Bellegarde, game-changer for New Orleans bread, will expand, open its first retail bakery
OCT 29, 2018 - 7:00 AM
With its devotion to Old World craft, Bellegarde has made a clear difference in New Orleans bread. The bakery itself, however, has been practically invisible, supplying restaurants and markets from an unmarked spot in a woebegone strip mall.
That’s about to change.
Bellegarde is now developing a new home near the intersection of Claiborne and Carrollton avenues in the Leonidas neighborhood. It will have its own retail bakery for the first time, while also expanding the bakery goods it produces.
This new Bellegarde bakery is slated to open as early as January at 8300 Apple St., in a onetime events hall tucked into residential blocks here.
Bellegarde plans to relocate to this building at 8300 Apple St. in New Orleans, opening a new bakery and retail counter here in early 2019.
Bellegarde founder Graison Gill said the bakery’s approach will not change. However, he hopes the new facility will be a more accessible space to showcase how Bellegarde works.
“People know about us now, but don’t know about the process and that’s what’s important to me,” said Gill. “You’ll be able to see the whole process. Our supply line is open and transparent and so is how we work here.”
The new space opens more opportunities for the tours and classes Bellegarde periodically holds, he said, and the retail counter will make its flours, pizza dough and other staples available to home bakers.
The upcoming move accompanies other expansion plans for Bellegarde. The company will soon launch an online retail store to sell specialty products nationally, especially its stone-ground flour and grits.
Bellegarde’s in-house stone mill is a bedrock part of this operation, and makes the bakery unique in the region. It turns organic grains into the fresh flour for dark-crusted, aromatic baguettes, ciabatta, country loaves and other breads that have won this small bakery a wide following in New Orleans. That includes local chefs, who frequently namecheck Bellegarde on their menus.
Gill got his start selling his bread at the Crescent City Farmers Market. Encouraged by the response, he left to train at the San Francisco Baking Institute and returned in 2013 to open Bellegarde. It arrived as other artisan bread makers were emerging around New Orleans, like Breads on Oak, which has recently gone all vegan, and Gracious Bakery + Café, which now has three retail locations.
Gill set up shop bootstrap fashion, taking over an old boiled seafood market in a tattered strip mall on Toledano Street. He worked here solo at first, making in-person deliveries to restaurant kitchens and markets in his pick up truck. The Bellegarde brand quickly earned loyalty and drew a following.
Gill has also become a leading voice among the small circuit of those in the Deep South making an issue of the identity and quality of the grain we use.
This spring, Inglewood Farm brought in the first commercial harvest of organic wheat that Louisiana has seen for generations.
To him, the grain for bread is as worthy of consideration as the provenance of wine grapes, oysters or heirloom produce. The bakery’s web site lists its grain farmers and gives notes on their various harvests.
Gill sees the new bakery as a step that’s been long-fermenting for Bellegarde, and one that could open new opportunities for its staff too. Each month, different bakers at Bellegarde will have a chance to put their stamp on the retail selection with different specialty breads.
It will also make pizza, whole and by the slice, as a recurring special each month.
As these big plans come to fruition, Gill is still trying to keep things simple, and unroll the development in incremental steps.
The retail shop will be open for three days a week to begin, likely Thursday to Saturday, with the schedule to expand from there.
While Bellegarde may add more breakfast pastries in the future, don’t expect a bakery café or traditional eatery. Coffee will reside in a self-serve dispenser for customers and staff. There is potential to develop an outdoor area into a patio, where Gill foresees hosting guest chefs, pizza nights or similar events.
The new bakery will operate two mills, and Amy Helms, Bellegarde’s miller, will soon depart for Vermont to meet with stone suppliers to help craft a new millstone. With a second oven also in the works for the new space, it will boost the bakery’s capacity.
The current bakery produces about 5,000 loaves a week. The new one should have the capacity to triple that, Gill said.
“What I’m most excited about is having people really see what we do here and experiencing it,” he said.