In the food world, trendiness can be a real kiss of death. One minute, there's a fancy gourmet cupcake shop on every corner, the next you can't find a cupcake outside of the supermarket bakery. Sometimes, though, you have to buy into a trend to introduce a clientele to a whole new world of food. Which is exactly what Andrea Meyer, chef and owner of Bisous Bisous Patisserie in West Village, did with macarons.
After ditching corporate America and developing a devoted following for her pillowy macarons and flaky croissants at White Rock Local Market, Meyer has moved into her very own storefront. In the six weeks that she's been open, Meyer has already made waves with her expertly-baked French pastry, a genre that is extremely difficult and attracts a discerning clientele. We sat down to talk with Meyer about how she landed on macarons, her experience in opening Bisous Bisous, and making classic French pastry work in Dallas.
How did you decide on macarons?
It was actually pretty easy. Everything really started with the macarons. I married my husband in 2003, and we went to Paris for our honeymoon. I had always wanted to go there, I took French all through school and minored in it in college, so Paris was really my dream city. We did our honeymoon there and completely fell in love with the city. We went into Ladurée every day, and couldn't get enough of it. It captures you, you know? You fall in love, and then you come home and can't find macarons anywhere. In 2003, they really weren't even big in New York yet.
But life moves on and I have a corporate job as a project manager, but we're still going back to France every year. Whether it's Paris or the south of France, we always kept going back. I kept getting this idea that I could open my own little bakery or my own little coffee shop, and I knew that I would do well with being my own boss. I've also always loved to bake, but the reality of life is that you have to pay your bills. Don't be crazy, just keep going back to work. Finally my husband and I had a chance to go to France for three months, we were able to work from Paris, and we decided to just do it.
My grandmother came and stayed at our home in Plano, and we stayed for just under three months so we didn't have to get a visa. We walked every stretch of Paris, and I told myself that if I didn't come home from this experience knowing that baking was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I would shut up about it. You wouldn't hear another word from me about it, I'd just keep going back to Ernst & Young and doing my job. I took a couple of day classes when I was there at Le Cordon Bleu, and I loved it. My husband said that he couldn't remember a time when I was as happy as I was. We got home that October, and I was enrolled in culinary school the next year. That's now been five years ago, and it's been ninety to nothing since then. But I've always known that this shop was the plan the whole time.
How did you perfect your own macaron recipe? They're hard, man.
The first time I ever made them was at home, they looked awful. They all looked like little volcano cookies, but they tasted great. I always tell people that when they want to try macarons -- they may not look the way you want them to, but they're still going to taste really good. I kind of gave up on baking them at home until I went back to France, and I took one of the day courses at Le Cordon Bleu.
Seeing a French chef go through the whole recipe and creating these perfect macarons was just magic. When I went to culinary school, I made them a few times and they turned out pretty well. By the time I really started doing recipe development for this business, though, I'd bake a tray with 20 macarons on it, and 18 would go in the trash. Every single time. You have to work through every variable, and it's kind of heartbreaking. I can't eat them all, and it took me months and lots of money to get it all down. We wanted them to of course taste good and the texture is really important, but we also needed them to hold up. When you're at Ladurée, that clock starts as soon as they put that pretty box in your hand and your macarons are instantly stale. We can't do that here.
How do you have to adjust a macaron recipe from Paris to make it work in Dallas?
Everything has to be changed. The base recipe has to be changed every day. All this rain that we've had lately, it impacts the way the meringue whips. We have to look at it every single day, and we still have batches now that sometimes don't work out. A lot of that also has to do with the fact that we're working with a new space. Our materials and equipment are new, so we're working through the bugs on that. We've still been working on perfecting these recipes and making them better, though.
What about the transition between White Rock Local Market and having your own storefront? How are those two experiences different for you as a retailer?
It's a lot easier to do it at your own shop. Everything is here. The market involves a lot of lifting, driving, and schlepping. You also have to eat everything that you don't sell because you didn't have any kind of refrigeration. Here, we have the flexibility to use some awesome fruit from the market and throw some macarons in the case. At the market, we would have had to pre-market them, let our customers know they were going to be available, and hope that you sold them. It's still kind of a crapshoot figuring how many macarons we need every day, though.
This location is really interesting to me. The real estate is prime, but it's tucked away in the corner. Do people struggle to find your shop?
A lot of them do. When people do find us, I'm really thankful that we have really great parking right here. Once they find the shop, they're happy because they were able to find a parking spot. This little road that we're on is also a one-way, so you can't really turn in there, even though everybody does. There's no signage for our shop on McKinney, and we're trying to bring that up with our landlord. It's not just us, there are other shops that are back here, too.
I came to Bisous Bisous on opening day, and I listened to this couple argue over macaron vs. macaroons. Is that a pretty common discussion here?
Yes. There's variations of that same argument, too. There are people that know who they are and require that you use the French pronunciation. There are other people who don't care and say that you can call them macaroons. But really, macarons don't share that much with coconut macaroons other than sugar. And they're gluten free. We get a lot of men of a certain age that don't think they like macarons because they don't like coconut. But once they try them, we can usually sway them once they realize that it's not coconut.
I also have people who ask me why I call them "macaroons," and, well, I am American. I'm not French, and I don't pretend to be. I also don't want to make anyone feel bad and alienate people by using the French pronunciation all the time. If you want to come here and call them "macaron" and chit-chat in French, though, we can do that all day. But ultimately I want this place to be really accessible for everyone.
