Even while heading the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office North County station, Ben Hall, 61, loved baking bread.
Hall, a 35-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, would drive an hour to Santa Barbara every Wednesday after work to take artisanal bread-making classes — all with the goal of preparing himself to open his own restaurant someday.
“What I really learned there was that I didn’t know anything about making bread,” Hall joked. “(But) that really helped me, and I thought maybe I would be able to open my own restaurant.”
Flash forward five years, one failed run for the county sheriff’s office and two successful stints at prestigious culinary institutes later, and Hall has realized his dream by opening a bakery at the historic Carlton Hotel in Atascadero.
The Carlton Café and Bakery opened in November in the 2,400-square-foot location — 1,200 square feet in the front, with about five to six small tables, and 1,200 square feet in the back where they do the baking.
“I happened to be in the area, and noticed they had a ‘for lease’ sign,” he said. “I walked in, did the tour and got everything started, and here we are.”
The new café is the fourth eating establishment to sit on the property, but Hall said business so far is doing well, with sales improving each month. He said the response from the public has been very positive, as well.
“We have five stars on Yelp, so there’s that,” he said. “You can hear a lot about it, but until you’re up here, you can’t realize what a great facility this is.”
Hall declined to disclose how much he invested in opening the 2,400-square foot bakery but said because of improving sales (which he also declined to share), he has been able to increase the number of part-time employees working in the shop to seven.
When the café first opened in November, he was not advertising the business at all, Hall said, relying mostly on word-of-mouth. Now he is doing some small advertising outreach that he hopes to grow before the busy summer season.
“I think we’ve moved ahead leaps and bounds,” Hall said. “We’re looking ahead to this summer.”
The shop offers breakfast pastries and sandwiches, as well as artisanal breads and coffees. It is open Wednesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.