Returning to the United States from abroad a year or so ago, Elizabeth Chambers stopped in San Antonio to visit relatives and friends. While here, she had a yearning for something sweet and delicious like a really nice homemade cupcake. But there were none to be found, at least none that met her standards of deliciousness. That sparked an idea in the mind of the Los Angeles-based TV journalist/actress/model, who also happens to be an avid baker. “I’ve always loved to bake,” says the super-slim, pretty Chambers, who is obviously not consuming too many cupcakes. “I used to bake every night after work; it’s very therapeutic. In the movie business you have very little control over what happens, no matter what you do, but baking is reassuring and predictable. You know that if you mix a cup of sugar with two cups of flour and so much butter, etc., you’ll end up with cookies.”
Thus, when Chambers and her husband, film actor Armie Hammer, considered starting a business away from Hollywood, it was only natural to opt for a bakery and to locate it here — specifically in Alamo Heights — where her maternal grandmother ran a catering company and her father still lives. L.A. already had countless fancy bakeries, they reasoned, while San Antonio looked like it could use a few more. Named the Bird Bakery and in business for only a few months, their little enterprise has already become a neighborhood destination and a success story. It didn’t hurt that Hammer — who played the handsomeWinklevoss twins in The Social Network and more recently appeared with Julia Roberts in Mirror Mirror — showed up for the opening and may still be occasionally spotted in the store.
On this particular August afternoon, a fairly steady stream of customers is stopping by to either eat in or buy goodies to go. Chambers greets every one of them like they are personal friends and even hugs one woman who has become a regular. Though the Bird offers a modest selection of sandwiches for the lunch crowd, its specialty is desserts and more specifically cupcakes. The latter come in 22 flavors, from carrot and red velvet cake to sea-salt caramel, peach-amaretto, pecan, coconut, and one named Elvis, which is a combination of a chocolate chip-studded banana cake with a peanut butter cream topping. Though these descriptions may sound fairly ordinary, the treats themselves are everything but (see my comments in this special). Other sweets include lemon and pecan squares, cookies, pecan and key-lime pies and more. “What sets us apart from other bakeries,” says the owner, “is that we bake everything from scratch using only the highest-quality ingredients. And at the end of the day, we donate what’s left to firefighters or the Food Bank; we never serve day-old cakes. We start fresh every morning.” While most of the recipes originated in her grandmother’s kitchen, the new entrepreneur says she spent six months adapting and tweaking them “to make them perfect,” and she and her staff are still developing new ones. Altogether, 13 people work at Bird Bakery, including manager Melissa Colby, who relocated from L.A. for the job.
Though she has just flown back from New Mexico, where her husband is filming a new version of The Lone Ranger, Chambers appears as perky as can be, explaining that she took a bunch of baked goods to the hard-working film crew. Officially, she was there to conduct interviews with the cast and director that will be included as “extras” on future DVDs, but it was also an excuse to hang out with hubby. The couple consider L.A. home, but they also have a place here where she spends at least three days a week. Combined with her reporting duties, this means a lot of time spent flying back and forth. “I live on Southwest (Airline) peanuts and cupcakes,” she quips.
Model, actress, journalist
Born in San Antonio, Chambers left the Alamo City as a toddler following her parents’ divorce. She started modeling while still in high school and at 17 spent four months in Tokyo, where she appeared in commercials for food products and clothing lines. She calls it “one of the best experiences” in her life. “I felt it was like Disneyland,” she says. Back in the United States, the young woman enrolled at UT to study journalism, which to this day she considers her main profession. But Hollywood was already calling. While at UT, Chambers was cast in the indie film Rolling Kansas, which eventually led to small parts in several other movies. In subsequent years, she also appeared in Disney’s The Game Plan and guest-starred in several TV series such as Shark, Criminal Mind and the CBS drama Moonlight. The call of filmdom didn’t stop her from pursuing journalism, however. Following graduation, Chambers spent five years working for L.A.-based Current TV, a news and commentary network co-founded by Al Gore in 2005. “I learned everything about TV journalism while working there, from how to do live shots to interviewing and anchoring,” she notes. “My producer, Mitch Koss, taught me everything about the news.”
She is especially proud of her reporting on illegal immigrants with whom she crossed the border back and forth several times. “My skill is getting information from people,” she says. “Once you are talking face to face with someone, the issue becomes less political and more personal. You find out what makes them tick. I was just amazed by the tenacity of these people who cross the desert, risking death. I was moved by their stories. It didn’t change my opinion about illegal immigration, but it opened my eyes to the human element behind the headlines.” The assignment was also dangerous, as the TV crew ran into angry folks who threw rocks at their car. These days, the vivacious reporter deals with mostly lighter fare as a correspondent for E! News Now and Access Hollywood, often looking as glamorous as the celebrities she frequently interviews. Glam pictures of her and Hammer arriving at various high-profile events can easily be found on the web. Town & Country magazine covered their wedding. Nevertheless, there’s still room for more challenging projects in her schedule. As a correspondent for the Human Rights Foundation, founded by film producer ThorHalvorssen, Chambers has had the opportunity to interview Peruvian economist extraordinaire Hernando de Soto, who stood up to threats from the Marxist guerilla group the Shining Path while fighting for the economic rights of the poor in his country. She also interviewed the Venezuelan opposition politicianLeopoldo Lopez and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
Halvorssen describes Chambers as fearless and says he will be sending her on other assignments in the near future.
With their professional duties pulling them in different directions, the Hammers stay connected thanks to the four-day rule, meaning they never stay apart for longer than four days at the time. Though they married in 2010, they’ve known each other much longer, starting with a couple of years of non-dating friendship. “I know him so well because when you are just friends, there’s no pretending”, she explains. Both she and Hammer appreciate the friendly San Antonio environment and the warm reception they have received here. She is trying to reciprocate by providing a cozy niche for the neighbors to drop by and enjoy themselves. “We are putting all our love into this,” says Chambers, motioning toward the seating area of the cafe-store. “A bakery is supposed to be a happy place, warm and fluffy.” Starting in September, Bird Bakery will also begin serving breakfast, so its doors will be open all day long.
By the time we’ve finished talking, it’s 6 p.m. and the pastry cases are looking emptier. Many items have been sold out. Before she lets me leave, Chambers packs a few treats for me to take home. I protest a little, but only a little. Calories be damned!