French Connection

A trio of French bakers have successfully converted Perth residents into gourmet Francophiles, winning local admiration and the title of Australia’s Best Bakery in the process.

Opening Jean Pierre Sancho in 2010, Franck Durolek, Stephane Gruson and Corentin Laumaille stunned West Australian tastebuds by meticulously replicating the traditions and processes of southern French baking. Supplying scratch-made bread to some of the state’s best restaurants, including Neil Perry’s Rockpool, their 24-hour fermentation process and revolving menu has gained national attention. With their breads, pastries and macarons all made from scratch by a team of 15 bakers, their efforts to bring a slice of Lodeve to Perth has paid off.

The bakery’s menu includes wholemeal, multigrain, sourdough, olive, and rye breads; croissants; pain aux raisins; eclairs; millefeuille; and operas to name a few. While their food has been winning customers’ hearts and stomachs, clever marketing has helped to strengthen their loyalty. The business has grown a large number of devoted followers, enough, in fact, to be voted Australia’s best bakery in Pilot’s Australia’s Best Bakery competition.

“We’ve got a lot of customers that follow us. What we do is offer very competitive prices and then, on top of that, we have a loyalty card which gives a further 5 per cent to our customers,” Mr Durolek reveals to Australian Baking Business.

Promoting their involvement in the competition through a monthly newsletter and in-store marketing, they were suprised by the reaction they received.

“The amount of people that have taken it up has been more then we expected,” Mr Durolek says.

Despite the overwhelming success, the idea of providing an authentic French boulangerieexperience to the Perth market seemed like a gamble at first. Mr Durolek remembers their initial investment concerns.

“It’s not like Melbourne or the east coast where there’s French bakeries that have been there for over 10 years and are doing well. In Perth there are no authentic French bakeries and so we were the first,” he says.

“We weren’t sure how it was going to work out, but there’s a lot of people that travel to France or that want to try something that’s a little bit different, so the response has been more then we could have hoped for.”

The history of Jean Pierre Sancho is a 100-year-old story of one family’s love of good food and passionate commitment to the best traditional baking methods. In 1904, Albin Sancho opened the first Sancho bakery in the medieval town of Lodeve, in the south of France. When Albin died in 1936, his son Albert took over the bakery. He later purchased the shop next door as the business grew and then another. His son, Jean Pierre Sancho, still works seven days a week in the original bakery and it was this commitment to the trade that inspired the three bakers while they lived in the town.

“He still uses the same recipe from his grandfather and that’s what made him so popular in the south of France, because you go to eat this bread and its like bread that your grandmother used to make. It’s got a particular taste and texture to it. We fell in love with that,” Mr Durolek says.

“The problem is, Jean Pierre Sancho has two daughters and neither of them want to go into the baking business. So he was worried everything that started two generations ago was going to disappear because he is close to retirement.

“We approached him because his bread is among the best bread we have ever tasted, and said, ‘Is it okay if we work with you? If we were able to follow your tradition in Australia?’. And he said, ‘Yes, no problem’.”

The trio spent six months with Mr Sancho, learning his recipes and processes before gaining the confidence to carry on the Jean Pierre Sancho name. It took a year of preparation before the Perth doors were finally opened.

Such was their commitment to the process that they built a 30 sq m chamber in France that replicates the original bakery’s basement, allowing the bread to ferment under the right conditions. Under the leadership of Mr Gruson, the most talented baker of the three owners, their staff has learnt to adapt to the local flour provided by Millers.

Having witnessed French customers returning to high-quality bread, the business owners believe the same is occurring in Australia. Their customers are willing to pay more for good food that is nutritious.

“We’ve been very happy with the result,” Mr Durolek says.

“This has been shown in France where people tend to go back [to the way it used to be], like they tend to go to the local markets rather than supermarkets. And they would rather pay a little bit more and have proper bread rather than industrial bread.”

Having opened two new retail stores this year, the most recent one in September, the three bakers show no signs of growing as slowly as their sourdough.

“The good thing is that we are all pretty close – we work and we socialise together. We’ve managed to keep the balance between having a good time outside of work and obviously when we are working, even though its in a good atmosphere, it’s pretty serious,” Mr Durolek says.

“We’re just very committed to making sure the business succeeds and we’ve put a lot into it from the first day. It’s been a long process.”

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