Editor’s Note: As a young entrepreneurial plumber fresh on the San Francisco scene, our owner — Paul O’Grady — found himself surrounded by opportunity, ingenuity and a collaboration of the highest order. To this day, all of that and more still seem to be a hallmark Bay Area attribute. Below are Paul’s thoughts about La Boulange, a locally inspired bakery chain started by Pascal Rigo that was gobbled up in 2012 by Starbucks. Rigo is making a bakery comeback in 2016 under a new name — La Boulangerie de San Francisco.
The Internet was in its infancy with a limitless future. Up and down every main street — whether Valencia, Polk, Union or Fillmore — there were dozens of cafes and eateries featuring recipes from all over the world.
Late one Friday, I got a call to fix the hot water system at a place called Boulangerie, later to become La Boulange. The restaurant’s 100-gallon commercial water heater — a beastly behemoth tucked away in a loft area — had conked out.
Busy, serious people working under Pascal Rigo’s watchful eye needed their hot water now. I searched, located and negotiated a good price for a new commercial water heater while my team busily pulled out the old metal monster, being careful to work around a kitchen full of scrambling chefs, dishwashers and table staff.
By days’ end, we somehow got the new water heater in and running. In the aftermath, I found myself looking at the eatery’s menu and was impressed with what I saw. While chatting up a staff member, I discovered the business had a bakery around the corner that was the original store, producing the most delicious pastries and foods I had tasted in quite some time.
Over the years since that emergency plumbing incident, I continued to drop by the original store on Pine Street for a pastry or a bite to eat in the shop’s close-quartered eatery. The store was a favorite and the patrons always appeared happy with the variety of foods and pastries available for order on site or to go. And, like most fans of the restaurant, I witnessed the operation expand, opening stores around the Bay Area at a speed comparable to Starbuck’s.
I mention that because as locals know all too well, Starbucks purchased La Boulange for $100 million in 2012 and all 23 of its locations were shuttered last fall. The coffee giant, it seems, purchased the bakery primarily for its delicious recipes and owner Pascal Rigo’s amazing ability to mass-produce its tasty baked goods with the authenticity found at the small local chain’s original Bay Area location on Pine St. Chances are many of the pastries you see behind glass at nearly every local Starbucks anywhere in the United States were La Boulange originals.
The really good news is this: Pascal Rigo opened La Boulangerie de San Francisco at 2325 Pine St. in early-October, which was immediately followed by the opening of other locations at 1000 Cole St., 500 Hayes St., and Pacific Heights (2043 Fillmore St.), Noe Valley (3898 24th St.) and Cow Hollow (1909 Union St.).
What wonderful news for San Francisco, its visitors, and anyone with a passion for authentic French baked goods, spectacular food, superior coffee and a love of the French culture… La Boulangerie de San Francisco — all wrapped up like a long-lasting holiday gift.