Above: Pascal Rigo, founder of La Boulangerie de San Francisco
Pascal Rigo, the brains behind the French-inspired phenomena known as La Boulangerie de San Francisco, got his start stateside selling pastries to local restaurants and hotels in the Bay Area.
“He would put the leftovers in front of a window,” says Federica Cusumano, the brand’s digital marketing manager. “People loved looking at them and would always walk by and try to get some.”
From that moment, Rigo—who always had a passion for bread—realized he could offer these treats to people anytime of day. So, he started La Boulangerie de San Francisco, a French-inspired bakery offering the tastes of France to San Francisco customers.
A little over 20 years later, the bakery has developed from a traditional, small French-style bakery into a multi-facility brand, with several stores across the region, plus a “lab” of sorts in south San Francisco where they can test new recipes, experiment, and develop retail products.
From the breads to sandwiches and pastries, everything at La Boulangerie de San Francisco is made from scratch daily. The brand and leadership themselves combine the American innovative business mindset with European affection, Cusumano says.
“Our CEO (Nicolas Bernadi) and founder are super innovative. They always come up with new ideas on how to make products more affordable but still keep the same French techniques that they originated with.
At La Boulangerie, customers can sample decadent pastries, mouthwatering sandwiches featuring a combination of meats, cheeses, produce and spreads, artisanal breads like rustic fig and chocolate ciabattas baked fresh everyday, and innovative specialties like the bakery’s popular croissant toasts.
“The croissant is super famous in France, it’s part of the culture,” Cusumano explains. “It’s typical that you take a morning walk, you take a coffee, you get a croissant and that’s how you start the day. They wanted to bring that back to America but make it easy.”
The sandwich-like treat is a mix between a croissant and a toast. It’s croissant dough that’s shaped and sliced like a typical loaf of bread and features an array of sweet and savory spreads and toppings. It’s sold in loaves directly from the bakery, where customers can pick up a loaf in traditional, everything, or even vegan variety, and it’s also found in popular stores like Whole Foods, Costco and several other supermarkets.
“It’s so good,” Cusumano exclaims. “I literally have one every day.”
Croissant toasts ––one of the restaurant’s most popular retail products –– have helped sustain the business amid the pandemic, Cusumano says. However, like other restaurants and businesses, La Boulangerie has had to adapt.
“Breakfast in French culture is about welcoming and talking to the customer, connecting to them,” Cusumano explains. “That definitely changed during the pandemic.”
Since March, the bakery has expanded their online presence, creating a platform for customers to order from home. They’ve also revamped their Instagram, created videos to showcase their products, and they even began a newsletter to connect with customers.
La Boulangerie de San Francisco is also focused on giving back to the community, Cusumano says. The company is collaborating with local artists to design sustainable and recyclable tote bags, and they’ve also started a donation box program, known as Pastries for the Frontlines, which allows customers to donate bakery boxes to frontline workers, hospitals and care centers.
Cusumano, who joined the company during the pandemic, has enjoyed working for people like Rigo, who she describes as “super smart, driven, and an amazing baker.” The Italian native, who moved to San Francisco about 8 years ago, always had a deep cultural connection and affinity for good food, but never thought she’d join the industry.
“After one call with the CEO, he sold it to me,” Cusumano recalls. “I was so excited to work along with these people.”
Cusumano has undoubtedly enjoyed her first few months with the company, and the free coffee and pastries everyday are an added bonus. However, she credits the success of La Boulangerie to the creators and innovators themselves.
“They are the masterminds behind everything and it’s thanks to them that we were able to survive,” Cusumano says. “We just follow their lead and their example.”