A FRENCHMAN’S American dream — to open his own bakery and live above the shop, build a group of local cafes serving authentic French pastries and eventually sell it all for millions to a mega-corporation — took an abrupt twist June 16 when Starbucks announced it was shuttering its 23 La Boulange eateries in the Bay Area.
Including the original Boulangerie Bay Bread at 2325 Pine Street.
Employees of the Boulangerie and the nearby La Boulange cafe at 2043 Fillmore were told mid-afternoon that day to close early and assemble at 6:30 p.m. at La Boulange on Fillmore. There they received the news: Starbucks is shutting down the La Boulange cafes by the end of September. Founder Pascal Rigo, who joined Starbucks as senior vice president of food when it acquired La Boulange in 2012, would leave the company at the end of the week.
“Starbucks has determined La Boulange stores are not sustainable for the company’s long-term growth,” said an announcement issued in the evening as Bay Area fans were celebrating the triumph of the Golden State Warriors in the basketball finals. By early the next morning, longtime fans were streaming into the boulangerie on Pine Street, hopeful the original location would be spared.
It was not to be.
Starbucks bought La Boulange for $100 million in 2012 and has incorporated its pastries into Starbucks shops nationwide and in Canada. The company said that part of the deal would continue. But the cafes, the original bakery and two industrial bakeries that supply the cafes and a catering operation will close.
“Why’d they buy them then?” asked Jennifer Delaroderie on Facebook. “Just to shut them down?”
“This is so disappointing,” said Joan O’Connor, formerly owner of Timeless Treasures on Sutter Street. “It is a fabulous business — every location where I’ve been is a gem.”
“This is awful,” said Susan Wels. “Sell it back to the owner — don’t close it!”
Even if Rigo and his investors were inclined to give back the $100 million, Starbucks might not take the deal. Real estate professionals said the company is sitting on a gold mine of prime locations in many of the area’s most desirable neighborhoods.
“It’s an A-plus portfolio,” broker Matt Holmes told the SF Business Times. “The best foot-traffic streets, well-designed, well-placed sites. It will be a feeding frenzy.”
Starbucks said it will also close Evolution Fresh, its juice bar and natural foods cafe on the corner of Fillmore and Sacramento.
UPDATE: “For me, it was time to go,” La Boulange founder Pascal Rigo told SFGate. “I didn’t know what value I could bring anymore,” said Rigo, pointing out that Starbucks stock has never been higher.
“When you have 12,000 stores, and La Boulange is doing so well inside the stores, why do you want to have 23 stores in San Francisco where you don’t want to spend the time or the money?”
He added: “We achieved what we wanted to achieve, which was to have La Boulange in 12,000 stores.”
Rigo hinted he may not be done yet. Of the 23 La Boulange storefronts in prime locations being shut down by Starbucks, he said: “They have a plan for most of them. I have a plan for some of them, also.”
EARLIER: “I just have this thing about bread“
Filed under: Food, Drink & Lodging