The French Patisserie

The next time you see an elaborate mousse cake or macaron in an expensive restaurant, it may not have been whipped up by a sweating pastry chef in the back kitchen but rather coolly defrosted from a package shipped by The French Patisserie in the San Francisco Bay area.

“The type of products we make are the most labor-intensive,” President Marta Spasic points out. “The product presents itself so nicely and looks very handcrafted so that it’s easy to do.” Frank Spasic, co-owner, founder and Marta’s husband, adds, “To make small-scale in a restaurant is going to cost a lot more. If you have a pastry staff, they’re not going to know how to produce in volume and have it consistent.”

The company’s line of 50 high-end individual and full-size desserts includes mousse cakes, tarts, petit fours, macarons and coulis, which are dessert sauces. Based on classic French recipes, the desserts are made from real cream, eggs, butter and imported Belgian chocolate with no preservatives. They are shipped frozen throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Far East and only sold commercially to foodservice providers, restaurant chains and, since 2008, for private-label retailing. This last segment has grown to 50 percent of the company’s overall sales.

“A lot of hotels are reducing their baking staff,” Marta Spasic points out. “It’s become unaffordable to keep bakers on staff. Even in a convention center with a large pastry shop and staff, this is the type of product they are most likely to outsource. For large-volume events, if the numbers go up or down, it’s very easy to accommodate them. We have inventory in our facility here and in Dallas, Pennsylvania and in Chicago.”

Two factors have enabled The French Patisserie to ship its products widely. The first is their being frozen. Of course, freezing many desserts is much more difficult than just tossing it in the freezer. “We had to adapt some products,” Marta Spasic concedes. “It was quite a challenge to come up with the recipe for the crème brulee as a frozen product because of the egg.”

“All the baked items, like the tarts, we had to change and keep a little longer because of moisture in the refrigerator, but for the rest, not a lot,” Frank Spasic relates. “We didn’t have to change a lot of products. The freezing was not the issue – the issue was the transportation and packaging.”

Frank Spasic and packaging engineers devised recyclable clear plastic containers to solve that problem. “The individual cakes are packaged in their own little slots and have a plastic collar around them to help keep the moisture and integrity of the product,” Marta Spasic explains. “All the end-user has to do is take the plastic collars off and set it at room temperature to soften or in the cooler for three hours.”

Even after being shipped cross-country, the medallions on top of a dessert should look as they did when packaged. “They’re actually fresher than a lot of the local fresh products,” Marta Spasic insists. “Everything we do is done the same day and put in the freezer the same day … [and] the frosting is only a few hours old.”

Keeping Fresh

The company’s bakery, which was almost doubled in size to 35,000 square feet in May 2009, runs two eight-hour shifts to keep up with demand, which can amount to production of approximately 80,000 eclairs daily. “In what we do, there is not a lot of equipment,” Frank Spasic insists. “It’s not a cookie-cutter operation.”

“We can manufacture a product that looks handcrafted,  but in very large volume,” Marta Spasic says. “Our production managers have extensive experience in pastries, but other than that, we don’t require a lot of skills. They acquire skills as they go.”

Going Retail

The company’s latest endeavor is a retail line of products named Looka that will start with a triple chocolate mousse cake, a key lime mousse cake, a chocolate hazelnut pyramid and a box of 12 assorted macarons. It will be sold in the freezer sections of national supermarket chains during the fall of 2010.

“The name is a modified version of our son’s name,” Marta Spasic reveals, emphasizing the family ties. “Our daughter has been on the brochure for 14 years, and so we decided to launch our retail under our son’s name.”