Imagine a French bakery. A boulangerie. There are racks of warm baguettes and country loaves with slightly blistered crusts. And croissants, of course. In a see-through case are the day’s cookies and tarts. Maybe a surprise, too. One day there are chouquettes (what Timbits aspire to be in their dreams), another day there may be buttery, dense Breton kouign-amann.
Now imagine a tiny French cafe with, in winter, a single bistro table and two chairs. Along with your coffee (espresso, maybe?) you can have a sweet or savoury crepe prepared for you. But again, each day, something else, a little different. Could be a quiche or maybe a steak and stout pie with flaky crust.
Unbelievably, a hybrid of the two exists here in Lindsay, hidden in plain sight — Mickaël’s Cafe Librairie, it’s on the north side of Kent about a block from Central Senior Public School — and it’s the real deal.
One bitterly cold morning I drop in to sit down at the single bistro table with entrepreneur and baker Mickaël Durand to find out what brought a native of Chateaugiron in the Brittany region of France to Lindsay and what plans he has for the business. (Ask any of his three assistants–Mallorie, Eden, or Devin — and they will use the same adjectives to describe him — energetic, passionate about what he does, and ambitious — so, he definitely has plans).
We start at the beginning of his story, Chateaugiron. Mickaël and his three brothers grew up next to a boulangerie.
“It was my playground,” he says. Often he’d return home glazed with sugar and with a dusting of flour, to his mother’s dismay.
Mickaël went on to complete a five-year apprenticeship as a baker, in Rennes as well as Chateaugiron, under the supervision of master bakers. He was particularly influenced by his second employer, who — and this was twenty years ago — used organic flours and sourdough starters.
“He was ahead of the game,” says Mickaël.
In 2005 Mickaël visited Quebec, loved it, and returned to Canada the next year. He worked in a bakery in Toronto’s Distillery District.
That explains Canada, but what brought a French baker to Lindsay?
Not “what” it turns out, but “who.” Her name is Jane (nee Cooper). They met at a Haliburton camp one summer: Mickaël was baking for the campers; Jane was craft instructor.
In 2011 Mickaël and Jane moved to Lindsay, Jane’s hometown. They’re expecting their fourth child in March (the oldest just started French immersion at Leslie Frost).
The return to his first passion, baking, came in 2015, when, with one of his brothers, he opened two bakeries in France. Here in Lindsay he turned part of his space in Reeds Plaza into a Cafe, offering coffee and crepes.
Last spring he closed briefly to incorporate what was needed to offer Lindsay its first boulangerie: a mixer, bins, an oven, and new counters.
With the business growing he hired an assistant, Mallorie Mitchell, a Lindsay native who had just graduated from Niagara College’s Baking and Pastry Art Program. Mallorie considers herself Mickaël’s apprentice and now looks after much of the bread production.
From the outset the focus has been on freshness and high standards. Mickaël wants customers to know that everything on display is just out of the ovens.
“We want to be irreproachable, particularly since people have to make an effort to come here.”
Anything unsold at the end of the day is packaged up as “day-old” and put on a separate rack at half-price. (A personal aside: The day-olds are first stop for this frugal columnist).
After the second day, anything left is gone. It may have been a perk for staff or been donated to the homeless shelter (where Devin is known as “The Bread Man.”)
It’s a new year and before I leave I want to hear about this restless entrepreneur’s plans. He’s given this some thought.
“I want to devote more energy to the bakery and cafe. More variety, more items, longer open hours.”
More promotion, too. So far, it’s almost all friends and the ever-widening circle of those who’ve found out through word of mouth, and become repeat customers, maybe hooked by the free samples that are always on offer.
There will undoubtedly be culinary surprises. As I’m about to leave, Paris-Brest pastries in the shape of bicycle wheels are coming out of the oven.
Mickaël describes the next pastry he wants to offer — one for a new year. It’s called a Galette des Rois and is traditionally shared at Epiphany to celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men. It’s a puff pastry and has a small charm hidden inside.
Other kinds of surprises, too. When we first sat down and Mickaël was dipping his walnut-studded brownie into his coffee, he looked round and said, “I should have a photo of Chateaugiron on the wall!”
It would be a fitting reminder that a tiny piece of Brittany has been transplanted to Lindsay.