On July 13, 2011, one day before Bastille Day, Forest Hills regained a bit of its past “mom & pop” ambiance, when La Boulangerie opened its doors at 109-01 72nd Road. Owner Francois Danielo and co-owner Nadia DeJesus of Forest Hills invested a labor of love to transform a cookie-cutter law office into a French bakery café.
The owners felt Forest Hills offered a suitable market, and the clientele would appreciate their unique range of products. The minds and taste buds of patrons encounter a prime taste of France. Almost a year later, an anniversary celebration is now visualized.
La Boulangerie was mutually named by its owners, who have been together for four years. They envisioned something simple, and they explained that bread was the core product, and in France a shop where bread is baked and sold is called “La Boulangerie.”
“Our mission was to bring a very family-oriented, small community establishment to the neighborhood,” said DeJesus. “This is our neighborhood, and we hoped to introduce something very homey.”
“We had this project in mind for a couple years,” Danielo added. “Every shop has its image. We bring what we are and what we believe in.”
The busiest business days are Saturday, Sunday, and Friday, respectively. However, an abundant feeling of community is always prevalent, as locals bring their family, dates, friends, and make new friends over delectable and authentic pastries, tea, hot chocolate, coffee, salads, sandwiches, and soups.
The clientele is made up of various age groups, representative of Forest Hills in general.“In the beginning, we weren’t prepared for the volume of costumers,” DeJesus admitted. “It’s been wonderful to see how people have loved our products, and it is surprising to see kids coming with their friends.”
La Boulangerie has “a recipe for success” during harsh economic times. DeJesus explained, “The quality of our products is our priority,” DeJesus said. “People are more cautious on how to spend their money, so they want to buy good products. We try to tweak our products to please everyone.”
For example, the owners recently introduced bread pudding, and after some feedback and tweaking, it became a success.
Ambiance is a key ingredient. La Boulangerie brings new life and old-world charm to 72nd Road just off the Tudor-inspired Austin Street. A carved traditional architectural sign with gold letters and a black backdrop assimilates with neighborhood character. A local gardener landscapes the front with topiaries and flowers, and large windows bring in natural light to make patrons feel welcome.
“We brainstormed on paper, and the design is completely ours,” DeJesus said. “I designed the upholstered cornice above the windows, and the cushion on the bench. The décor is very much like the food, and is representative of us. We wanted it to feel like your mom’s home.”
Patrons are greeted by traditionally dressed and personable and efficient staff members, often including the owners, who stand behind a French country motif wood counter with a great assortment of fresh and colorful pastries. Behind is a motif bread display case.
Warm wood floors match the freestanding and banquet seating, and especially the communal table with its low-hung lights. It has jam, butter, and honey. Patrons oversee the kneading of dough and flour through large display windows into the kitchen.
A bookcase offers children’s books in English and French. As part of the cultural experience over a light fare, patrons are entertained by the sounds of classic French singers such as Edith Piaf.
Every soup, including chicken noodle, onion, and broccoli-cheddar, is prepared with fresh vegetables. Danielo’s mother’s recipe is the basis for the vegetable soup. The owners ensure that their savory items offer something for vegetarians. Some salads are Salad Nicoise, house chicken salad, and garden salad.
Sandwiches include Jambon Buerre, Tuna, Pastrami-Cabbage. Quiche is also available. Some pastries include Brioche a la Liqueur d’Orange, Tarte aux Abricots, Quatre-Quarts, Pain au Chocolat, and croissants. A popular danish is the Crème Patissiere.
“Our hot chocolate is imported from France,” DeJesus saidl. “If we aren’t able to acquire everything from France, we acquire it locally, such as a delicious jam from a small business in upstate New York.”
Everything old is new again. “We are the first of a kind in Forest Hills,” DeJesus said. “In the olden days, every neighborhood had a small bakery offering natural products. In La Boulangerie, the art of bread is returning, since you want to give your family love and nourishment that comes with bread without additives.
“We offer artisan products which are not standard,” DeJesus continued. “You have to bake through the night to offer bread in the morning. It can be costly, but you taste the difference.”
La Boulangerie's baguette was recently rated by New York Magazine as one of the best new breads of NYC.
Every small business has its history. Danielo has lived in Forest Hills for five years, and has also lived in Bretagne, France. DeJesus is a four-year Forest Hills resident. She was born in the Dominican Republic, and then lived in Woodhaven, Wisconsin, and Brooklyn. She previously worked as a medical biller.
Danielo has bakers on his uncle’s side of the family, totaling six generations. His uncle’s son now owns a bakery in France. “Other children played soccer, but I liked to stay in the kitchen and bake,” he said.
From ages 15 to 20, he worked with his uncle as an apprentice over weekends and vacation. His father said he can be a baker later on, but to keep pursuing his schooling. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering, but two decades later, he opened La Boulangerie with DeJesus, who encouraged him to pursue that route.
In a very active and pleasant aroma-filled space, the couple shared some closing thoughts. “You need passion, and to be a critic of what you put on plates of clientele,” Danielo said. “The food business is day-to-day work, and Nadia and I love food.”
“Aside from really enjoying food, I didn’t have an inkling I would be in this type of business, which has become a very fulfilling endeavor,” DeJesus said.
Mingle and enjoy some light fare in a new neighborhood institution from Tuesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for more information, visit La Boulangerie on Facebook.