Antonio Bachour: Dreaming Big in the USA

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Antonio Bachour: Dreaming Big in the USA

(This interview appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)

For Antonio Bachour, opening his namesake bakery in Miami in 2016 was the realization of a lifelong dream. In fact, it was the culmination of everything he had worked towards since he left his hometown in Puerto Rico at the age of 19 to study at L’Ecole Valrhona in France. But it wasn’t long before this dream turned into a real nightmare, which eventually forced Bachour to turn his back on the project.

One of the boldest and most creative talents on the modern pastry scene, Bachour boasts an Instagram following of over 713,000, has garnered numerous awards and culinary honors, and is regarded as a bona fide rock star in the pastry world. So it was no surprise that from the first day its doors opened, Bachour Bakery and Bistro was a resounding success. Patrons flocked to the bakery/restaurant from all over the world, lured by Bachour’s celebrity and his reputation for cutting-edge desserts in vibrant hues and intricate viennoiseries. The lines ran out the front door and snaked around the block. After six months, the restaurant was doing about $68,000 a week in business, and that was serving breakfast and lunch only. One Saturday, they sold over 1000 croissants. “We really wanted to make sure that everyone was blown away by what they saw when they first walked in,” he said. “One woman, she walked in and looked around and then smiled and said, ‘Wow. When I make it to heaven, this is exactly what I want to see!’ We were supposed to be open from seven in the morning to seven at night, but by 5:30 or 6 o’clock on that first day, we had to close the doors because our display cases were empty.”

Just over a year later, Bachour walked away from the restaurant and bakery. “My partners didn’t want to spend money on quality ingredients,” he said. “I use Valrhona chocolate, butter from France and the best puree. Two years ago, we were paying seven dollars a pound for butter, and we used about 30 pounds per day. For me, 80 percent of what a good chef does today is about ingredients. You can be a great chef, you can be the best chef in the world, but if you use poor quality ingredients, it’s not going to work,” said Bachour. “I put my heart into that business. But when you have a business partner that doesn’t have the same vision, it’s a problem. I was using the best ingredients, but my food cost ranged from 19 to 22 percent. Cost is cost – you have to build the cost into the retail prices. We made a gianduja croissant, for example, and we used Valrhona gianduja for it. Each croissant was filled with 28 grams of gianduja. The food cost for the plain croissant was 40 cents, and then you add 30 cents for the chocolate, that makes the cost 70 cents. We charged $4.50 for each croissant, and we sold over 100 of them every day,” he explained. “But when you start with this conflict about quality, it’s not going to work, because it’s my name on the door.” Bachour’s partners did not share his view on the importance of using quality ingredients, however. Bachour offered to buy out his three partners, but after some negotiation, he ended up selling them his part of the business. Once Bachour left, the owners promptly changed the name of the business to B Bistro and Bakery.

Bachour spent the next year focusing on teaching classes around the world – Dubai, Turkey, Italy, China, Hungary, Brazil – and consulting. In the past two years, he has flown over two million miles to accommodate his busy teaching and consulting schedule. Last year he signed a contract with the Moon Palace, a group of all-inclusive five-star hotels in Cancun, where rooms average $1000 per night (www.moonpalacecancun.com). Bachour oversees the pastry operation for the fifteen restaurants at the resorts. The company has a central commissary kitchen with over 150 employees in the pastry department, and each hotel has its own pastry chef and about twenty employees dedicated to pastry. “We do about 20,000 individual desserts a day here and about 15,000 croissants. In the beginning it was really crazy—people pay and then they can eat whatever they want. And when they charge $1000 a night, you have to deliver the best. The first thing I did was upgrade their chocolate to Valrhona and Republica de Cacao right away. The hotel buys about 100 tons of chocolate every year – that’s a lot! But we have to use the best ingredients,” he declared. “I told the owner when he hired me that we need to have a school here to teach the employees. So we did that, too.” Bachour has another two years left on this contract with Moon Palace, a job that requires him to travel to Cancun every month.

Now, a year and a half after he left the first incarnation of Bachour restaurant, Antonio Bachour’s dream of opening his own place has been revived – he is on the brink of opening a 5,550 square foot restaurant and bakery in downtown Coral Gables, an upscale area of South Miami. Having learned a lesson or two from his first venture, Bachour decided to have only one partner in the business – his brother, who lives two blocks away from the new location. “It’s going to be a small bakery and restaurant together with about 75 to 120 seats. It will be the kind of place where you can walk in and get a croissant and a coffee if you like, or have a full breakfast or lunch. In the front we will have beautiful viennoiseries filling our large, glass ifi display cases from Italy. The barista station will be right next to it. There will be tables outside in the front, and also some around the side and in the main courtyard of the building. Every day we’ll have a trolley outside to serve afternoon tea. There will also be a workshop where I’ll teach classes, which will be surrounded by glass so that customers can have a coffee and croissant and see me in action if they want.” The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch and brunch. The menu will include fresh bread, viennoiserie, salads, sandwiches and, of course, a large selection of Bachour’s desserts and entremets. On weekends, brunch will be served all day.

Beginning in February, 2019, Bachour will be teaching one class per week at the bakery to professionals who want to hone their pastry skills. He also has about 40 classes booked at pastry schools around the world, including three in China. He plans on cancelling half of these classes in order to spend time focusing on his new shop. “When I teach these classes, I always want to do something that has a real ‘wow factor.’ It’s very expensive for people to take these classes, so I want to make it worth their while. For three days it costs about $1000 for a class, plus the expense of the flight, plus the hotel – so it’s about $4000 for three or four days. So students want to see something new, not the same old thing, and I try to deliver that.”

Bachour has also been working on a joint venture with Italian mold company Pavoni. Last year he designed ten silicone and ten bonbon molds for them. Pavoni sold 100,000 of his bonbon molds alone, and his silicone molds are the #1 best sellers for the company. This year he designed another twenty molds for them – ten individual dessert molds and ten bonbon molds – and is currently working on a new line of color for entremets and bonbons. “Italy is a huge market for pastry,” says Bachour. “The pastry scene has really exploded there. It used to be very classic, very traditional, but now there’s a real revolution going on there. Gastronomy in Italy has become so elevated. There are so many two- and three-Michelin star restaurants in Rome and Milan. And there is an amazing pastry school there, CAST Alimenti in Bergamo – some of the best pastry chefs in the world are teaching there.”

For now, though, Antonio Bachour’s primary goal is to elevate the pastry scene here in the U.S. “Mostly, I want to do something that makes me really proud, something exceptional,” he declares. “My goal is to open the best bakery in the United States and I want to make it a destination for pastry for people all over the world.” No sugar-coating in that statement. But, after all, isn’t determination the stuff that dreams are made of?

Bachour, 2020 Salzedo, Coral Gables, Florida
Hours: 7 am to 7 pm
Serving breakfast, brunch and lunch daily.
www.antoniobachour.com