A Calculated Risk
Chef Andrea Meyer (Photo courtesy of Kevin Marple)
There are thousands of retail bakeries in metropolitan Dallas-Fort Worth, home to 7.5 million residents. So how does one small shop stand out amid such a giant crowd? This is the story of how one Dallas patisserie rose from being a simple farmer’s market stand to a thriving, profitable business in less than four years. The popular food site Eater.com recently ranked Bisous Bisous Pâtisserie as the No. 1 bakery in Dallas, and owner Andrea Meyer couldn’t be prouder.
Not unlike many retail bakery owners, Meyer admits she juggles many tasks. “I'm the business owner, head pastry chef and retail manager, which essentially means I'm also our web designer, social media coordinator, HR rep and handyman! We're still a growing business so I'm still very involved in the shop every day,” she says.
Nothing to her shop’s success has been simple. A former project manager at Ernst & Young, one of the world’s largest accounting and financial services firms, Meyer made a series of calculated risks to realize a longtime dream of owning a patisserie.
Through years of planning, training, investing and executing a small business plan, technology played an instrumental role.
“Technology is such an asset for small businesses like ours,” the pastry chef/owner says. “With the accessibility of easily managed websites and social media for marketing and advertising, we are constantly utilizing new trends in technology to reach our existing and future customers. I often wonder how businesses like ours were able to survive and thrive in a less technologically based environment in the past. We depend on it!”
Bious relies on an iPad-based system called Revel for its point-of-sale system. “By and large, it meets our needs and is competitive with other platforms out there. We don't use nearly all of its capability, but we plan to as we continue to grow,” she says.
Pursuing a Dream
Meyer started her business, Bisous (which means kisses in French), in January 2013, doing predominately wholesale and catering to grow the business. The retail store opened in February 2015.
“My path to this adventure with Bisous has been a bit, let's say, non-linear,” she explains. “I put myself through undergraduate studies at the University of North Texas by working as a manager at Williams-Sonoma here in Dallas. That's really where I caught the bug for food, but never really considered it as a career.”
Upon graduation, she started graduate school but ultimately decided not to be a professor. Then, she worked for about five years at Ernst & Young, LLP as a project manager. “While I loved my team and the firm, I knew it wasn't what I wanted to do forever,” she says.
Soon, it took a visit to the famed Ladurée patisserie in Paris where Meyer found her calling. She and her husband traveled nearly every year to France, starting with their honeymoon in 2003. “That's where I first tasted a French macarons (a vanilla one from Laduree!) and just fell in love with French pastry. Eventually, we had an opportunity to live over in Paris for a few months while I was still with (Ernst & Young) and I figured if I didn't choose to do pastry as my profession after that trip, I'd just shut up about it already!”
After a casual course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris on one Saturday morning, Meyer knew she'd discovered what she was meant to do. “Needless to say, we returned to the United States and I was enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu's program in Austin that following spring! I knew that to do the type of pastry I wanted to accomplish – at the level I wanted to work – I needed further education. I wasn't interested in starting a business as a home baker, but to really learn from trained and experienced chefs and really learn the industry.”
She made the most of her culinary school experience and then went to work at Thomas Keller’s legendary Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, California. There she studied and learned as much as possible without losing sight of her goals. Meyer returned to Dallas after a few years in California and hit the ground running to get Bisous started.
Baking Her Mark
Today, the patisserie is widely regarded for having the best French macarons in Dallas; it's been their signature specialty since opening. Her shop carries at least 12 flavors on hand every day, sometimes more.
They also make viennoiserie by hand in a small kitchen. This led to a unique hybrid pastry creation (the cruffin) that helped put Bisous on the local map. “We have utilized all of our trim from our croissant production to make our own version of a cruffin (croissant muffin), which has been wildly popular for us. We have a ham and smoked gouda, and a raspberry version every day, and we also throw in some seasonal varieties, too, as we dream them up!”
Being so new, the business is continuing to evaluate trends and how they impact the business. “We have seen our customers learn more about French pastry these past 3-plus years and are slowly learning how to discern between the well-done products and those that are of a lesser quality,” Meyer says.
The basis of the business is rooted in traditional French pastry options, “so I'd have to say we don't feel the pull of food trends that strongly. That said, our French macarons are gluten free, which continues to be a focus for our customers who increasingly are looking for that type of product.”
Meyer says she experiences the most rewarding part of her job when she knows the patisserie has impacted a customer's day in a positive way. “We're aware that our product is a nice to have, not a need to have, and it's the small moments of enjoyment we're able to provide to people that make it worth all the hard work.”
Her favorite products?
“I have always loved all things custard: pastry creams, ice cream, pot de creme, I could make custards all day long and be perfectly happy!”
“We're big fans of Valrhona chocolate in the shop and we're always excited to try a new line or product of theirs. My continued obsession is with their Caramelia 34%; we use it in ganaches, fillings and custards, but it really is incredibly versatile. We can't wait to start our new ice cream line which will definitely feature this chocolate!”
How do you innovate?
“Working as much as I do, innovation really becomes a necessity to staying passionate and interested in the work. None of us know all the answers, so I seek out opportunities to learn new things, experiment, and look at things we do from a new perspective. Sometimes we can sell the results, sometimes we can't, but we always learn from the experience.”
Where do you draw inspirations?
“I'm always on the lookout for inspiration. In a sometimes grueling industry, it's important to keep your mind fresh to new ideas and trends. I find my interactions with other women small business owners to be immensely inspiring and rewarding. Seeing new perspectives and learning from other businesses' best practices makes me excited to innovate and improve.”
Who were your mentors/teachers?
“There are really so many people that have inspired me over the years and taught me lessons that apply to all of my life. My father never accepted less than my potential which taught me to persevere, work hard and strive for excellence. My college literature professor taught me to find my voice and speak for myself and for those who cannot. My mom always pushed me not to take myself too seriously, although this one is really hard sometimes! Last but never least, my husband probably inspires me more than anyone I know. He, usually unknowingly, pushes me every day to find joy, have unyielding hope and optimism and to be the very best version of myself that I can.”
When did you first love baking?
“I've loved baking since I was a kid, for sure! I have very fond memories of making cookies with my Grandma when I was younger and home baked items were a staple in our house when I was a child.”
What drives you to succeed?
“When I really stop to think about it, I really think I was raised to know no other option. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but I've experienced time and time again that if you put in the work and act with integrity, success finds you.”
Name something you would like to achieve that you have not done already.
“I'm focusing on the next few years and expanding our reach in the Dallas area, so there isn't one single thing I'm looking towards, but rather expanding on our successes to create new pastries, offer classes to our customers and reach new markets in our area.”