When one kitchen door closes, another opens. And so it is the case in downtown Bakersfield with news that chef Mai Giffard will close her De Coeur Bake Shop this week.
Those saddened by the loss can take heart that two other local businesses will take up residence in the G Street storefront. Rig City Roasting Co., which last had a drive-through location on 23rd Street, will move into one segment and the other will be occupied by Better Bowls, a plant-based vegan bowl business.
Giffard, known for her French-inspired patisserie and whimsical, scrumptious treats, is closing her business after five years to take a job in Chicago with Grant Achatz’s Alinea Group. She will work under the direction of executive chef Jenner Tomaska at the acclaimed Next Restaurant, which has received an unprecedented 15 four-star reviews from the Chicago Tribune and won a James Beard Award as “Best New Restaurant in America.”
"Alinea is at the cutting edge, the forefront of culinary innovation, " Giffard said of Achatz's Michelin three-star establishment. "It would be crazy to not want to work for any Grant Achatz restaurant. It’s a dream come true."
The job opportunity came about after Giffard worked a few guest culinary stints starting this summer at Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas. Having previously worked at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Giffard said she was excited to return to fine dining for this gig and later at Girl and the Goat and Next in Chicago as her schedule allowed.
The Chicago work in November led to job offers from both restaurants and, with the three-year lease up at her G Street shop, Giffard was at a crossroads whether to expand her business or take an even bigger chance.
Ultimately, she said, "My heart and I wanted to go further and advance my career, work somewhere I had dreamed of working."
The chef considered leaving the bakeshop open while in Chicago but ultimately decided that it was not fair to her loyal customer base, saying the wedding and custom cakes and designs would lose her touch and no longer be as personal.
"Also a lot of the things that I do for special events would no longer be possible,” she said in a news release.
Giffard opened the G Street bake shop in August 2014, the realization of a dream for the Santa Ana native who studied culinary arts at the Art Institute of California, Orange County.
In 2010, she moved to Bakersfield with her husband, Jason, who is from the area. She worked as pastry chef at the Padre Hotel and began cooking for loved ones' special events after work and on weekends.
As more side work came in, she left the Padre in 2012 and opened De Coeur as a catering company with partner Courtney Ghilarducci. By 2013, Giffard was sole owner, operating the online and phone order business, catering wedding and baby showers and corporate events.
She found the G Street storefront in early 2014, opening in August of that year at 1818 G St. Later, the business expanded into the adjacent space (1820 G St.), adding bistro offerings and a coffee bar to her assortment of macarons, French pastries and other treats.
Along with inventive flavors, Giffard was known for her creative macaron designs — including cactus, unicorns, Pusheen, reindeer and ice pop macarons.
Giffard made the news last November when she competed in Food Network's "Christmas Cookie Challenge 2." Then in May, the shop had a viral social media moment when Giffard's galaxy macarons — black-and-pink swirled shells with a tart blueberry filling, dusted with edible glitter and stars — were featured in a video on Insider Food.
De Coeur Bakeshop will be open today through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., selling baked goods and honoring gift cards. The bakeshop will fulfill all pre-placed orders through Dec. 30 but will not be accepting any new custom orders.
Of the businesses set to take over the space next year, she is thrilled about what they'll add to the downtown dining scene.
"I didn't want those four walls to be filled with people I didn't personally know. ... There is a real heart downtown. The Hen's Roost, Locale (Farm to Table), Nature's Food (Market and Juice Bar) — I cant say enough about these businesses."
Of leaving the community, the chef said she will miss her customers, many who became friends, and organizations who helped her give back while also growing her business.
"I'm thankful being a small-business owner, self-financed. I chalk that up to everyone that supported me, everyone that believed in me."
Giffard also says to keep an eye on De Coeur's social media accounts, which will remain open, for the next step. Once settled in Chicago, she's aiming to finish the cookbook she started with photographer April Massirio as well as creating demo videos and other creative adventures.
"People stay engaged for when I'm ready for the next iteration. I'll stay connected to the community."