You took our Uncle Harry’s, but you’d better not touch our beloved La Boulangerie.
That was the sentiment on the lips of Fig Garden Village shoppers last week when Uncle Harry’s abruptly closed, saying the center’s New York owners were not interested in renewing its lease.
With so many changes at the center since a New York firm bought it a few years ago, Fresnans are anxious about what will happen next.
So when a couple of signs appeared in window of La Boulangerie’s French Bakery & Cafe, rumors started flying. Some thought that the bakery and lunch spot was closing and a couple of people were so worried about it they were crying.
Here’s what’s really happening: There are no plans to close La Boulangerie.
It is, however, about to be sold to new owners. The sign in the window refers to the liquor license being transferred to the new owners. Another sign seeks several new employees as the bakery beefs up a second shift to do more weddings cakes and other orders.
Manager Lisa Newton, who has worked at the bakery for 30 years, said the soon-to-be new owners want to keep it the same.
“The main thing is that nothing’s changing,” she said. “None of the employees have left. We’re not changing the menu.”
The new owners are four partners, some from Kerman and some from Fresno. Two have bakery experience.
They are planning to buy the business, but the deal hasn’t been finalized yet. They’ve been negotiating a 10-year lease with the center’s owners, Rouse Properties, said TJ Rakkar, one of the partners. As long as the property owners charge a reasonable rent and can both agree, the lease will likely be finalized, he said.
Once the lease is finalized, that clears the way for the business to be sold.
Patrick Bourrel, the founder of La Bou, as it’s sometimes called, will stay on as a consultant, Rakkar said.
“All the employees, all the managers, all the bakers – everyone is staying so we’re really fortunate to have that. Our goal is to just follow in Patrick’s footsteps (using) organic fresh fruits, the same vendors.”
At midafternoon Monday, several customers were relaxing under yellow umbrellas in front of the bakery. Marc and Diana Boswell have been coming to the bakery for 20 years, usually to buy bread.
They talked about the restaurants that have closed, like the Ripe Tomato (a Pieology Pizzeria opened in its place) and Uncle Harry’s (its end of the center may have lots of changes happening to make way for several stores, including Paper Source). Anthropologie is preparing to move to Fig Garden from Fashion Fair with Heart & Solemoving to a different spot in the center to make way for it. Deli Delicious will also move to a space in that corner near Wayside Noodles soon.
Without La Bou, “there wouldn’t be any reason to come here,” Marc Boswell said. “You can’t find this kind of atmosphere anywhere.”
The bakery has a loyal following with barely an empty seat at times. Crowds come for its lunchtime soup and sandwiches, but also to buy bread, a delicate pastry or order cakes like the popular nicoise cake, a white cake made with fresh fruit and Bavarian cream.
La Bou has had a liquor license for a while now, with customers sometimes pairing a glass of wine with a quiche and spending the afternoon on the patio, Newton said. The only change Rakkar mentioned was that they’d like to start offering mimosas on Saturdays.
The bakery is 37 years old and has been at Fig Garden since 1985. Founder Bourrel, who is nearly 70, said it was a bittersweet decision to sell the business. But after years of being on call for 24 hours a day, he needed to slow down.
“It’s not that I really wanted to do it,” he said. “I think that it’s time. I don’t have the energy I used to do.”
He wanted buyers who would treat the 78 workers fairly, he said. The employees will keep their pay, health insurance, retirement and vacation benefits, he said.
As for what Bourrel do with all his newfound free time: “I’m going to hit the mountains.”