Americans have long obsessed over the French way of life: the blasé attitude, classic style, and, most importantly, the bread and butter. Newlyweds Gautier Coiffard and Ashley Breest have given New York City another bakery to drool over. The difference, though, is that their shop is based entirely in their Cobble Hill apartment, you can only order through Instagram, and they started the business as a side hustle during the pandemic.
In addition to baking and delivering pastries six days a week, Gautier, who hails from Grenoble, France, works a full time job as an engineer at Dalet Digital Media Systems and Ashley, who is from Long Island, is a nursing student. To say they’re keeping busy is an understatement. They created an Instagram account, @l’appartement4f, and started taking orders in June of this year. The account was initially only intended for orders from friends and co-workers, but it now has over 2,000 followers and gains more traction each day. The sales from the pop-up shop range from $100 on a weekday to $500 on a busy Sunday, so they won’t be quitting their day jobs yet. But the added income is significant enough to make the endeavor worthwhile.
We started our phone interview with a softball question: when did Gautier move here? But when he said “2012” and I heard “2020,” Ashley stepped in to help translate his thick French accent and our poor phone connection.
Gautier and Ashley told me they met “the old way”: at a bar in the Upper East Side in a romantic and wistful time of unmasked bar hoppers and side-stepping app users. Ashley admits that she couldn’t understand a word of what he said the first night they met, but after a few cultural faux pas and translating mishaps, they’ve been inseparable ever since.
How has the pandemic changed your life plans?
Ashley: I am a nursing student and Gautier is a full-time engineer, and we recently decided to start selling our bread because of the feedback we’ve been getting from friends and family before the pandemic started. Strangers started ordering from us and now we bake six days a week. Gautier was living a very French lifestyle, I would say, where he was waking up a little bit later, and now he wakes up at 5am, or 4:30am, to work and bake.
What is it like doing two jobs at once?
A: Crazy. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Some days we are like, Do we just pack up and quit and delete the Instagram account and change our names? Because it honestly can be so overwhelming. But then I’ll do the deliveries while he’s working, and the feedback that we get is so amazing that when we get more orders the next day, we’re like, Let’s just do it.
How do the orders work?
A: We make everything fresh to order because Gautier’s philosophy is that people should eat it basically right when it’s out of the oven. Sometimes we’ll make extra just for us, but if someone wants it then I have to tell Gautier not to eat the croissant for himself. But usually we just make exactly what people order and we’ll take the orders sometimes two to three weeks in advance because we book up very quickly.
What’s on the menu?
A: We have croissants, pain au chocolat, almond croissants, chocolate and almond croissants, and he bakes bread — a lot of people have been loving the bread because it really does taste like it does in France — and chocolate chip cookies. He recently started making pies from scratch, and people have been loving those, too.
A: Yes! Lots and lots of carbs.
It seems like there are a lot of Americans and New Yorkers that are kind of obsessed with the French way of living. How has the French culture influenced how you live your lives now?
A: When I met Gautier– and he still is very, very French– he would eat something sweet; he used to buy croissants and he will eat them with jam and butter or he’ll eat them with a piece of chocolate, and he always eats a lot of cheese and bread. He’s never really strayed from the French culture too much since he’s been here. Whereas, he totally introduced me, an American girl from Long Island, to his culture, so it’s a very French lifestyle in this apartment I would say. When we first started dating, he took out, I don’t even know what kind of cheese it was, something I’d never eaten before, and he took a piece and then I went to take a piece, and I cut it the wrong way, I guess — there’s a wrong way to cut cheese — so he started to laugh and was so upset that I took a piece of cheese that way. So yeah, it’s very French in this apartment.
Are you planning on staying in the U.S. for the foreseeable future?
A: For the foreseeable future, yes. We go to France a lot. We were just there and every time I’m there I beg him to move back, but he just loves New York City so much. I can’t see him moving back anytime soon, and especially now with the bakery, I don’t think we would move anytime soon.
Are the recipes family recipes? Or how did you get started?
G: I’ve always really liked cooking, so I just read cooking books and recipe books, so I’ll start mixing one recipe with another like that. For the croissant it’s a lot of trial and error until I have a good recipe working.
A: Also I’ll say this, as an outsider watching him, I definitely think him being an engineer influences how he bakes. He’s so precise and I feel like if something goes wrong, he looks at it differently than how I would look at it. Everything is more mathematical and science to them, so I would say his background has definitely made him very precise.
You joked about possibly closing the entire bakery business, but would you ever consider making it your full-time job?
A: Oh yes, actually. I say we want to quit, but that’s just after we’re baking until 1amone o’clock at night and we have to wake up in three hours and we look at each other like, what are we doing? This is so random because neither of us went to culinary school, neither of us really baked too often before we started. Gautier started baking bread a little before and he was just kind of naturally good at it. Now that we’re having a little bit of success with this, we definitely talk about seeing where it goes. G: Hopefully a more structured company allowing more sleep! But having a brick and mortar location would be very fun. We talk about expanding and owning a real boulangerie in New York. The most important thing to us is not losing the quality of our pastries.