La Fête Pâtisserie Française, a new French bakery on Mercer Island, officially opened in the middle of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic — an impressive feat few can attest to pulling off.
But the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the opening of La Fête Pâtisserie Française is only one part of a larger narrative that’s been years in the making — a unique grand finale of, or a new beginning to, a long-standing dream.
For most of her adult life, the bakery’s owner, Kristen Sisco, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, didn’t work in “the pastry realm,” as she puts it. Although baking was always something she was passionate about, she initially studied and then worked in architecture, cultivating expertise in design work.
A few years ago, Sisco decided to switch gears. She’d long had this irrepressible interest and dedication to pastry-making — particularly the niche “high-end, French” kind. So why not pursue it?
She wasn’t going to merely become an expert in this area of cuisine: she was going to more ambitiously open her own shop specializing in French pastries. In 2015, she went back to school — Seattle Central, specifically — to study. She was mentored by a chef hailing from Normandy, a region of northwestern France.
“He was a great help, and a great resource, really dialing in this specific French technique — ‘the French way,’ as opposed to ‘the American way,’” Sisco said.
Sisco had spent a lot of time in France in the course of her life, she said. But after completing her education, she embarked on several sojourns in the country, “doing R&D work and trying to nail down my concept, branding.” She additionally worked with a Las Vegas-based chocolatier on a cookbook.
These experiences, Sisco said, helped “expand some of my knowledge, and to get in preparation for [my business].”
She subsequently went on a search for the perfect location for the shop, and 18 months were spent considering potential spaces in Bellevue. At the end of 2018, she finally settled on the current site on Mercer Island — a space that once housed Vietnamese restaurant I Love Pho — and signed the lease.
“I saw the space and just thought it had a lot of potential and a lot of opportunities,” said Sisco, noting that one of her daughters and several friends also live on the Island.
Renovation work began immediately. It was just wrapping up, after more than a year of work, when, in March, coronavirus concerns led Gov. Jay Inslee to issue a stay-at-home order. Sisco said that at the time, La Fête Pâtisserie Française was just about two weeks away from opening. She decided to delay the start date and continue getting things prepared; she said the quick change in development was “shocking,” a feeling exacerbated by how long it had taken to get La Fête Pâtisserie Française ready for the public. A GoFundMe page was published to help raise money for outstanding needs.
“The community’s just been so wonderful,” Sisco said. “I mean, for the last probably seven or eight months of construction, people would come by and are just really interested, and just say, ‘we can’t wait for you to be here.’”
Sisco, characteristic for any new business owner, was anxious about how La Fête Pâtisserie Française’s rescheduled opening day (July 17) would unfold.
“You can make projections, but you don’t exactly know how it’s gonna go,” Sisco said. “And then, on top of that, layering COVID. You just don’t really have a sense about how comfortable people are going to be coming out and trying things.”
But the response turned out to be “wonderful,” Sisco said. The whole weekend saw large swaths of customers, and the business continues to be way busier than predicted, Sisco said.
In imagining her bakery, Sisco sought to make her offerings uniquely, contemporarily French — no Americanized intrusions. La Fête Pâtisserie Française offers expected concoctions like croissants and breakfast pastries, but it also emphasizes intricate mousse cakes, tarts, entremets and meringues.
“It’s really trying to make things that are high quality and that taste good, but that are [also] really beautiful aesthetically,” Sisco said. “It’s another way of using creativity and design.”
She said that at La Fête Pâtisserie Française, the menu will rotate seasonally — ensuring it is chef-driven — and that additional refreshments like coffee and tea are just as high-caliber. The coffee, all organic, comes from Olympia’s Batdorf & Bronson. Teas are French-imported.
COVID-19-related obstacles, in tandem with the requisite kinks that come with opening a new business, are to be expected. Sisco is still dedicating much time to properly training new employees, all while maintaining county-mandated health protocols. She hasn’t yet been able to dedicate time to the more high-level dishes she wants to offer customers.
Sisco said that so far, the biggest challenges have been trying to meld her original concept with the limitations imposed by the pandemic (namely having to put more of an emphasis on take-out options), and navigating how to make sure that staff and guests are safe and feel comfortable.
For Sisco, maintaining a sense of perseverance has been crucial.
“There’s not an option but to just move ahead — whatever comes to you, you just deal with it,” she said. “I’m excited to be able to get through this initial opening…I’m very happy to be here.”