After just under twenty years, La Boulange closes its final locations tomorrow. Within this month, all twenty-three locations were scheduled to close. The story of La Boulange starts kind of like an entrepreneurial fairy tale. A modest bakery with adorable yellow roof awnings, clever sandwich boards out front, delicious pastries, and viola! Classic French charm is born. With hard work, consistency and quality, it keeps growing. It is revered by its city. Eventually it receives the attention of a sleek and savvy larger company (ahem. Starbucks), who in turn seduces the smaller company, offers it riches and promises of bigger opportunities. Then said larger company decides to only take the parts of the relationship it can profit from and scraps the rest. While the story can be shrugged off as a modern casualty of smart business, an economics article within itself, I’d like to look a bit closer.
The news of the closing of my go-to coffee shop was a bummer to say the least. “Where am I going to get coffee now?…And damn, I’ll miss those chocolate hazelnut croissants.” But that all seemed selfish and fleeting. As the days to the final closing grew more visible on the horizon, I felt even more saddened about the news. There are not many places, that I didn’t live or work at, that I went to as consistently as my local coffee shop. There were also people I saw there ALL the time. The baristas, cooks, cashiers, the people who were nice to you when you were tired, hungover, digging for your coffee card. Anyway, what was to come next for the staff?
First off, being in the service industry is hard work and requires a lot of patience. I would like to wish all past La Boulange employees luck on their next adventures, jobs/careers, whatever else they may pursue. Cheers to you guys and gals. Secondly, I was able to speak with one of my favorite baristas about the changes. He had worked with La Boulange for over two years and has lived in the Bay Area for over five years. He started as a cook and had moved up to being a manager.
Anything you’ll miss about the place?
I’ll miss the people. Staff and customers. At the store I have worked at for the last year we are very much a family. We see and interact with each other five days a week and have not had much turnaround as far as employees.
Any favorite customers or highlights of being a barista/ working at La Boulange?
There have been so many great customers over the period I have been with La Boulange. Having worked at several locations in that time, it would be impossible to single any particular people out, I’ve made some lasting connections over that period and wouldn’t even be answering these questions if that wasn’t the case.
I will miss the customers that are genuinely interested in getting to know the people they see on a daily basis and don’t just look at us as someone that provides them with what they want at the time, but wants to know us as people and that respect the service industry for what it provides to them.
Were you offered a severance package or compensation for the closing?
Every employee was offered a “bonus”. I have not been given the paperwork associated in order to clarify how that would differ from a typical severance so I can’t expand on that, I won’t receive that until my final work day. I believe the compensation ranges between management and non-management.
How long ago were you told of the closings?
We were informed of the closing the same night it was press released by Starbucks. There was no advanced notice.
Would you ever want to work for Starbucks?
[I’d] prefer not to answer for now.
Do you have any barista pet peeves?
Everyone in any position of the service industry has too many to list. Just make sure you know what you want you are ordering. I enjoy talking with anyone and giving suggestions or recommendations, I’m even ok with the “surprise me” thing if time is not a factor. Just realize that when it’s busy and you see there are ten people waiting in the same area as you, we make the drinks in the order they come to us.
What do you want to pursue professionally, as well as personally, after the closing?
I would prefer not to get that deep at this point. I will be taking a break and some time off, because I’m able too. There is a large portion of staff that isn’t afforded that opportunity, so without talking about that and getting into the social/economic impact that the closings have, it’s best I don’t comment on that for now.
I’ve enjoyed my time with La Boulange and the opportunity given to me. I have my thoughts and issues on the handling of the situation (initial sale/ eventual closing, and the lack of transparency as to the decisions) but I won’t dwell on it, and look forward to what the future holds.
Au Revoir, La Boulange