Central Kansas is not a place where you may expect to find a bakery with such diverse international flavors as Bagatelle Bakery in Wichita, and yet this is what makes the bakery so special. Husband and wife owners Naji (who is Lebanese) and Claire (who is French Canadian) Toubia have run Bagatelle Bakery successfully since they opened it in 1984. Twenty years later, they moved into their current location and expanded the menu dramatically to feature everything from Mediterranean-inspired pastries including baklava to traditional Lebanese manoushi, a soft-to-bite dough topped with zaatar seasoning in virgin olive oil.
Middle Eastern food is regarded as one of the hottest culinary trends in America, according to experts who spoke at the recent National Restaurant Association 2019 Show. Claire Toubia says they, indeed, are witnessing a growth in popularity at their bakery, which is driven by increased awareness of Middle Eastern flavors and a dedicated local community.
“Definitely hummus is so well known now, and that is all Middle Eastern,” she says. “We have a lot of support from the community. In our bakery, I see students who are from Wichita State University, customers who are Middle Eastern, customers who are Chinese. Our shawarmas are very popular, and these are healthier sandwiches because we use fresh vegetables. You can’t beat the flavor.”
Shawarmas are offered with marinated chicken or beef with fresh tomatoes and pickles in tahini sauce and wrapped in fresh pita bread. Each sandwich is toasted and served with a side of hummus.
Bagatelle Bakery makes their own pita breads fresh daily in-house in a wood-fired oven. “Ours is a pocket-thin pita bread that is Lebanese style,” explains the Toubias’ son, Joseph, who works for the family business. It is not the puffy style that some have grown accustomed to; this is the authentic pita bread.
Part of the Toubia family-owned restaurant group in Wichita, the bakery delivers pita bread to about nine other stores on a daily basis. Led by Antoine Toubia, a native of Lebanon, the Toubia family is widely respected in Wichita for influencing the city’s definition of dining, according to the Kansas Sampler Foundation, which named their restaurants as one of the eight wonders of Kansas cuisine.
Bagatelle Bakery is family owned and operated. Shortly after their marriage, Naji and Claire Toubia teamed up with influential restaurateur Antoine Toubia to open Bagatelle Bakery. “Our mission has always been to give our community the pleasures of the European bakery experience that the Toubia family adored growing up abroad,” Naji and Claire say.
In the beginning, space was limited, and they stuck to classic French bakery items such as croissants, which they still make from scratch, and baguettes. From the start, the bakery has achieved notoriety for its almond croissants and Chantilly cream cakes, which are available in eight flavors including strawberry (the most popular), kiwifruit, lemon and coconut.
Naji explains that once they moved to their current location, they added a dining room and a luncheon menu including Spanish-style empanadas filled with vegetables or meat, salads, and hot and cold soups.
They make a Tabouli salad with bulgur wheat mixed with chopped tomatoes, onions, parsley, mint, olive oil and lemon juice. Their signature Fattouch Salad is made with lettuce, cucumbers, red onions and roma tomatoes that are tossed with Toubia’s own Fattouch salad dressing and topped with pita chips.
“The bakery has really evolved since that time,” Claire says. “One of the reasons we moved is so we could add those items. We have enough room to make everything from scratch.”
Another factor in their favor is “reasonable” prices that are conducive to customers shopping for family gatherings, weddings and birthdays. Every Sunday, the bakery offers two-for-one specials on French baguettes.
“We are very proud of our baguettes,” Naji says. “We bake them in a very hot oven with steam. It’s a texture that is not easy to replicate.”
In addition, Claire says they make mini baguettes that are very popular with restaurant customers that use them to make sandwiches. Bagatelle Bakery has expanded its bread selections to include ciabatta, which customers use for dipping.
“Middle Eastern food is becoming more popular,” Joseph says. “We want to continue our traditions.”