In Paris, nearly every city block has a boulangerie where locals source their daily baguette, croissant and brioche au sucre each morning. And any American who has tasted a fresh, flakey pain au chocolat while living or traveling in France will likely spend their days – once stateside – searching for that same buttery, melt-in-your-mouth experience.
The search is over, at least among discerning North Shore Francophiles. For the past five years, Rachel Beaudry – proprietor of Café Fleurette – has been serving up authentic baguettes and croissants from a 110-square-foot bakery kiosk in the Winnetka Train Station, good enough to rival any French boulangerie.
“More than half my customers have traveled to France and abroad so they know what bread is supposed to taste like,” said Beaudry.
Beaudry, a French Pastry School-trained chef, wakes every morning at 3:30 a.m. to drive from her Glencoe home to Café Fleurette’s Chicago-based supplier, La Fournette, where Pierre Zimmermann, a 4th generation boulanger and two time world champion chef pâtissier, oversees a large bakery that supplies both his Lincoln Park and Old Town cafes, as well as numerous Chicago-area restaurants.
With her small van full of baguettes, brioche, fougasse, sourdough miche and pain au raisin, Beaudry heads back up the Edens Expressway, arriving in Winnetka just in time to fill her display baskets and open her kiosk before the 6:04 a.m. train leaves the station.
“You’d be amazed by the military precision with which I run my business,” said Beaudry.
From 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., five days a week, Beaudry does a brisk business selling baked goods and Intelligentsia-brand coffee to hungry commuters. On Saturdays – her busiest day – Beaudry gets to sleep in just a touch longer; she opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 11 a.m., serving legions of loyal customers who drive out of their way to stock up on Café Fleurette’s legendary bread.
“I have new customers every week who come in by word of mouth,” said Beaudry. “If you have a good product, people come.”
In addition to selling her famous baguettes, croissants and thick, foamy lattes, Beaudry takes numerous special orders throughout the week, often supplying bread, pastries, tarts and colorful macaron for business meetings, book clubs, baby showers and dinner parties. On Christmas Eve, when Café Fleurette typically opens to a long line, Beaudry sells pre-ordered Buche de Noel.
“I want to keep my customers happy,” said Beaudry. “Pre-ordering is essential. Call me for the next day and I’ll hold anything for you, even if it’s one croissant.”
In true Parisian style, Madam Beaudry added special decorative touches to her little cafe. Linen toile curtains frame Café Fleurette’s serving counter; the kiosk’s walls are decorated with art and maps Beaudry collected during her travels through France.
And while Café Fleurette’s food and ambience may be authentically French, the cafe’s warm, friendly, proprietor bears little resemblance to the stereotypically brusque Parisian boulanger.
“If you see someone every day, it’s normal to ask after their family, just like they ask about mine,” said Beaudry, whose two children are in college and graduate school. “Those relationships are important to me.”
Beaudry is even willing to spot a loyal customer a quarter or two, if they find themselves short of cash while grabbing an almond croissant and dashing for the train.
“I keep a little naughty list of I.O.U’s,” joked Beaudry. “That definitely doesn’t happen at Starbucks.”
Café Fleurette, 754 Elm Street, Winnetka, 847-501-5700, Open Monday-Friday, 6 a.m.-10 a.m.: Saturday, 7 a.m.-11 a.m.