Milo & Olive's Kelsey Brito Keeps the Community Festive With Seasonal Holiday Fairs

By Aiman Javed | Lindsey Hutter and Erin Lettera

By

Aiman Javed
Lindsey Hutter and Erin Lettera
One of Milo & Olive's Holiday Fairs
One of Milo & Olive's Holiday Fairs

Five months into the pandemic, Milo & Olive Pastry Chef Kelsey Brito watched the holidays approach with none of the holiday spirit. At the Santa Monica bakery and pizzeria, the bread and pastry team that Brito leads was burnt out. After the constant closures and reopenings, Brito needed to pipe excitement back into their routines. Her solution: holiday artisanal fairs. “It came from a place of just missing the community element of this industry,” Brito says. 

After the first successful Thanksgiving fair, the markets have become a recurring event. The team stays employed, plus it’s a chance to flex their creativity while continuing to support the farmers of the Santa Monica Farmers Market. For the food, they whip up special menus with five to eight items. With hot cross buns for Easter or heart-shaped brioche doughnuts for Valentine’s Day, they really lean into the holiday fervor. Brito says, “Just to see the staff be excited about something was big, getting to come outside and talk to guests about the pastries that we made.” 

Milo & Olive hosts three artisans per event. Sometimes, hairstylist Nikki Mehr shows up with her Blew Candle Co. products. Tiffani Ortiz, a chef furloughed during the pandemic, has hauled in her dried-botanical-resin cheese boards, sold under her brand, Novella Curio. Jasper Sortun, a front-of-house staff member from Huckleberry Cafe, offers illustrated postcards and greeting cards. Brito says it's an opportunity to especially help, highlight, and safely collaborate with struggling female entrepreneurs. 

The staff all pitches in however they can, pushing outdoor patio tables against the wall so visitors can stroll around. On Valentine’s Day, Baker Maya Zohbi wrote punny valentines like, “You’re my butter half,” and drew bread doodles to go with the treats. “I've always felt like all the ‘cool kids’ work in this industry,” says Brito. “The baker who made your bread doubles as a ceramic artist, designs jewelry, photographs live music, or builds furniture.” Brito also invites nonprofits to participate; on Easter, 5 percent of the sales went to the Asian Americans Advancing Justice, while Black Women Lead’s volunteers gathered donations and educated the community about their work.

With this celebration of small joys, Brito says the fairs will continue as vaccinations increase. They might even host and support other food vendors or micro bakeries because it’s been so tough without the everyday conversations with customers. “And that's so different for this industry, when we're so accustomed to everything operating from this place of warmth and hospitality,” she says. “It's nice to be able to interact with the community again.”

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