There's no mistaking the heavenly scent of fresh pastries wafting along Pike Place between Stewart and Virginia streets. That's the smell of Le Panier's baking team hard at work, crafting piles of macarons, croissants, breads, and other pastries from scratch each day, as they have since opening in 1983.
Kristi Drake was there from the beginning. After college, she was hired as the store's first retail manager. She and French-born baker Thierry Mougin, the shop's first baker, bought the business from its founder in 1995. They still co-own it today.
Drake says she Pike Place Market is a special place for Le Panier. "It's quite similar to some of the market areas in Europe, especially in France. The environment lends itself to food and food shopping," she says. "Being part of that larger community is so beneficial. We're friends with produce guys and fish guys and our favorite flower farmer and craftspeople. That community is lovely to be involved with."
Drake says all the shop's products are made without preservatives, and they utilize as many local ingredients as possible. When they can, they source directly from the market. And the menu changes seasonally, as it would in France. For example, right now you'll find fresh fruit tarts with local strawberries and raspberries, in honor of summer.
Each year, some of the retail and baking staff head to France to see the country's unique patisseries and boulangeries first hand. This has helped Le Panier keep its authenticity, Drake says. That commitment, along with a emphasis on friendly service and an obsession with great tasting, beautiful pastries, will likely keep the bakery going for another 30 years or more.