It seems kind of weird that macarons were so trendy, right? It doesn't seem like they're really that accessible. What do you think attracts people to them?
They're fancy, and they're cute. They're just stinkin' cute. They really don't resemble anything else. We struggle to describe them at times because there's nothing familiar that you can really relate it to. They're also really versatile, so everyone wants these pretty towers of them on the dessert table at their weddings and baby showers.
Do you worry about the luster of the macaron trend wearing off? Even cupcakes have sort of faded away.
I don't worry because I know it's going to happen. That's part of why we're not a macaron-only shop and focus so much on Viennoiserie and have an extensive list of other French pastries. The thought of having a business that puts all your eggs in one single basket? That's terrifying to me, unless you're selling something that's really never going to go away. I'm not worried about it, because we're always focused on the next trend. Are we going to have a part of what that means for Dallas?
The menu of flavors here is pretty classic, and that seems common with macarons. How do you experiment with a dessert that has very specific flavor expectations?
We have a really strong French following now, which is fabulous. I watch the French people come in who come in to get croissants and espresso in the morning, and I love that. I have yet to see an actual French person buy a peanut butter and jelly macaron. It's kind of a joke, I offer to give it to them for free so they'll just try it. There are some flavors that I think we just won't do, maybe like fruity cereal or something.
We do want to be somewhat classic, but also fun. We're doing a pretty fun flavor for Macaron Day, because that's what we have the most fun with. The bakers and I love to come up with new flavors and play with what is in season. That's the fun stuff. It's never a problem to come up with flavors, it's harder to figure out what is going to sell. People ask for rose flavored macarons all the time, but the reality is that they just don't sell that well.
Floral flavors are particularly interesting because they're so polarizing. You either love them or think they taste like soap. Where do your customers fall on that issue?
Of the floral flavors, we've done violet and honey-lavender before. We did a floral assortment last year for Mother's Day, and it's very likely that our flavor of the month will be floral in May. Our kitchen is very polarized -- you have some people who are really excited about doing a rose macaron, maybe with lychee or something, and then you have others who say that they don't want to eat roses and think it's really gross. We'll see what happens when we get there.
I'm always curious to hear what bakers think about Dallas' palate for pastry. We all grew up eating Wonder Bread, but do you think our tastes are changing?
I think it is. Our location helps with that, I think. We get a lot of well-traveled people from this area and the Park Cities who have high expectations. I think we're getting a really good response, but there are occasionally the people who think that the croissants are too dark because they grew up eating Crescent Rolls. That's why I'm so glad that we have the French clientele that we do because I want to make sure that we're always authentic and keeping our standards high.
Are there any other French pastries that you're looking to introduce Dallas to?
The option for different pastries is really limited. We're all dying to do more. We want to do puff pastries and everything that entails. We want to do palmiers and Napoleons and brioche and expand the Viennoiserie. That said, I'm not going to sacrifice our quality. Until the staff can consistently turn out the exact same product on our base menu, we're not going to push anything new.
I'm still in the kitchen a pretty decent amount, but I'm trying to get them to where they're comfortable with me, and they've been doing a great job. Right now, we're mostly looking at expanding our hours. Everyone wants us to be open longer. People are knocking on the door at 6 p.m., and I'm selling pastries out of our walk-in after we've closed. It's a great problem, but there's also logistics you have to figure out to make sure that everyone is getting the best product.
Every chef in Dallas complains that it's hard to find cooks of all kinds. Is it particularly difficult to put together a strong pastry staff?
I have been incredibly lucky in that everybody who works in the kitchen for me found me. They came to me, sought out a position, even before I necessarily had something for them. I've been incredibly fortunate to find really passionate people. We have a great crew, everyone gets along, and there's no drama. I have no patience for drama, so I feel so lucky to have this fabulous team.
When we do have turnover, and that's inevitable because when you have good people they move on, I don't know what I'm going to do. We also have a really strong staff on the retail side, so I've been lucky there, too. The only place that we're really struggling right now is finding a good, consistent dishwasher. Do you know of one? We're still doing a lot of the dishes on our own right now.
What does the future look like for Bisous Bisous Patisserie?
I think we're progressing toward expansion. It was never my focus to franchise this or anything like that. I built Bisous Bisous for the love, clearly. I haven't gotten a paycheck for the last three years. I wanted to build a place that was a pick-me-up, kind of the place that I looked to Ladurée as. Not that I'm comparing our macarons to Ladurée in any shape or fashion. If that idea grows and we have the opportunity to serve other communities, we would absolutely do that.
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But the construction process of getting this place built and ready to go is still a little fresh. I think we need a little break before we go through that again. But yeah, we're getting that feedback from our customers, chefs, real estate people. It's definitely a possibility, but we're taking it one step at a time.
Do you feel like you're finally hitting your stride? Maybe you'll get a paycheck soon?
In the list of my priorities, it's still about eight or nine on the list. I want to extend the hours, expand the menu, give my staff a raise. There's a lot of things I'd like to offer before I start to take. We've been open now for six weeks. We had opening week, then Valentine's Day which was fabulous, fantastic mayhem. Everyone loved it, but it was completely crazy. Then we had two weeks of bad weather and had to close for two days.
Now that the weather is starting to get better and people are starting to get out of the house more, I think we'll have a better idea of what normal is going to be like. But right now we don't really know what that is yet. I'm positive, I'm hopeful, and I know that what we're doing is really good. We just have to open every day, and work as hard as we can to make people happy.