GREENWICH, CT — Charlotte Dequeker's favorite part of coming to work each morning is opening up the doors at Raphaël's Bakery and being instantly hit with the scent of authentic fresh-baked French delicacies.
"When you open the door, you're hit with that smell of sweets, cookies and bread," Dequeker said. "There's nothing like it."
Dequeker is the co-owner of the bakery, along with her husband, Raphaël, who previously worked as the head pastry chef at Valbella in Greenwich. Prior to that, he worked in some of France's most famous restaurants and pastry shops, including Le Louis XV in Monaco and Ladurée in Paris, according to the bakery's website.
According to Dequeker, her husband was practically born into the world of French baking, as both his father and grandfather worked as pastry chefs in France. (To sign up for Greenwich breaking news alerts and more, click here.)
"[Raphaël] has memories of his dad waking him up on the weekend when he was very little, as well as his brother and sister, and telling them it was time to get up and help in the kitchen," Dequeker said.
Dequeker said she and her husband decided to finally open up their own place after Valbella temporarily shut down in the spring due to the coronavirus crisis.
"It only took a pandemic," Dequeker said. "but [the idea] has been in the back of our minds for years."
During the temporary shut down, Raphaël began selling croissants and other baked goods, prompting customers to enthusiastically inquire when he would open his own bakery.
"It [was] 2020," Dequeker said. "Anything and everything can happen, so we decided to take a chance. We found the right people to help us, and all the stars aligned. We found the right spot, so we decided to do it."
Located at 146 Mason Street, the bakery is situated in a "small and cozy" spot with plenty of parking space, feeling almost like a small village, Dequeker said. The shop officially opened for business in mid-December.
Greenwich Chamber of Commerce president Marcia O'Kane said the bakery's recent opening in the central area of town has already been met with enthusiasm.
"Everyone is excited about the arrival of Raphaël's Bakery," O'Kane said, "since its central Greenwich location is perfect for those who want to experience a taste of bona fide French pastries. Raphaël has been master pastry chef for numerous years."
According to Dequeker, the bakery places an emphasis on providing customers with an authentic French experience, right down to their flour, which is imported from France.
"We really want you to have the experience you would have if you were walking in a small village in France," Dequeker said, "and just entering a bakery and grabbing a baguette and croissant."
Taking a page from the family bakery experience Raphaël grew up in, all three of the couple's sons and Dequeker's mother have been helping out during the bakery's first month of operation.
"That's just the feeling we want when people come in," Dequeker said. "We're all family, we're trying to do our best and we want to share our love of French products."
While 2020 was a challenging year for many businesses across the country, Dequeker said the coronavirus crisis did not cause any big delays in getting the shop open. She also praised First Selectman Fred Camillo for his help, pointing them in the right directions to keep things moving.
While the opening of Raphaël's Bakery is exciting for the area, O'Kane noted "numerous new businesses" were able to open in Greenwich last year in spite of the coronavirus crisis.
"It's hard to predict if this trend will continue this year," O'Kane said, "but there are numerous miracle vaccines in the pipeline that offer great hope for getting things back to normal."
As business continues to boom during their first month of operation, the bakery's future is already looking bright, according to Dequeker.
"I think it's going to be great," Dequeker said. "We're here for the long haul, and at the end of the day we want to make people happy."
She also noted it has been a joy to bring an international experience to customers who may not have been able to travel in 2020.
"A lot of people have been saying it's like a little piece of France," Dequeker said, "and since they can't travel, that's as close as they can come [right now]."