It isn’t very often that I feature someone on my television show and then turn around and write a separate break out feature on them. It has happened, but not very often in the 5 years we have been producing Eat It and Like It. There are so many great stories to tell out there, “doubling up”, if you will, doesn’t really appeal to me. However, there are some instances when a heartwarming story comes along and I just want to share. Such was the case at Le Cafe Gourmet, a tiny French bakery on Montgomery Street near Broughton Street in downtown Savannah.
Alexandre Darbousset and his wife Angela Yeo are certainly not the first couple I’ve met along the way that visited Savannah once upon a time, fell in love with the area and immediately decided to move here. It happens all the time. Heck, an argument could be made that it happened to me way back in July of 1999. In the case of this lovely French couple-he from Bourdeaux, she from Paris, they made a decision to move here after the birth of their son. “Once he was born” Alexandre tells me “We wanted to change our life.”
After visited Charleston and Jacksonville, they arrived in Savannah the week before St. Patrick’s Day. They had no idea about the festival or the city. turning green for days on end. “It was really animated.” he says. Angela agrees. “We really don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in France. One day you wear a green shirt and drink a lot of beer. But it’s one day. That’s it” she says. “It was impressive. Part of the culture of Savannah.”
Some people, make that a lot of people, may have been scared away. Clearly, they were not. They saw a city full of energy and good cheer. They also noticed there was not French Bakery in the downtown area. They returned to France and began making plans to return. A year and a half later they were here. A short time later they opened their tiny spot about 40 steps off of Savannah’s ‘shopping’ street. “We didn’t want a bakery on Broughton Street” Alexandre says. “We wanted something on a side street. The kind of place that would invite you to either side down comfortably and eat or take something with you to a square.”
Early in 2016 we heard the buzz about this new bakery downtown. I tried it. Ate it and like it. Very much so. The pastries and the breads-particularly the baguettes-are fantastic. All of them made in house beginning as early as 2:00am most days a week. “We are closed on Mondays.” Alexandre says “but we are still here making breads and croissants for our wholesalers.”
That’s part of why the story of this less than a year old bakery is so fascinating. Alexandre and Angela hunkered down for the long haul figuring it would be just the two of them for a while working in the shop. Seven to eight months later, they are up to 6 employees. They hired their first few within two months of opening their doors. They are making breads and pastries for the Westin Savannah Harbor, Paris Market on Broughton Street and a few others around town. On a regular week day, Alexandre says they are making 200 or more breads. On the weekends, especially when you throw in special orders, they are up over 500 breads. Plus pastries. Safe to say the product is pretty good.
The pastries are fantastic. The baguettes are as well. Their most popular item at lunchtime? Crepes. Sweet or savory. Angela makes each and every one to order. The most popular is the Kevin Special. Named for Kevin Reid, the art gallery owner who was shot and killed downtown earlier this year. “He used to call us every single day.” Angela says “And ask us to put whatever we had sitting around in a crepe for him for lunch.” “So we decided to name one for him after he was killed.”
There’s been no advertising, there’s been no ribbon cutting or ticker tape parades letting everyone know that they are a new business downtown. Word of mouth and not much else. “The best advertising you can have.” Angela says.
Less than a year in, they are already looking for a larger kitchen space to handle the demand. Alexandre is arriving most mornings by 2am and stays until 2pm or so. Angela arrives to open at 8am and stays until they close at 5pm. That’s a full day for a bakery. But like most good ones, when the fresh baked stuff is gone, it is very likely gone for the day. To steal a line from Frosty the Snowman they are staying busy! busy! busy! Only there is no magic here. Just a lot of hard work and a quality product. Which Alexandre is always trying to improve on.
They will be closing for a week between Christmas and New Years this year, not for a vacation. Not at all. “We are moving to a house.” Angela says. “There is really no convenient other time to do it.” To this point they’ve been in an apartment downtown.
The house will undoubtedly do wonders for their quality of life, especially with a three year old son. “I see him more now than I did when we were in France.” Alexandre says “Before I was leaving home at 6am and returning 6pm or 7pm so we didn’t really have a lot of time.” “Now, I am up at 2am and home at 2pm, so we have every afternoon together.” Which was the entire motivation to move here in the first place.
Well, that and the green beer.
See you on TV,