by Andrea Molina
photography by Jingyao Liang
Fresh, well-made food is one of the biggest comforts and pleasures of life. There is nothing a hand-crafted cup of coffee paired with a warm pastry can’t cure. Never underestimate the power of a well-cooked meal.
Butter Cafe and Bakery has earned a special place in the city of San Dimas. In fact, it has become a weekly staple for many locals. Husband and wife team owners Ryan and Melissa Buan, and their partner Heather Sulaeman, started the restaurant adventure in 2015 when they opened Butter Cafe and Bakery and from the start made it more than just another local café. Butter has it all and features a full breakfast and lunch menu. At Butter Cafe and Bakery, you can get artisan pastries, specialty coffee and American comfort food.
Comfort food has a different meaning to each person. In my case, it equals home-cooked meals made by my mom, specifically her chicken noodle soup and mac and cheese.
In general, comfort food is any dish that has the ability to warm your heart and lift your spirits even on the worst days. At Butter, the Buans and Sulaeman have elevated American classics to a gourmet level, providing an extensive menu to satisfy of all of their customers’ cravings.
Butter Café is known for its versatility and variety. Certain menu items, such as the huevos rancheros, chilaquiles and breakfast tacos are Hispanic inspired, and the owners offer an abundance of varieties to diners. Butter’s menu is consistent year-round, but, depending on the season, you might see a special holiday drink or pastry. For instance, when strawberries are in season, Butter offers its famous strawberry-ricotta cakes. During the fall season, you will see their pumpkin inspired menu items.
With time and hard work, the business has expanded and now offers two locations. “Butter first started in San Dimas in 2015 and then expanded to Upland in 2019 with our second venue,” says Ryan Buan. The San Dimas restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., seven days a week while the Upland restaurant holds the same hours but is closed on Tuesdays.
According to Buan, Butter was born from the yearning of creative freedom and the ability to provide a one stop shop for quality breakfast food and beverage. Prior to Butter, The Buans and Sulaeman were long working in the food industry, lastly at a cafe in Pasadena, which was similar to the concept of Butter. They were tired of not being able to make any creative decisions or innovate new recipes, so they followed their dream and opened their own business.
In regard to their restaurant’s name, “butter” always felt natural to them, as it is something essential for almost every recipe. In fact, butter is a prime ingredient in any restaurant, especially when dealing with pastries. Plus, it was catchy and easy for clients to remember, they say.
They say Butter is the only cafe that offers specialty coffee, artisan pastries and comfort food in the Inland Empire. Butter’s pastries are made daily and in-house at their facility in Upland headed by executive pastry chef Melissa Buan. Even the brioche bread used for the French toast and avocado toast is made in-house. The Buans and Suleaman pride themselves in making everything from scratch.
Furthermore, their specialty coffee is the highest-grade coffee you can get, which means their coffee has the greatest uniformity and is produced by small independent farmers. This fact assures that every single cup of coffee will be consistently good. Bad coffee does not exist at Butter. Plus, Butter has a personal-trained barista who pays exceptional attention to detail and remembers regulars’ orders. You’ll find that Butter’s customer service is one of a kind.
According to Ryan Buan, the breakfast burrito is the all-time and most popular menu item. He believes the burrito’s popularity can be attributed to its various combinations, high-quality ingredients and its transportability. As he says, a burrito can be eaten anywhere. Burritos are effective and delicious.
Another client-favorite is the challah French toast, made from their in-house brioche bread, which is very decadent and sweet and the perfect way to start your morning if you have a sweet tooth. Their challah French toast is topped with whipped cream, fresh bananas and strawberries. Moreover, their avocado toast is very popular as well, as the Butter chefs have created their own twist to it, adding pickled onions and arugula on top. At Butter, the Buans and Sulaeman have mastered the ability to add depth to any plate, even if it is as simple as a piece of bread and an avocado spread.
