Cafe D’Avignon was born out of our core business, which is baking bread under the Pain D’Avignon name. Since we first fired up our oven in our wholesale bakery on Cape Cod in 1992, we always had a little retail store, but we only sold the bread that we were making. We always dreamed of having a little cafe with pastries and coffee as well, a shop that reminded us of our home in Europe.
None of us had anything to do with baking before we came to this country from Yugoslavia. We are all childhood friends, myself, Bane Stamenkovic, Toma Stamenkovic, Vojin Vujosevic and Tole Zurovac. Bane, Vojin and I have known each other since we were seven years old. We’ve been friends and partners for 42 years. The longevity of that friendship transfers to everything that we do.
Since immigrating to America, we took a little something–the opportunity to bake bread–and turned it into a business that employs about 150 people. This country is the country of immigrants. Our business is no different.
We are one of the pioneers in artisan bread making on the East Coast. We just celebrated our 25th anniversary. Our breads are sold at the finest specialty food stores on the East Coast, from New York City, all the way up to Boston. Our customers are Michelin-starred restaurants, and include establishments like the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental, to name a few.'Providing simple, natural, high-quality food is our mission.' - Uliks Fehmiu, co-owner of Pain D'AvignonClick To Tweet
While Vojin and Toma ran the bakery on Cape Cod, Bane and I moved to New York in 2000 and teamed up with our friend Tole because we wanted to open that cafe where we would make and bake bread, and have a little coffee and pastry to go with it. We quickly realized we couldn’t afford a location, so we started with what we knew, wholesaling, hoping that it would be a way we could contribute to the New York food scene, one of the most competitive food, business and creative environments in the world.
It worked. With hard work and a bit of luck, we managed to develop a line of products that established us as one of the industry favorites. The core of our business remained baking for with these fine restaurants, specialty food stores and hotels, but we never gave up on the idea for a retail shop. We just didn’t have any retail experience. Everything that we do, we do ourselves. We don’t have financiers, so we do everything slowly. Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing. It pays off in patience, humbleness and modesty. It takes time to understand what you know and what you do not know.
Eventually, we got our first retail space. We started with a little kiosk in the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side, where we started selling just the bread, and then we introduced some croissants and pastries. That little store led us to be invited to the Plaza Food Hall, an offer we were very happy to accept. We have a small booth, just about 200 sq. ft., but it has allowed us to expand our coffee program, bake certain items on-site, and expand the menu to include sandwiches, quiches, sweets, and seasonal soups and salads.
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We are passionate about the art of bread making, which so often uses just three ingredients: flour, water and salt. We made our living by creatively combining them in many different ways. We feel that in food, and in life, simplicity is key. We apply the same philosophy to our cafe menu.
We all grew up smelling fresh coffee in the morning. Coffee is a big part of our culture and our daily ritual. We always felt that coffee should play a really substantial part in the retail shop, and that it should be on the same par with the quality of freshness we expect in our breads. So we partnered with Stumptown. They’ve helped us understand the life of coffee, and, with their help, we’re mastering that part of it. This really wasn’t a calculated business idea. This was just a plain, instinctual path that we wanted to pursue. Third-generation coffee shops are popping up left and right, but very few have really good food. And there are many bakeries that we respect that don’t have good coffee. We saw an opportunity to provide customers with superior bread and coffee in one place, so we invested in it.
We have found what works, and it’s something that has led to continued success, including another cafe in Brooklyn.'None of us had anything to do with baking before we came to this country from Yugoslavia.' - Uliks Fehmiu, co-owner of Pain D'AvignonClick To Tweet
In the early ‘90s, artisanal bread was considered niche. But we always felt the opposite. We felt that bread, no matter how you process it, is a basic commodity. It should be available to everyone. We wanted our product accessible to every possible consumer. Of course, we use high-quality ingredients. But, actually, the most expensive ingredient is the time that we invest in making a great piece of bread.
Providing simple, natural, high-quality food is our mission, whether it’s coffee or bread or the other foods that we make. We want to bring it everywhere.