A Taste of French Culture in Carytown

October 9, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. — The bell above the door jingles as the aromas of fresh baked bread and sweet pastries meet your nose. Trays lined with fluffy croissants, sticky cinnamon buns and baguettes straight from the oven fly out from the kitchen and fill the shelves of Jean-Jacques Bakery & Café in Carytown. Celebrating its 27th year in business, the bakery’s tasty treats have never been more in demand.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 40 percent of adults feel that dining at restaurants makes them feel more productive in their day-to-day life.

Richmond is home to several unique French dining venues that keep French culture and tradition alive in the city. Located practically next door to each other, Jean-Jacques Bakery & Café and the CanCan Brasserie are two French establishments whose friendly competition and unique atmospheres have stirred up sales in the past few years.

Many family owned restaurants struggle to survive in rough economic times. However, French restaurants and café’s here in Richmond have done just the opposite — their businesses have grown remarkably in the past few years.

“We’ve actually been really busy lately, a lot more people are coming in and we have a lot of regulars,” said Margaret Murphy, who has worked at Jean-Jacques Bakery & Café for two years.

“For a while, people didn’t even know we were here,” she said.

According to Richmond Magazine, Jean-Jacques Bakery & Café held the title in 2006 for #1 Bakery in Richmond, as well as #1 baked goods in Richmond for 2008. Since then, they have been proving they deserve their title by producing quality goods with an authentic French taste.

Jean-Jacques Bakery & Café opened in 1983 by the hands of Frenchmen Clement Denicourt. Having grown up in Paris, Denicourt has a strong sense for what makes good French food.

Denicourt passed the bakery down to current owner Jozef Bindas in 2003. Since then, Bindas and his daughter, Liliana, have made moves to further the success of the bakery and keep their mouth-watering pastries on the minds of their customers.

Manager Liliana Bindas currently oversees the baking of all products at the café, and works early hours to make sure the food is being made fresh each morning.

“I normally come in and get things in the oven pretty early, and make sure everything is running smoothly and the staff has everything under control,” said Bindas.

Bindas, who will inherit the business from her father, has been managing the bakery since 2003. As a French family, they incorporate their own French heritage into their products.

“Most of the people that come in aren’t necessarily French, but still love the atmosphere of a little French café. Everything on our menu is authentic French recipes and the customers really respond well to it,” said Murphy.

Every spring, the bakery teams up with the French Film Festival to feed the hungry film-goers. With the large amount of French natives and enthusiasts in town for the festival, authentic French cuisine is a must to complete the atmosphere of the festival.

“When the festival comes to town it gets pretty crazy,” said Murphy. “We’re usually giving out shots of espresso in Styrofoam cups, as well as providing all the food,” she said.

Aside from the festival, the bakery has kept itself afloat throughout the years by offering friendly service, a pleasant French atmosphere, and quality food that keeps customers coming back for more.

Located just a few spaces down from the bakery sits the Can Can Brasserie, attracting Carytown shoppers with its tall ceilings and elegant menu in front of the double glass doors. Located so close to Jean-Jacques Bakery & Café, some friendly competition has already been stirred up between the two businesses.

“They’re baguettes last more than a day, that’s just not right!” said Murphy with a laugh.

However, if a full course French meal is what you’re after – Can Can is the place to go.

The Brasserie opened in 2005 as a fun, high-energy French restaurant where customers can drift in at any time of day: in the morning to grab a croissant, or for a relaxing glass of wine after dinner.

In 2007, Can Can Brasserie was recognized as Style Magazine’s Restaurant of the Year. Can Can also works hand-in-hand with the French Film Festival, and film-goers pack their tables every spring craving a hearty French dinner.

Owner Chris Ripp has always recognized the unique appeal of French cuisine, and wanted to create an establishment where cooks with a passion for authentic French food could really use their skills fully.

“What sets French cuisine apart from others is their drive for technique – they are very specific when it comes to proper technique and proper handling of ingredients. They are also very specific about seasonality, and will only use what is right out of the garden and fresh,” said Ripp.

Ripp knew that in order to create a place that could follow all of the laws of French cooking, they would need a good-sized kitchen with a staff sharing the same passion for French food as he did.

“I knew it would take a lot of time to develop a kitchen with people that shared that passion and technique. Luckily we have three floors and lots of room for cooking equipment for teaching young cooks. They get to learn how to take a protein from scratch, turn it into a stock, and come out with a finished product they can be proud of,” said Ripp.

Andrew Depcrynski, one of the current managers of Can Can Brasserie, believes the restaurant does so well because of its attention to detail and friendly staff.

“Even though the owner is American he puts so much effort into making sure everything turns out exactly the way it would in France, from the food to the way we set the tables,” said Depcrynski.

Having an American owner does not take any French authenticity out of the food, Depcrynski assures, because of the amount of time Ripp has spent in France.

“He lived there for years, got married there, did pretty much everything there,” said Depcrynski. “He knows pretty much everything about French cuisine,” he said.

Everything from the food on the menu, the extensive wine list, the wallpaper and décor inside the restaurant, and the constant hustle and bustle of waiters and hosts gives off such a strong feeling of French culture that it’s hard to believe you’re still in Carytown.

“Most people recognize a lot of the elements of the restaurant as being a typical Brasserie, something they would have seen while they were in France,” said Ripp.

Ripp believes that the brasserie fits in well in Carytown, because visitors are looking for something unusual and different.

“I think the restaurant really ties in to what Carytown visitors are looking for – a fun and unique place that they can share with friends,” said Ripp.

Jean-Jacques Bakery & Café and Can Can Brasserie work together to keep French tradition alive and prominent for Richmonders, as well as offer a distinctive dining experience for those willing to try something new.