Iconic French Bakery in Houston Hits 50 Years & Celebrates With Fresh New Look
Locals know French Gourmet Bakery as one of the best Houston bakeries and patisseries (as well as an easygoing café for breakfast and lunch), and flock to it for holiday desserts, freshly baked breads and fine pastries, but what they might not know is that it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, the family-owned bakery, located at 2250 Westheimer in River Oaks, has been remodeled and is sporting a fresh new look. (It’s also worth noting that it’s currently Mardi Gras season, so there’s no better excuse to see the modernized digs than to drop by for a New Orleans- or French-style king cake.)
Chef Patrice Ramain and his wife, Mary, started French Gourmet Bakery in 1973. Ramain grew up in a family who ran a bakery in Loire Valley, France, then he emigrated to Houston. There, he met Mary, a native Houstonian who fortunately also spoke French. The year that they opened French Gourmet Bakery, 1973, was also a big year in the personal sense, as that’s when they got married. Now, daughter Lauren Ramain Montgomery helps run the business, but Patrice and Mary are definitely still active participants. The chef often gets up in the wee hours to start the day’s baking and pastry-making. His wife, who studied at The Glassell School of Art, designed and directed the remodeling of the space, along with Lauren.
“We wanted to add modern design elements while retaining the timeless feel of the space,” said Lauren via a press release. “Mom incorporated feng shui principles and created the color palette, while I focused on implementing modern furnishings.” The overall theme juxtaposes crisp black and white — such as chevron-patterned woven chairs and black beadboard — with splashes of custom-mixed teal and orange, apparent in places such as the host stand and awnings.
French Gourmet Bakery has had its share of expansions and contractions. The Ramains opened their first location in River Oaks, then expanded to additional locations, such as in West University, Post Oak and Memorial, before consolidating back to just River Oaks, albeit in a different location.
In addition to the aforementioned king cakes, other seasonal delights include heart-shaped cookies and cakes for Valentine’s Day, big, ornate, egg-shaped cakes for Easter, pecan and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and Bûche de Noël (French Yule Log cake) for Christmas. Year-round, patrons will find eclairs, cupcakes, brownies and a variety of cookies, including a small selection of gluten-free cookies: Lolo’s Lemon Chewies, Chocolate Chewies, and Coconut Macaroons.
That covers just a fraction of the pastry offerings, and French Gourmet Bakery is also known for its housemade breads. (In fact, we listed it among our Best Bakeries in Houston for Freshly Baked Bread.) The varieties include Tuscan Wheat, Country French Loaf and dinner rolls. French Gourmet Bakery might be best-known for its baguettes, always available fresh.
Some of those breads are put to good use in the café side of the business. For breakfast, there are options that are as easy for grab-and-go as for dine-in, and include sweet options such as cinnamon rolls and danishes, as well as less carb-heavy options such as quiche. Croissants come in both sweet and savory varieties; chocolate and almond for the former, and ham and cheese and egg-filled for the latter.
French Gourmet Bakery might also be offering one of Houston’s best lunch deals; especially appealing for these trying economic times when prices seem to have gone up on everything. It includes three courses and a beverage with a build-your-own half-sandwich as the entrée for $14 or quiche for $15. Alongside comes Caesar salad, a slice of cake and coffee or tea. There’s also chicken salad available by the scoop, half-pound or pound.
With it now being 50 years old, French Gourmet Bakery joins a small, esteemed group of venerable Houston businesses that have been in business for decades and are still treasured by locals. It’s a remarkable feat in the food and beverage industry, which is known as much for quick closings as it is for numerous openings. Just a few examples of the odds-beating group that French Gourmet Bakery joins includes Christie’s Seafood & Steaks (106 years old), Brennan’s of Houston (55 years old) and Three Brothers Bakery (74 years old). In another 25 years, perhaps food news media will be covering how daughter Lauren has shepherded her parents’ legacy to its 75th anniversary.
French Gourmet Bakery is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. The bakery is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
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Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.