By Anne Cruz
Ashley and Gautier Coiffard are the owners of L’Appartement 4F bakery in Brooklyn. Gautier started baking recreationally in 2019, and the couple began selling bread and pastries via Instagram in 2020 to cover costs for their wedding. One of their most popular products is the “petite croissant cereale,” which is made of miniature hand-rolled croissants. The now-married couple are set to open their brick-and-mortar bakery in Brooklyn Heights in April 2022.
ASHLEY COIFFARD: Gautier and I met the old-fashioned way, in a bar, in 2016. We didn’t have any mutual friends. We just met over drinks and really hit it off. We’ve been kind of inseparable ever since that night. We got engaged three years later in 2019, and we bought an apartment. During this time, he was still an engineer. No baking or anything like that. I was going to school to be a nurse. He started baking randomly in 2019. I don’t even think he told me that he wanted to do it. He did it sneakily. He made a baguette or a boule.
GAUTIER COIFFARD: A boule. I’ve been here in the United States for about 10 years now, and I was missing the bread and croissants from my childhood in France. It was really a challenge for me to try to replicate what I was eating when I was younger. I couldn’t really find a bakery I liked around in New York, so that was a motivation for me.
ASHLEY: He made a round loaf of bread, and I was eating it and said, “This is really good,” and he told me he made it from scratch. I couldn’t even comprehend how one makes bread. I was like, “Oh, that’s cool.” I didn’t realize how hard it was, that he’d been prepping for days. I had no clue.
He slowly started baking just for us. Then he made a croissant one day—randomly, again. He handed it to me in bed. Eventually I said, “This is really good. We should share this with other people.” And that’s kind of how the baking started. We were just a very normal couple with no background in baking.
The croissant cereal, though, was my idea. I was on TikTok and saw mini-pancake cereal—I love tiny food—so I asked Gautier to make little croissants for cereal and he said, “Absolutely not. That’s a ridiculous concept.”
I thought Americans would really like it, and he was very against it. Then one day I came home from work and he was rolling mini croissants. I asked “What’s that?” And he said, “I thought of a way to make it work.” So he made little mini croissants.
At first they looked like little chicken nuggets, and that bothered him. We wanted them to be cinnamon flavored, so he infuses the simple syrup with cinnamon sticks, pours that on top, and dehydrates the croissants for seven hours after baking them. It is so much work, and we underestimated how many people would buy them. We had to turn off the orders because he’s rolling mini croissants all day. That’s all he does.
GAUTIER: My family and friends were a little skeptical at first. I went to engineering school, I’m an engineer now, so why would I be a baker? With so many bakeries in France, it’s not really a high-paying job. So there were a lot of doubts. But hopefully they’re coming around to the idea. They came a few weeks ago.
ASHLEY: His parents were weirded out by the croissant cereal. We had extra, so they tried it. They were like, “Oh, this is really good.” The whole time they were eating handfuls of it nonstop. We were like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! You don’t understand how much time and effort it takes to make these.”
GAUTIER: But we are happy to have created something different, because the bread, the croissants, all of these already exist.
ASHLEY: It’s really fun to have a weird little niche product that people all over love. For example, Nancy Myers is the director of all these movies that I make Gautier watch. While we were rolling croissants, we watched The Parent Trap, Father of the Bride, and The Holiday. The next thing I know, we’re Instagram messaging with her and sending her a box of croissant cereal. So many people have reached out to us that we would never have the opportunity to meet otherwise. We’re very, very grateful for this little weird product. But it would be much nicer if we went viral for our cookies, because then we could sleep.
We gave it to an influencer who posted it on TikTok, and it got millions of views. That’s when it went crazy. I was sitting there reading articles about us, thinking, “Oh, my God. I never knew that cereal could make people so angry.”
People don’t realize it takes three days to make one little croissant. It’s so labor intensive that if we could charge more, we would. But I thought, “Oh, $50 is already asking too much for a box of cereal.” We decided to keep it the same price we listed the cereal for on Kickstarter, thinking that not too many people would buy it. The cereal would just be a little luxury item. Hundreds of people bought it, and people were buying more than one box and paying $20 just to ship it to LA. So there’s a weird market out there for it, one that we did not expect. Honestly, it’s been crazy. Neither of us has ever worked in a restaurant or bakery or any food-related job ever.
