That Cute New Macaron Shop Near You Might Actually Be a Franchise (Sorry)
But don't worry. Parisians are in charge.
Surely there were better years in which to start a business, but 2009 is when the stars aligned for Rosalie Guillem, a Parisian out of water in Sarasota, Florida. That was the year she convinced her daughter Audrey, finally, to make the move to Sarasota, along with Audrey's pastry chef husband. Everyone needed work, so they sat around thinking about what to do, and pretty soon, voila, Sarasota had a cute little place to go for colorful macarons, just like you'd find in a shop back in France. They called it, just to keep things simple, Le Macaron French Pastries.
"It was not easy, but we thought that even during the Great Recession, everybody would be able to treat themselves with a little delicacy," Guillem said in a recent, wide-ranging interview with trade pub QSR Magazine. "A macaron, a chocolate, a cup of coffee, a nice place, maybe a two-minute vacation. And that was the idea."
The idea worked, and worked really well—less than a decade later, there are roughly 50 Le Macaron shops dotting the country, many of them (for now, anyway) in Florida, close to the central commissary where the macarons are produced under the careful watch of a team of French chefs. Gluten-free, maybe 80, 90 calories each, these macarons, which come in flavors both traditional (raspberry, vanilla, chocolate) and unexpected (bubble gum), are slightly larger than you might find in France, but they're definitely the real deal. They are sold in pleasant, modern shops that are typically bright, and smart-looking—not too big, but large enough to make the store feel like something like a destination. Other things sold there, such as gelato, coffee, pastries, chocolates and candy help draw people in, as well.
Getting the quality right at first was a huge hurdle to overcome, says Guillem, noting how hard they had to work to source the right kind of flour, and good quality egg whites, to say nothing of the fight they got from that famous Florida humidity. But in the end, it worked, and keeping a tight rein on production appears to have paid off, because Le Macaron has mostly been a hit, wherever it has landed, whether it's Santa Monica, California, The Venetian in Las Vegas, or the Miami suburbs—there's even one just outside of New York City, in Westchester County.
The shops typically have a nice, local feel, to the point where, at least in some cases, the first-time visitor might not know they've stepped into a franchised chain store. Fifty shops selling macarons may seem like a lot, but for Guillem, it's all just getting started. Down in Florida, at home base, they're developing a range of new cakes, macarons and pastries; they're definitely looking to add more stores, too—maybe even one in every state. As much as America seems to be responding to Le Macaron, Guillen says the love goes both ways.
"In France," says Guillem, "The customers are spoiled by the quality of patisserie. When American customers taste something that is good, they really show how much they like it, and they want to share that with everybody. They are happy customers; we don't have grumpy customers. They are so happy to discover something new. It's great to be part of that discovery."