Photos Steven Krause
Their charm is palpable, probably for three reasons. First, they’re French. Second, they speak English with heavy French accents. Third, they are enormously charming in that way the French do charm.
OK, four reasons. They own a bakery, or more accurately a patisserie et boulangerie, in Glen Ellen.
They are both named Pascal, although in French, the feminine gender is assigned a feminine spelling, thus he is Pascal and she is Pascale. They opened Les Pascals Patisserie et Boulangerie in 2018, next to the historic Chauvet Hotel and across from the Glen Ellen Village market.
They instantly fit the village like a hand in a glove, and it is not uncommon to see a line out the door on any sunny, or even cloudy morning.
They arrived as if by magic, as if a shaft of sunlight deposited them on the sidewalk beside Arnold Drive, near where Jack London once came to do his evening drinking.
The hotel the patisserie sits beside was once owned by Joshua Chauvet, a French adventurer following the Gold Rush who ironically struck it rich as a bread baker in Mother Lode towns before moving to Glen Ellen where he and his father bought the Grist Mill at what is now Jack London Village and started grinding flour.
There is thus more than 150 years of French baking tradition in Glen Ellen, and the two Pascals—last name Merle—did not actually fall out of the sky. They had previously owned a popular patisserie in Carmel that was frequented by a San Francisco developer who owned a building in Glen Ellen. The building was the Chauvet Hotel, the developer was Christine Hansson, who also owned the part-time art gallery next door, and she convinced the two Pascals to move to Glen Ellen by becoming a not-so-silent business partner.
Hansson offered two other assets besides her friendship. “She had a very good spot,” says Pascal. “And she helps with the contractor.”
Hansson, who speaks fluent French, is nothing if not adept at building reconstruction. She and her husband pulled the Chauvet Hotel from the edge of an almost certain grave and turned it into a luxury condominium hotel.
Some of the Chauvet’s relics, including a brass foot rail from the hotel’s bar, now decorate Les Pascals.
The Pascal charm is evident the moment you walk in the door, although you may not notice at first, confronted as you are by a glass display case sagging with macaroons, éclairs, lemon tarts, Napoleons, crème brulée, meringues, croissants and baguettes by the score. Lunch and breakfast sandwiches are available as well, along with fresh-brewed coffee.
Cheerful, yellow-topped metal tables and chairs populate the dining area, and an outdoor patio in back offers additional seating.
Pascal does the baking while Pacale runs the front of the house. He insists that “baking is a passion. If you don’t have a passion for something, you can’t have a very good job. Pascal’s passion is producing the best pastries and bread, every day, every time. “The quality of the products is most important,” Pascal says. “All my life I am watching and learning, from the best schools, from the best pastries. You need learning all the time. Things change every year. And you always need fresh products.”
There is, he says, an important difference from French pastries in France, and French pastries in America. “In USA, there is too much sugar and salt. Too much sweet is no good. You need a balance,” he says. “We work with the very old recipes from France,” he says. “I want my customers to have the French experience. If they eat a Napoleon in Glen Ellen, and they eat a Napoleon in France, it is exactly the same experience.”