Although they both craft freshly baked desserts, that’s where the similarities end between pastry chefs and bakery owners. Pastry chef Dominique Ansel had been looking to make the switch for some time before he opened his namesake shop in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood in November. Now he is looking to combine the best of both segments in his European-inspired, full-service bakery.
Before opening Dominique Ansel bakery, Ansel was executive pastry chef at Restaurant Daniel in New York, and also worked at Fauchon in Paris.
“When I was working in Paris at a bakery, I always wanted to have my own pastry shop. Then working for Daniel Boulud in New York, I still wanted my own pastry shop–it’s been a dream for a long time,” Ansel says.
The bakery is open for breakfast, lunch and early dinner and offers a selection of French viennoiseries, cookies, eclairs, cakes, tarts, brioche and madeleines, as well as a daily selection of soups, salads and made-to-order sandwiches.
The 2,500-sq.-ft. space seats about 50 and has a small open-concept production area that takes up roughly one third of the total space. The bakery has a staff of eight, and the primary pieces of equipment are a dough sheeter, ice cream machine, deck oven and convection oven.
Though the menu is decidedly French, Ansel doesn’t want to limit himself by those terms, noting that he is offering imaginative variations on a number of European and American bakery products, such as the Paris-NY, a twist on the Paris-Brest made from choux pastry that is filled with praline cream; or the cotton-soft cheesecake, which uses both cream cheese and ricotta in the base and is lightly brûléed on top for crunch.
“My bakery is obviously a French bakery, but you can also find American favorites because this is what I like to play with,” he says. “I use American products like peanut butter and Rice Krispies. And I am working on a s’more right now but it is going to be different from what you’d expect and higher end.”
Despite his distaste for the term “signature” product, Ansel does have a few menu staples. The DKA is a caramelized croissant he made famous by serving it after hours to the cooks at Daniel. The gâteau battu from Ansel’s hometown of Picardy, France, is a beaten brioche-like fluffy bread. The bakery also offers a rainbow of brightly colored miniature macarons. But Ansel plans to change the menu every few months to keep customers interested.
“I like changes. I want people to have a choice when they come back and see something different they haven’t seen before. Plus, it is more challenging for the chefs to always have to create new products.”
Since opening, the bakery has seen a steady flow of business. “We’ve been selling out of product almost every day since we opened, but I don’t want to overproduce,” he says. “I want things fresh each day.”
Ansel is in the bakery each day baking and doing a variety of other jobs. He typically arrives at 2 a.m. to start production on croissants and pastries. The breakfast sandwiches are prepped in time for the store to open at 8 a.m. Breakfast pastries are baked in the morning, and after the breakfast and lunch rush, production shifts to cookies and other pastries. The bakery closes at 7 p.m.
“When all of a sudden you own a business there are a lot of things you don’t think of that you have to do. I am baking a lot, and then in the morning sometimes I am a barista. Before we opened, I helped build shelves and paint. And last week the toilet was clogged and the oven was broken, and I had to fix it,” he says. “But between that, I’m always making more pastries.”