Girls, the first question that comes to mind is, why a bakery?
Clara: French cuisine baking has always been a great passion for Clemence and me. Finding good bread became a quest, so I specialized at a baking school called Patisserie d Aurillac in order to work in the culinary business. Clemence and I did some research and discovered that there were no French bakeries in Belgrade, therefore we decided to open one.
Out of all the European countries, what made you choose Serbia for your business? Is it the fact Clara has some Serbian roots, or maybe you knew some people who could help you in the process, or maybe something else?
Clara: I personally have family in Serbia, in Novi Sad, yet Belgrade caught my attention. To be honest, the Capital was love at first site for Clemence and me, as its unique vibe inspired us to move here even though we did not know anyone and found ourselves in a completely new environment. We both wished to open a business in a non-EU country. Clemence yearned for a better quality of life that the old continent could no longer offer.
Clemence: My original plan was to move to Malaysia to open a French restaurant. Nevertheless, destiny brought Clara and me back together as we had known each other for many years, but decided initially to take different paths. It was pure luck! We met again in the North of France and decided to change our plans and collaborate together. We decided to conquer Belgrade as it touched us very much. Clara’s family enlightened us on the country’s ethics, mentality, and day-to-day realities. In just ten days we packed and there we were, in “the white city” with a dream and a plan that we decided to set into motion. The idea was to open an authentic French bakery that would impress our customers with its quality and warmth. The motto of La Petite Cantine is nothing chic – the simplicity of life’s pleasures at their best.
Clara, you had already worked abroad, what were your experiences like in Sarajevo and India? How would you compare working in Bosnia, India, and Serbia?
I lived in India, in the state of Rajasthan, in a city called Bikaner. I lived there for six months while my work was involved in humanitarian projects. Culinary arts were not part of my daily life at all during my stay in India. I came back to my passion when I started living in Bosnia, in Sarajevo, where I worked in a bakery shop owned by a French couple. In both cases, these different experiences taught me patience and perseverance. I primarily learned that a willingness to adapt to any situation, country, and culture is the key to success.
A lot of young people give up starting their own business because of too-complicated processes, bureaucracy, and doubts. Who gave you the biggest support in opening the bakery, and how did you find all the information you needed, tell us more about the process?
Clemence: The bureaucratic steps took time since we are both foreigners, but we were lucky to have Clara’s family to help us. In addition to that, we had a relationship with a Franco-Serbian who helped us to adapt. We ventured every day for two months from place to place in order to find the perfect location for our business and new home: La Petite Cantine. Our code is to know what you want, to know what it is that fulfills you. Accomplishment has no price, nothing is impossible. We both assembled what we had and invested it in our business.
Clemence, your family runs a restaurant business in France. Were you helping them when you were a kid, and what are the most important lessons you learned watching your family working in the catering industry?
As a child I was always fascinated by the cosy ambience that reigned in our restaurant. I must say that it was definitely another dynamic in the kitchen, where positive chaos was on display: agitation, flavours coming from different corners, orders. The magic of the culinary world right in front of my young eyes. My curiosity pushed me to taste and try everything. I was always – and still am – avid to explore and discover. My parents taught me to keep an open mind and to follow the evolution in the culinary business. Listening to clients’ needs and bringing them the best possible service. My parents pushed me to continue my studies in Law and Economics in London, however my stubbornness suggested otherwise. I was in love back then and restauration was always my first love. I followed my instincts and decided to build my own experience. It shaped me to be able to open my own business, one that mirrors my being.
Why are your pastries different from the ones in other bakeries? Do you maybe import some ingredients from France or use some special products?
We exclusively work with French techniques as we aspire to maintain French baking customs. We use Serbian products except for butter, which is French President.
Everything that we make is based on love and patience, we have a lot of respect for every product that we use.
Our pastries are treated like children to whom we give time to grow, evolve, and develop – to become the best of themselves.
It is said that the “specialties of the house” are your almond croissant and your onion soup. Do you create your own recipes, and what is the best-selling product in the bakery?
The pain au chocolat with almonds is orgasmic! Our recipes are self-evidently, authentically French, but we have also evolved with new production methods. We value and listen to our customers’ remarks and their desire to consume a tasty “gourmet” product that is also healthy for the body.
We have noticed that it is possible to do so as we adapt our recipes for the croissant and the baguette, which are our standard products. We want most of all the buttery taste in the croissant, neither too big nor too heavy for the bread, it is the same goal – to obtain the best result in the taste itself thanks to our sourdough. The natural yeast has been utilised for many years for a better taste and a better digestion.
The hardest part is to maintain consistency and quality each day because our raw basic materials are not always of the same or equal quality. In others words, we have to adjust every day so that our goods always have the same taste.
What is, in your opinion, the hardest part of your version of entrepreneurship?
To teach and train people in this profession, yet we really wish that to happen, it is the basis of our future.
You have a lot of different customers – who visits you more, strangers or Serbian people?
Our customers include people coming from the U.S.A, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Greece, Spain, Turkey, India . . . Every day we have the joy of welcoming someone coming from a different country. Our biggest success is to hear from these foreign customers that they have heard about us and want to try our goods. Foreigners living and/or working in Belgrade but the biggest surprise was Serbian people coming from everywhere in the country (Novi Sad, Nis, Sabac). Our neighbors right here in Dorcol have become our regular customers and friends.
What would be your encouraging message to young people who are thinking about starting their own businesses? What is crucial for success?
We are fortuitously surrounded by very talented, creative people who are open to the world and to its evolution. It is a source of happiness and inspiration for us. Find your personal potential, your force, and let it express itself. Rule number one: maintain the quality of your success, that must be conveyed in every entrepreneurial domain. Do not forget that we learn every day and that learning is essential for success.
Photo credits: Katarina Siminovic