Hot Bread Kitchen has been lucky to partner with employers from across the spectrum of food businesses, of all sizes and specialties, markets and backgrounds, cuisines of the world and corners of the city. Of the many small local businesses with which we’ve partnered to help women launch careers in food, there is one that stands out for its steadfast commitment to care, quality, and investing in employees: La Boulangerie de Francois, a French bakery and cafe in Queens.
Tucked away on 72nd Road among the red tile-roofed residences of Forest Hills, La Boulangerie de Francois opened in 2011, a manifestation of the dream long held by the bakery’s namesake, Francois Danielo, and his partner, Nadia DeJesus. The couple wished to open their own business and serve their adopted home in New York City’s most eclectic borough with freshly made French treats, made from scratch each day without preservatives but with enormous skill. While their goal was always to make La Boulangerie de Francois a neighborhood bakery, Francois and Nadia found that the business became something more than that at the height of the pandemic. Remaining open through the shutdown, La Boulangerie served as a grocery, household supply, and general store instead of the “corner of France” it has been for ten years.
“Staying open during COVID felt like when there is a storm and there is one place that is staying open and resisting, where you can get coffee and supplies [and meet with your neighbors],” Francois told Hot Bread Kitchen during a recent visit to La Boulangerie. “We gave our employees a choice: if people didn’t feel safe, we were not going to force anybody to work. It is important to us that our team always feels safe.”
Beyond feeling secure in their work environment, Francois said it is also critical that his team–which currently includes two Hot Bread Kitchen members, Ranea and Tiffany–feel that they are growing and learning, honing their craft and skills while also living a fulfilling life. While La Boulangerie provides technical training on each of its teams, from culinary to pastry, Francois underscored his belief that “if someone comes to work here, they should grow in every dimension–not just technically, but as a human being.”
“If you want good products, good service, people need to feel complete in their work.”Francois, owner of La Boulangerie de Francois
“I want people to find a balanced life,” Francois said. “And when they come here, I want them to feel that they are part of a team. They are making a paycheck, of course, it’s a job–but I want them to feel they are growing, that they can build relationships with all the people, that they become better technically at what they do. I want their life experience to be a positive life experience.”
Ranea, who joined Francois’s team just one day after completing her training with Hot Bread Kitchen, says she has found exactly that in her role as a pastry cook at La Boulangerie. “I’ve learned so much here. If my past self could see me now, I wouldn’t believe myself [and what I can do],” Ranea told Hot Bread Kitchen. “When I was nervous about starting pastry, Francois told me, ‘We have to swim. We don’t read a book about how to swim. No, you have to go to the water to see how to swim.’”
Since joining La Boulangerie de Francois during the pandemic, Ranea has improved her technical skills and become an invaluable part of the pastry team. Reflecting on how her experience at Hot Bread Kitchen has helped her in her current role, Ranea added, “Hot Bread Kitchen did so much to prepare me to ‘swim.’ How I stand, how I listen, how I take care of everything for the chefs. Hot Bread Kitchen taught me how to prepare for interviews, communication skills, how to fix my problems at work.”
Tiffany, who has been at La Boulangerie de Francois since 2019, echoed Ranea’s sentiments despite looking at her career from a different vantage point. After nearly three years learning from and working with Francois, Tiffany told Hot Bread Kitchen she feels prepared to embark on a new chapter in her career when the time comes.
“I’ve learned so much here, especially from Francois,” Tiffany said. “I feel like I’m still on my path, on my journey to where I need to be. Working in the food industry is a great way to start off and accelerate your career.”
Fostering this sense of learning and evolution is a key part of what makes Francois’s team and his business successful–and, he says, is why he particularly enjoys working with women who graduate from Hot Bread Kitchen’s programs. Hot Bread Kitchen members not only come prepared with “an understanding of the work ethic in the kitchen, the basic rules of communication, sanitation, health, and professionalism,” he said, but also a hunger to keep growing.
“When we hire through Hot Bread Kitchen, I’m not expecting someone to have all the technical knowledge in the world, but on the other hand I’m expecting somebody who has [drive and skill],” Francois said. “We see that everyone comes from a different background–Ranea has her own story, Tiffany has her own, we all have a different story, each of us.
“If you want good products, good service, people need to feel complete in their work,” he added. “And if we can help someone and give a job to a woman who wants to work and is looking for an opportunity in her life, that is great.”