In 6½ years since it first opened, Bellegarde Bakery has produced close to 2 million loaves of bread. However, not a single one of those loaves was sold directly to consumers by the bakery. All this changed with the highly anticipated opening of Bellegarde’s first retail location, where customers can directly interact with everything that is happening at the bakery — experiencing the tastes, textures, aromas and ingredients.

It’s been a busy year for Bellegarde Bakery. The New Orleans-based wholesale bakery, one of the biggest names in milling and baking in the country, has grown its business by leaps and bounds thanks to changes both in the digital and retail spaces.

In December, Bellegarde announced that it had launched its online store. Customers across the country can now purchase the bakery’s stone-milled flour. Available are several freshly milled grains: buckwheat flour, durum flour, rye flour, organic red wheat flour, corn meal, and corn grits.

All of the flours and grits available are sold in 2.5-pound bags and cost $10 each, a relative bargain for the quality. There is also a 25-pound bag available for wholesale customers. In addition to the aforementioned products, Bellegarde also sell aprons, T-shirts, and bread knives through its online store.

The online store is a great way to expose different flours and grains to consumers, according to Bellegarde owner Graison Gill. It was a huge step forward for the business, but Gill wanted to keep that momentum going.

“We live in an age where reality is mostly defined on digital platforms, but bread, grains, flour, and food will always be about the experience,” Gill says. “Food is all about the senses — touch, taste, smell, sound and feel. Because of the nature of bread, of food, we want as many people to come to our bakery to experience our process and our ingredients. The internet is a great way to share the ingredient, but not the experience.”

Entering the retail arena

Bellegarde Bakery's retail store features an interactive customer experience.

That’s where the bakery’s next phase comes into play. On July 20, Bellegarde opened its first retail location.

The new shop is a 3,200-square-foot facility (double the size of its previous facility) that features a second stone mill and oven.

Customers can purchase freshly baked breads available only instore, as well as freshly stone-milled flour and heirloom grits, custom-blended drip coffee from Congregation Coffee, and branded merchandise. The menu will continue to expand throughout 2019 with additional pastry, pizza, pasta and bread options.

When Gill first arrived in New Orleans 10 years ago, he never thought his dream of making real bread would turn into a reality supported by a bakers, farmers, chefs and customers. He hopes to continue his goal of producing high quality breads with freshly milled flour at this new location.

“We plan on scaling up production by maintaining integrity. That is, instead of using less fresh flour in the bakery we are using more,” Gill says. “At a point in expansion when most business owners would shy away from using higher quality and more expensive ingredients we are only using more. And we are only investing in and committing to the people who make them.”

With his first retail location firmly in place, Gill has his eyes on the future of Bellegarde’s retail business. He sees an eventual move towards other bakeries and projects that will continue Bellegarde’s commitment to quality.

“I am so glad that we cut our teeth for six years in a location that was hard in every aspect of its experience. Now, in our beautiful new home, we have very little to figure out: our identity, our values, our goals, and our ingredients are clearer than ever. Most importantly we have a solid reputation so expanding — both in location and in menu — is limited only by our dreams,” he says.

Teaching others

The bakery hosts monthly baking and tasting workshops for both the general public and professional chefs.

Gill also sees great potential in education. The bakery offers a variety of popular baking classes, which continues in the new location.

These classes, open to both professional and home bakers, are taught by local and national leaders in the baking and cooking industry. Some of the classes that took place over the summer included:

  • A pastry class hosted by baker Michelle Klein of Bellegarde and pastry chef Bronwen Wyatt of Bacchanal + Elysian Bar
  • A pizza class hosted by Bellegarde Bakery’s Morgan Angelle
  • A bread and pizza class hosted by Bellegarde Bakery featuring Chef Marc Vetri of Philadelphia

Gill has worked with public health professionals, university officials, and the private sector to teach the economic and ecological value of whole grains. A few years ago, he co-wrote a resolution about local foods which passed the Louisiana State Legislature on a 92-0 vote. Bellegarde has collaborated with the Bread Lab in Washington, with Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, and with the University of Kentucky. The next project in Gill’s sights is finding ways to incorporate freshly milled flours into local schools.

The emphasis on ingredients is what has led Bellegarde to the place that it’s at now. According to the bakery, “Food is karma: what goes in, comes out.” To get the best, Bellegarde is putting in the best.