last week, I still had to do orders from 1,000 miles away. After seven years, I needed a little break.”

Plaistowe, who employed 16 people, said he worked with a number of talented bakers over the years. But he never could corral as many skilled artisans as he would have needed to keep a saner schedule without sacrificing quality.

Even without advertising, Plaistowe said, “We became increasingly busier and busier … and I don’t really want to send out stuff I’m not proud of because then we let our customers down, and they’re letting down their customers.”

A number of Plaistowe’s clients were surprised by the short notice he provided them, but Jason Sakran of Bon Banh Mi said Plaistowe “worked with us during the transition,” meaning he shared his recipes and production methods with the restaurant’s team.

Other restaurants potentially affected by Pane di Vita’s closure include Ted’s Butcherblock, The Obstinate Daughter, Boxcar Betty’s, 5Church and Mercantile & Mash. Plaistowe estimates about 35 restaurants bought biscuits, rolls, buns and other baked goods from Pane di Vita, with 15 of them placing orders on a daily basis.

Plaistowe, a native Bostonian, launched Pane di Vita on his third Charleston tour; during previous stints in the city, he worked at restaurants such as Peninsula Grill. He’s now returning to a restaurant position as executive pastry chef for Hall Management Group. Following a friend who took a banquet manager job with the growing company, he’ll oversee all of the baking for Halls Chophouse, SNOB, Old Village Post House, High Cotton and Rita’s Seaside Grille from Hall’s new kitchen facility at 5 Faber St.

Although he helped his employees find other work, Plaistowe acknowledges many of his former clients will have trouble finding another bakery to absorb their orders.

“The bakers here are good, but they’re very limited,” Plaistowe said. “In Boston, there’s a bakery on every corner.”

By contrast, the only local bakers selling a significant amount of wholesale bread are Brown’s Court Bakery, Saffron, Tiller Baking Co.Normandy Farm Artisan Bakery and Butcher & Bee.

According to Plaistowe, a few interested buyers have called to talk about the future of the Pane Di Vita name and client list. Thus far, he hasn’t seriously entertained any offers.

“I would really like someone to keep it going; there’s such an opening for that,” he said. “But I wanted to shut down, recoup and see what’s going on.”

He also wanted to enjoy some unprecedented time off. On Labor Day, he “smoked a pork butt and sat on the couch.”

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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