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Le Petit Prince Patisserie

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Le Petit Prince Patisserie finished up 2017 with 3 Taste of Dorset Awards.
Best Independent Tea Room or Café, Best Bakery and Best Food or Drink Business of the Year which was selected from the list of winners! We thought the time was right to head down and chat with Michael about all things Le Petit Prince Patisserie.

Michael PORTRAIT

HOW DID YOU MAKE THE MOVE TO SET UP LE PETIT PRINCE PATISSERIE?

When I did the business plan, I was in a job as Development Manager and had been for 10 years. It was a great job and the company grew massively, I guess later on it just got so political. We’d always had a house in Westbourne and I’d been thinking about something like this for a long, long time and I suppose my thought originally was to put an old-fashioned bakery back on the high street.

The first shop had 3 tables and a coffee machine, 1 chef…and me. There were three of us when we opened and I was doing the night baking and the pastries and then the cheffing – I was involved in the whole lot. After 6 months we realised we were doing very well and needed to expand, but we didn’t have either the space of the money at that point. So we spoke to the landlady and put an extension on the rear. After about a year we realised it was working, I started employing more staff and we doubled overnight!

WHAT IS IT THAT SETS YOU APART FROM THE REST?

I think our point of difference from a lot of people is we make the bread, it’s made in-house, we make all the cakes, you can see them come out the ovens, the coffee and the fact we do decent sandwiches which we make. Everything is made in-house. I know a lot of places might do that now, but not many places make every single item themselves and you can watch it all being done.

I think because of my background working in hotels and teaching and what have you…there’s an attention to detail, but also knowing what you need to do to get that point of difference. We’re not just going to make a tuna mayo sandwich, I wouldn’t dream of doing anything like that. We want to try and be a bit more fun and keep changing up various options; veggie, vegan, gluten-free. We want to fit the vibe of the place, we’re not going to be a restaurant, we offer certain things and I suppose that was my original aim.

Someone might come in and they might have a nice coffee, maybe with a pastry, or they’ll take a cake home or a loaf of bread. We’re lucky there are lots of strings to our bow.

petit prince KITCHEN

PETIT PRINCE ANTS

WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST USEFUL SKILL YOU’VE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY?

WI think it would be the staffing, it’s the hardest thing. Picking the right people, keeping the right people, training the right people and sometimes knowing that you need to close your mouth and let people do things their way even if it’s not your way. In the beginning I thought it would be the monetary side of it; tax, VAT all those bits and pieces were what scared me. But they are a doddle, I can do it with my eyes closed now.

Staffing is an ongoing thing that affects you all the time. You will never have a great business without the support of your staff. In Westbourne, most of the staff have been there since we opened which is really nice. It gives you stability and you need that, the customers like it as well. You want that nice relaxed feel you get when everyone is happy, and the customers feel that as well. And I wouldn’t say it’s a skill I’ve learned, it’s a learning curve, it’s ongoing.

NOW TELL US ABOUT THESE AWARDS!

We didn’t expect it at all. The Paul Keating, the butchers across the road, put us forward for the Best Bakery. They said you should put yourselves up for the cafe category so we did. On the evening, we got the Best Coffee Shop Award first so we thought, we’re not going to get the best bakery now. I was a bit…I wanted the Best Bakery as well, and then we got that! And the last award was really good. We were so pleased to have picked up three Taste of Dorset Awards, we’ve never done anything like that before. It’s just a nice thing. I’m quite a quiet person, so I don’t shout about things too much. For me I didn’t really want to do it too much, I was nervous about what if we didn’t get anything? But we were in the list of finalists, so I thought thank goodness for that. I was shocked and really pleased on the night. It’s nice for everyone, it shows the all hard work has paid off and it’s a great accolade to have. It’s good for the staff, for the business and for the community as well.

Michael Petit Prince

petit prince retail coffee

IN CONTRAST TO THE AWARDS, WHAT’S THE MOST ABSURD THING THAT’S HAPPENED ALONG THE WAY?

We’ve had loads of things, so many learning curves. In Westbourne, we had to take the whole shop front out to get the ovens in. We have huge ovens there and obviously, they won’t fit through the door. What we didn’t factor in is that there is a cellar below us in the Westbourne shop and the beams going across were not strong enough. We nearly lost the oven into the cellar. We had to get the whole lot supported, it was pretty bad! We had builders there all day. We took the whole of one side of the shop out, we had cranes craning it all in, workmen everywhere because it was a 1.5tonne oven. We got away with it, managed to get it in and rebuild the shop in one day. That was certainly a learning curve. I’ve had crazy things happen in the past, but not here.

One year, when I was working at The Grosvenor House, I was only about 19 and it was close to Christmas. We usually did Christmas decorations, but no one could be bothered, we’d all been out the night before. Anyway, I looked around the kitchen and found a lot of pumpkins which would make perfect snowmen. So we covered them in royal icing, made them look like snowmen and put them out, on the Christmas display on the buffet. I was working on Christmas Day and didn’t think much about it, and I got a phone call. The pressure had built up inside and the pumpkins had exploded. There was royal icing and pumpkin all over the place!

IF SOMEONE IS COMING TO LE PETIT PRINCE PATISSERIE FOR THE FIRST TIME, WHAT SHOULD THEY ORDER?

Good question. I don’t know, that’s really hard. People are so different. If it was me, in the morning I’d have the avocado on toast. I’m not a huge cake person, I generally go for savoury all the way. I don’t know, that’s so tough.

If you were going to take home a loaf of bread then it would be our 3-kilo loaf on a Saturday called the Westbourne and Wimbourne Prince. It’s a really good loaf. We cut it into quarters, halves or you can take a whole one and it really lasts. You’d think because it’s cut it wouldn’t last, but it doesn’t. It’s got Rye, Spelt, Wholemeal and White flours and it’s a sourdough. You make it in a massive basket and it takes 1.5 hours to bake and we do it every Saturday. I’m passionate about that.

BAGS IN A ROW

petit prince LUNCH

Find out more about Michael’s amazing career (which we haven’t even scraped the surface of) here on their website and give them a social follow for plenty of mouthwatering posts.

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