GAUTIER: I did in France.
ASHLEY: He worked at McDonald’s in France during university for one month. But he worked the cash register. He didn’t handle the food. That’s as far as our background goes with the restaurant industry.
We really had no clue what we were doing. And we really didn’t think that this was going to take off at all. We were supposed to get married last summer, so we thought we could just pay for the flowers with money from the croissants. We didn’t even think that was possible.
We really had no game plan in the very beginning. I was washing dishes in our little sink for the first two weeks, and I couldn’t take it anymore, so we bought a dishwasher. Every next step has been very organic, with us figuring things out through trial and error. We’re still learning, and every day is chaotic but very fun and exhilarating and rewarding. There were definitely a lot of nights where he was still baking at three in the morning, getting things ready for the next day, and I was washing dishes. We would say “Do we just quit, delete the Instagram account and move?” It felt like too much.
By March 2021, we had pretty much tapped out our space. We bought a freezer for the bedroom, so basically the whole apartment was a working kitchen. Our oven literally exploded one day, like it had had enough. Luckily, there were no orders or anything that day.
In March we also did something with New York magazine called the Cookie Edit. They ordered 1,500 cookies from us and 11 other bakeries all around New York City to raise money for restaurant workers. We said, “Oh, yeah, 1,500 cookies. How hard could that be?” We ended up shaking and crying until two in the morning making cookies every week for them, saying, “We can’t do this anymore.”
Our apartment is 479 square feet, and only about two feet is our kitchen. It’s really small. We had someone take a look at our numbers, and he was like, “Send me the real numbers. These are crazy. Send me the actual data, not the projections.” We were like, “No, these are the numbers. This is the sales that we’re doing right now.” And he was just blown away. He was like, “You need a retail space like, yesterday.”
It all kind of fell into place really quickly after we decided to get a retail space. A realtor reached out to us and the Brooklyn Heights Association said, “If you’re looking for a space, the neighborhood really needs the bakery.” It happened all in the same week.
I think people will still be ordering online once the brick and mortar opens, but hopefully they can get their orders less than a month in advance. Once we have a big oven and a staff, we can fulfill orders more quickly, and it won’t be such a long waiting list. We have diehard customers on the Upper West Side who are saying, “Please, please, please still do delivery.” They’re afraid that we’re going to be a bakery in Brooklyn that is only local delivery. They don’t want us to change to a different model.
GAUTIER: What I like about us is that we complement each other in the business. I am in the kitchen and Ashley is doing the marketing and customer relations. So I think we’re a good team. We both have something that the other doesn’t have, and we’re learning from each other.
ASHLEY: This has forced us to spend 24/7 together. I genuinely love Gaultier, and he makes me laugh. I’m the one who’s always stressed out and very critical. Gautier is very relaxed and positive and can always make a joke, even when I think the world is ending. So getting to see him and spend more time with him … it has honestly been the highlight of my life.
GAUTIER: I don’t know how to speak to customers as well.
ASHLEY: In the beginning, when we were taking orders through Instagram, it was mostly me talking to customers and getting to know them. I’m more American, so I have a more customer-service personality, whereas Gaultier is a little harsher. He’s—I don’t want to say French, but he is very French. I asked him to answer some of the messages, and reading his responses and I was mortified because he was so straight to the point. People would ask, “Can I order?” and he’d say, “No, thank you.” We had to find a happy balance where he would read my messages, and I would tweak his messages to make them a little bit softer. It’s kind of funny, but we decided maybe it’s best if I’m the voice behind the bakery, because he’s just so to the point.
Moving the bakery to a brick-and-mortar space has been a whole new journey. It’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done as a couple or as individuals. Every day brings new challenges. I’m a little more creative and less concerned with our budget. Gautier is obviously very concerned with the budget and trying to reel me in and keep me grounded.
Our relationship is about croissants at this point. We have a wedding that we’re supposed to be planning. It’s in six months, and we haven’t even thought about invitations. Today we were talking about it, like, “Remember that wedding that we were saving money for when we started this? We should really plan that.”