(This article appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
A visit to Andre’s Confiserie Suisse is like landing in the chocolate factory which enchanted Willy Wonka, if only he were Swiss and spent time in Kansas City, Kansas. If you close your eyes and inhale, you’ll be transported, and when you look around you will see a place that is designed in European style, complete with a wood lined chalet-like tearoom adorned with Swiss-themed flags unfurled overhead. The only things missing are the cowbells and yodelers. Andre’s Confiserie Suisse is that kind of wonderland that spans three generations of artisanal chocolate and pastry makers. Rene Bollier, grandson of the founder, carries in his forebears’ traditions, producing many of the same signature items from those early days. Comprising multiple operations, Andre’s is the place to go in Kansas City for breakfast, brunch, lunch, some wines by the glass – all of this in addition to the pastry and confection offerings.
Listening to Rene, you quickly get the sense that so much of what they do at Andre’s “upholds the core values laid down by my grandfather years ago.” Using only butter, high-butterfat cream and a proprietary blend of chocolate from the Swiss manufacturer Felchlin, the luxury chocolate line includes chocolate and crunchy caramel covered almonds, enrobed in two versions—one in milk chocolate coated with confectioners’ sugar and the other in dark chocolate dusted with cocoa powder. “These are our top-selling item on the confectionery side,” he beams. Carrying on the family tradition, Rene muses, “My dad never pressured me to choose this career, but I’m passionate about being part of the team and spend about 60% of my time on the production floor, being hands-on and never compromising on the quality of our prime ingredients. Hewing to tradition, we do things often the hard way, but yield a superior product as a result. I love the creative side and being able to do something that gives others pure pleasure. This has fueled me to continue in the family business.”
Following in the European tradition, bakers rotate through the various stations, or “posts,” as Rene calls them – from dough making to the production of cakes, mini pastries and mousses. “Each post has its own detailed recipe book. On the premises, we make our nut pastes, laminated and rich yeast doughs and buttercreams. We pride ourselves, also, on following Swiss tradition in our quiches, where cheese outweighs the custard.
“Most impressive of all,” he continues, “is the fact that we candy our own fruits, including citrus peel, a painstaking and time-honored process. We are keeping a dying art alive. Even in Europe, there is a decline in interest in following the artisanal, old fashioned way.”
Trained as a master pastry chef in Switzerland, Andre Bollier dreamed of opening his own chocolate shop in his homeland, but opted instead to explore opportunities in Kansas City based on the urging of his brother, who saw opportunity which others might have pooh-poohed at the time. Rene recalls the long history of the business, from its tentative beginnings in 1955 to 1974, when his father purchased larger scale machinery to begin chocolate production in earnest. “In 1976,” explained Rene, “my father was involved in the launch of a new building which has housed the business ever since. When I was five, I started hanging around the business, working weekends and holidays through all of my school years.” A business degree from the University of Kansas put Rene on solid footing to carry on the business in his own right, with wife Nancy joining the business almost 20 years ago. (Nancy manages the marketing and wholesale sides of the business, expanding Andre’s reach through selling to Whole Foods and other outlets.) In 1999, at the suggestion of his father, Rene and his wife moved to Switzerland and stayed for three years, which gave him the opportunity to gain hands-on experience working in three different pastry shops. Upon returning to the States, he began working in the business in earnest. He has remained true to the family tradition ever since, innovating while retaining the core ethos of the business.
At a time when truly artisanal products are becoming less common and corporate multiunit bakeries and candy makers dominate the scene, Andre’s is that rare entity where doing things by hand not only matters, but is perceived as the only way to maintain a consistently high-quality product. Spanning three generations, keeping the Swiss flag flying in as unlikely a place as Kansas City has been no mean feat. But the city is all the sweeter for it.