As a regular, I’ve sampled several menu items. Believe me when I tell you, there is no wrong choice at Butter, as everything is absolutely amazing. Nevertheless, I do have my favorites. For example, their turkey-pesto sandwich and Asian chicken salad are my two go-tos when I am craving something savory. When I am in the mood for something sweeter, I love their chocolate chip pancakes and fresh cinnamon rolls paired with a hot white chocolate latte. These items are the perfect energy boost to conquer my day.
Butter is popular among all age groups. On a normal day, you see families, college students, senior citizens, cyclists, law enforcement officers—all gathered in one space. As a regular San Dimas customer, I have even seen small birthday celebrations taking place at Butter. Its atmosphere is always filled with positive energy and laughter. The energy is contagious. Everyone feels safe and welcome.
San Dimas resident Mark Zolotoff says he enjoys the relaxed atmosphere of Butter. He especially enjoys the waffles and omelets. Mark says Butter is the perfect spot for the weekend brunch with your significant other. Rosario Melara, Rancho Cucamonga resident, says Butter is her favorite spot for breakfast in San Dimas. “I love how extensive and diverse the menu is,” she says. “I get to try something new every time.”
Since the venue in San Dimas is five minutes drive from the University of La Verne, it has become a popular spot among students. Allyssa Smiley, senior kinesiology major, says her favorite menu item is the Butter’s special breakfast burrito. “I love that Butter is so close to the University,” says Allyssa. “Their food is always so fresh, and they have great customer service.” Victoria Tavera, senior digital media major, says she loves eating at Butter because the prices are reasonable, and the food is top quality. Victoria also believes it is a great spot to study near campus. Her favorite menu item is the cookie butter latte.
Both venues offer a minimalistic style with clean lines and warm, light colors. “When you go to a restaurant you want it to be very welcoming, comforting, and clean,” says Ryan Buan. The owners decided on a minimalistic approach to avoid any distractions from the food.
Butter Cafe and Bakery was not immune to the economic harm brought by COVID-19. “As a small business, we are suffering from the lack of available employees,” says Ryan. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced many local businesses to close their doors permanently. Not Butter Café. The owners are grateful to their customers for supporting their two businesses through it all. Since their Upland location falls under San Bernardino County health mandates, they were able to open this location for dine-in before San Dimas. They say many loyal San Dimas customers showed their support by making the drive to Upland.
Ryan describes the pandemic as a very challenging time, as it created a lot of uncertainty in his life as a business owner. “I worried about my business, paying my bills and keeping my employees,” he says. “It was very scary, not knowing if our business is going to survive.” Nevertheless, he never sacrificed quality in their business but certainly had to make some adjustments. For instance, the owners reduced hours of operation and created new recipes in order to remain relevant and keep their customers’ attention.
“From age 12, I knew I was going to be in the food industry,” says Ryan. He has always had a love and passion for cooking. He gained his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from San Jose State University and for a while he ran a medical clinic, something he was also very passionate about. He went to culinary school at Los Angeles Trade Tech and worked in several restaurants and cafes. Before starting his business, Ryan dedicated some years to acquire real-life experience.
Melissa Buan studied culinary at Lake Tahoe Community College and honed her craft at local businesses and the large casinos in the Tahoe area. Heather Sulaeman attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Pasadena and specializes in baking pastries. Heather is always present in their San Dimas venue. If she is not in the kitchen, you can see her taking people’s orders at the register or preparing Butter’s specialty drinks. Heather’s positive and welcoming attitude is part of the San Dimas dine-in experience of Butter.
Ryan Buan’s personal advice for anyone who is looking to start a business is to be extremely prepared. He believes you always need to have a plan for the worst circumstances. In his opinion, hard work is the key to success. “If you are willing to do the hard work, then everything else will fall into place.” Butter Café and Bakery is his testament to inspire the younger generation to pursue their dreams and turn their ideas into actions. ■