Odysseys: Frenchman’s move to Pittsburgh fulfills sweet dreams
August 11, 2014 12:00 AM
By Laura Malt Schneiderman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
David Piquard’s grandfather had a dream to open a pastry shop, but he ended up being an auto mechanic.
Mr. Piquard, however, wanted to fulfill the dream, with a twist:
“When I was young, 10 years old, I told my parents that I wanted to go to the U.S. and open my own pastry shop.”
The dream soon hit obstacles.
Mr. Piquard, 41, trained as a cook and, after school, worked in a numerous restaurants in his native France.
“All the chefs told me, ‘You have golden hands; go into pastries,’ ” Mr. Piquard says.
He discovered he had a passion for making pastry.
“It’s precise. It’s organized. I love that. For me, it’s everything,” he says.
He wanted to share that passion, saying, “When I take a strawberry, I look at the strawberry, I cut the strawberry, I feel the strawberry … it’s like my babies. I try to give that experience back to the customer.”
Working late, until 3 or 4 in the morning, Mr. Piquard would teach himself the art of pastry making.
Eventually, he worked at a high-end pastry shop in Bordeaux making macarons: moist, chilled meringue-based biscuits with cream filling.
A French businessman came to make a movie about Mr. Piquard. The two got to talking, and Mr. Piquard revealed his dream about opening his own shop in America.
After some consideration, the man said he would arrange and help finance the project.
But where in the United States to open the shop?
“We brainstormed for two weeks,” Mr. Piquard says.
They selected Pittsburgh for three reasons: its livability; its proximity to Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C.; and its affordability.
“It was perfect for everything,” Mr. Piquard says.
So with high hopes, Mr. Piquard, his wife, Maud, and two children, Aline, 5, and Alan, 3, moved to Downtown in 2004 with their angel investor to open the shop.
All seemed well. Then suddenly, the investor flew back to France, taking all the Piquards’ money.
Abruptly, “we had nothing,” Mr. Piquard says.
They were living in a foreign country without visas, money nor any way to pay rent either on their apartment or the storefront lease the investor had committed them to.
Through friends, Mr. Piquard managed to assemble enough money to fly back to France. His children, wanting to help, sold all their toys to raise more money.
The flight home was somber, with the children in tears, missing not only their toys but also their American school and friends.
Back in Mr. Piquard’s hometown of Metz, the family lived with his best friend, sleeping on his apartment floor.
Mr. Piquard put up a brave front during the day with his family, but at night while he worked, “I was crying. For me the bad thing was I did this to my family, even if it’s not my fault,” he says.
That might have been the end of the American adventure, but “a week after, I was thinking, no, no, no, no, no. It’s not fair. This guy [the swindler] cannot stop me from having my dream,” Mr. Piquard says.
He began selling solar panels on commission with no base salary. Within two months, he had enough money to get the family back on its feet.
He quit the sales job and went back to pastries, training with the famous luxury pastry company Laduree. For four years, that was his life.
During that time, Mr. Piquard gradually persuaded his wife to try America again.
“Our life was better in the U.S.,” he says.
One day, Fred Rongier called him. Mr. Rongier and his wife, Lori, own the East Liberty bistro Paris 66, and Mr. Piquard had met Mr. Rongier once in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Rongier said, “I need a pastry chef,” Mr. Piquard says.
The dream was back on.
Mr. Piquard came back to Pittsburgh by himself in 2011, leaving his family in France.
He worked at Paris 66, living in an apartment above the bistro and sending most of his money back home. After a year, he was ready to open his own place.
“I have to be my own boss,” he said.
He and Mr. Rongier went into business together, and Gaby et Jules Patisseries et Macarons opened in August 2013 in Squirrel Hill, named for the men’s grandfathers, who had wanted their own pastry shops but were never able to do it.
Mr. Piquard’s family joined him in America.
He now plans to make Gaby et Jules an international brand known for luxury pastry.
He and Mr. Rongier are about to open another Gaby et Jules shop inside a new grocery market in Market Square, Downtown.
Mr. Piquard hungers not only for success but also for experiencing the world.
“France is beautiful,” he says. “The culture is beautiful, the castles, the plains, but I’ve already explored it all. I’m going to Miami and Key West, and I’m going to drive there. I want to see everything.”
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