Interview with Zeynep and Ayca User
With Kathryn Gordon, Food Startup Help
Red Bank, NJ
Kathryn: Hello again Ayca and Zeynep! How’s everything at Antoinette Boulangerie, now that you’ve been open 2 months?
Editor’s Note: Zeynep and Ayca are sister owners of Antoinette Boulangerie; Chef Kathryn met Zeynep when she attended ICE
Ayca: We absolutely love it. It’s going really well.
Kathryn: And Zeynep, everything’s going great with the baking? All the products look beautiful. Seriously, this place is just so pretty.
Zeynep: Everything is great. Last time you were here we worked on the French macarons – now they’re fabulous.
Kathryn: Zeynep, do you still have 2 people baking with you?
Zeynep: Yes, two full time assistants so far. I am here every day of the week. I have my main assistant who you met, Gina and a night baker. We prepare everything for him to bake off.
Ayca: In the front, I have 4 assistants to cover all the shifts (Antoinette Boulangerie is open 7 days a week).
Kathryn: Have you noticed patterns yet in your daily sales? You have such a central, downtown Red Bank location (32 Monmouth Street -- parking in the municipal lot behind the bakery).
Ayca: We opened in a snow storm, and then after that – the weather got worse! And this winter, as you know, there has been many serious storms. But we had customers even in the snow. In fact, many of our customers are regulars already – we see them at least once every day. They tell us that they tell all their friends about us.
Zeynep: We have breakfast sales for commuters, lunch, after school, and dinner pastries. We’re beginning some wholesale baking for a wedding event space, and I do special order cakes.
Kathryn: What’s your best selling item so far?
Zeynep: The 21-layer crepe cake.
Kathryn: When I was here the first month you opened, customers who came in for their morning croissant were asking you to bake additional, specific pastries like Kings Cake. Is that still happening?
Ayca: Yes – we have requests, or suggestions? All the time! We're both here and open to talking to our customers, of course.
Zeynep: And I try to accommodate them. At the moment, I am running specials of new items on the weekend. But clearly, the menu is continuously evolving. But it lets me teach myself new items and expand our menu and I enjoy it.
Kathryn: How did you two decide to open this operation? Is this something you always wanted to do?
Ayca: We had a family meeting at one point regarding what we wanted to do in 2013. I knew I wanted to leave my job in banking.
Zeynep: I knew I liked baking. It all just came together. I completed the pastry program at ICE in 2011, and interned at La Bergamote in Manhattan.
Kathryn: How did you select Red Bank as the location to open? And did you visit Paris all the time when you were kids or something, to get this vision together?
Ayca: We wanted to do something high end, and this is a destination town for high end shopping (Tiffany’s, Duxiana, Coco Pari, amongst others). And we visited a lot of patisseries and boulangeries in Paris, but in recent years!
Zeynep: Our vision was for a very high end, beautiful bakery.
Kathryn: Well, you’ve accomplished that! And the product is delicious as well as gorgeous in appearance (Note: I’ve so far tasted a baguette and herb butter, a chocolate puff twist, peanut butter sandwich, and an apricot macaron).
Kathryn: How long did the build out take?
Ayca: We got the lease last June and opened January 3rd. It was a skateboard shop before, so everything in the bakery is new.
Kathryn: How did you both get into food? Was your family food oriented?
Ayca: Our family is from Turkey. Our father loves cooking; he taught our mother how to cook, and let us help in the kitchen. But he never really baked.
Zeynep: I was a nutritionist before I had my twin girls (aged 5 now). I loved baking, and wanted to learn more about baking science.
Kathryn: Does your nutritional training come into play much in your baking?
Zeynep: To accommodate customer requests, I now offer 15 gluten free items. I’m planning to create some gluten free breads next.
Kathryn: You’re already growing fast -- yet you've got a good amount of space in the bakery. Is there anything you wish you had done differently in the design for the bakery?
Zeynep: Yes, more refrigeration and freezer space. We’re looking into retrofitting in a walk-in.