Quit Engineering to Open NYC Bakery L’Appartement 4F
When software engineer Gautier Coiffard, 34, told his mother he was quitting his job to open a bakery in Brooklyn, New York, she said, “That’s the last thing we need… another baker from France.”
That was before L’Appartement 4F, the bakery he owns with his wife Ashley Coiffard, became an instant hit. The bakery opened its storefront in May, immediately turned a monthly profit and now brings in up to $128,000 a month in revenue, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.
“We had a line from the moment we opened, for hours and hours, until the very last croissant sold out,” Ashley, 33, told CNBC Make It.
The company is named after its humble roots. In early 2020, Gautier – originally from Grenoble, in southeastern France – was craving some authentic French croissants, so he started baking the pastries for himself and the couple’s friends.
At the time, Gautier and Ashley were working traditional 9-to-5 jobs: He was making $105,000 a year as a software engineer, and she was working at a mortgage company while studying for her nursing degree.
Leaving those jobs earlier this year to launch the business was not easy. Today, Ashley still works as a school nurse while managing the bakery’s marketing, social media and collaborations. Here’s how she and Gautier run their profitable bakery:
A place worthy of French pastry
Gautier’s first croissants didn’t exactly taste like a French treat.
“The first croissant he handed me tasted like a Pillsbury Doughboy croissant, nothing special,” Ashley says. “It was dense and thick…definitely not as light and airy as it is now.”
After trial and error, the croissants gradually began to look and taste better. Gautier says they perfected their recipe in February 2020, but when the Covid-19 pandemic hit weeks later, the couple decided to wait before selling the croissants.
In June 2020, they publish their first menu on Facebook and Instagram. Friends and subscribers were immediately interested, but earnings were modest: $150 a week, Ashley says.
Yet in the months that followed, news of the pastries spread. The company began to take over their home.
“Slowly the apartment started to turn into a bakery,” says Ashley. “We had flour for everything we had. We needed to get a storage unit so we could put our own things in a storage unit…because we needed to store baked goods, flour and sugar .”
In April 2021, the couple won $10,000. Wanting to expand, they signed a 10-year lease in June 2021 for a storefront in the city’s Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. A Kickstarter campaign netted them $62,000 in funding to furnish the store. They also took out $49,000 in bank loans, borrowed $72,000 from neighbors and put extra expenses on their credit cards.
Today, the storefront features floor-to-ceiling windows, a chandelier, and vintage furniture — just like any French patisserie should.
French butter and other expenses
Gautier attests that the difference between his first croissants and his current ones is the practice. French ingredients help too.
In fact, they’re among the company’s biggest expenses: The couple spends about $37,000 a month on ingredients and other food-related costs. French butter costs $20 plus shipping for a two-pound sheet, compared to $15 for American butter.
“The butter and chocolate come from France and are certainly more expensive than if we were buying from here…but I really think it adds to the taste and shouldn’t be changed,” says Gautier.
Rent also adds up: Retail space in Brooklyn averages $3,200 a month, according to rental listings website Storefront. Between rent and payroll for their 20 employees, the couple pays $43,423 in fixed monthly expenses, plus an additional $3,539 in monthly credit card fees.
“We were very naive about what it actually takes to open a business,” Ashley says. “At the time, we thought we were crazy and delusional – but I think we had to be delusional to start our own bakery.”
However, L’Appartement 4F remains profitable. In June, the bakery’s highest-earning month so far, the couple took home $43,958, frequently selling their 1,500 to 2,000 daily baked goods. The couple want to open a second location, but only when the time is right.
“We want to grow very slowly and organically,” says Ashley. “We want to make sure everything we do is sustainable and serves the community that built us.”
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