Bakery Shockers: Ry Stephen Out at Mr. Holmes, and Starbucks Closing All 23 La Boulange Locations

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Fab neon at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. Photo courtesy of Aaron Caddel.

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La Boulange West Portal. Photo by David Vegne, courtesy La Boulange.

Last week, our local bakery scene was hit with some pretty crazy news. First up, there was a sad split over at ~MR. HOMES BAKEHOUSE~: pastry savant and co-owner Ry Stephen, the Willy Wonka of all that tasty madness, has departed (via SF Mag). And no one is talking about what happened, but you can bet it’s complicated. Stephen’s (now former) business partner, Aaron Caddel, appears to still be running the ship (Instagram remains full of cruffin pics), and there are plans to expand to Highland Park in Los Angeles in March 2016 (check out the Craigslist ad here).

Stephen is currently in France, baking at Chez Papou, a boulangerie and pâtisserie in Le Lavandou in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France (nope, one of the hardest working bakers I know didn’t even take a break) and will be back in SF in July. I’ll keep you posted on what he’s up to next. You can’t contain his level of creativity and expertise for long.

Badass designer and (also former) co-owner Aron Tzimas—the man behind their insanely cool branding and more—has reportedly left the creative brain trust over there as well, but he’s already cranking on a new and cool project, SF x SF. And the lines outside Mr. Holmes continue to stretch around the corner. 1042 Larkin St. at Sutter.

From the artisanal to the massive: the other wave of news that crashed through the city while we were all busy watching the Warriors win on Tuesday night is that Starbucks is closing all 23 of its ~LA BOULANGE~ bakery cafés by September of this year (and the Evolution Fresh location) after the company “determined La Boulange stores are not sustainable for the company’s long-term growth.” Pascal Rigo, creator of La Boulange, sold the company to Starbucks in 2012 for $100 million (in cash!) and was partnering with Starbucks on elevating its food offerings in all its U.S. and Canada locations, offering items under the La Boulange brand.

Rigo has now left the company as well; a press release from Starbucks additionally states, “Now that the rollout of La Boulange products within Starbucks stores in the U.S. and Canada is complete, Pascal will move on from Starbucks to continue his passion for food in San Francisco while dedicating more time and resources toward his nonprofit ventures in an effort to supply quality food to schools with underprivileged children and bring innovative after-school clinics to help children with learning disabilities.” Go Pascal.

Meanwhile, Starbucks is going to try to place as many employees as possible and help with their transition. And then you have a quote in the Business Times noting that all these prime locations are going to inspire a “feeding frenzy”—although in a piece on SFGate, Rigo alludes to having plans for a few of the locations. We’ll have to see how this all shakes out. (This article in the Business Times says Starbucks made the decision to close the locations after Rigo left.) AdWeek has an article that wonders if Starbucks just did it for the recipes—it’s interesting to think about. (Especially when they experienced a 16 percent jump in food sales in the most recent quarter—imagine how that translates when we’re talking about 12,000 locations.)

Say what you want about the brightly colored spots that were practically in every neighborhood in SF—they did provide a comfortable space to grab a sandwich, enjoy a café au lait, have a meeting, and hang out. There’s even a petition to save them. When the very first Boulange opened on Pine Street, it provided a taste of France that many of us were looking for (which sadly got watered down with each location that opened). I know we all look forward to see what Rigo does next and are wondering what is going to happen to all those locations. Stand by.