SPECIALTY TREATS: The chocolate used in these truffles take a long journey from Belgium to the Ozarks.
Business Spotlight: Edible Art
France has a way of inspiring people.
A small purple building with a fancy courtyard in the Rountree Neighborhood is a testament to that. It’s Elle’s Patisserie.
The French-style bakery is home to Elle Feldman and her gourmet pastries and sweet treats – a business birthed unexpectedly by an aesthetician. Feldman turned baker when clients at Lavare Day Spa nearby would rave about her homemade Valentine’s Day gifts.
“It was an overwhelming response to the truffles,” Feldman says. “It just grew from there.”
That was in 2008, out of her home. The next step was leasing commercial kitchen space at The Buzz cafe.
A few years later, a trip to France inspired the thought and decor of Elle’s Patisserie.
The vision launched Feb. 14, 2011. Yes, quite appropriately on Valentine’s Day.
She found there’s a market for high-end desserts – even apart from the south side’s retail hustle and bustle. Elle’s Patisserie has been profitable since the first year in business, proving quality can trump quantity.
“If I were to look for the best location for me, this is not it,” she says in her 170-square-foot kitchen on East Cherry Street slightly off Pickwick Avenue. “However, I love the Old World idea. I love people walking here from home at night. I love that environment. I grew up that way.”
Elle’s Patisserie is tucked behind Imo’s Pizza. Around the corner is a cluster of other quaint businesses: Homegrown Food, B and B Boulangerie, Tea Bar & Bites, Zen 3 Spa and Bodyworks, Pickwick Underground Framing, and Cherry Picker Package and Fare. It’s a commercial block representative of Rountree, where being different is unifying.
“We all share clients and instead of being competitive about it, we decided our clients would be better because of it,” says Feldman, a Rountree resident herself. The grind
Now, Feldman’s cooking skills have given her and husband Jon a crash course as employers.
“I don’t consider myself a businessperson – more common sense and working really hard,” she says. “I’m just a really creative person, and I’m hands on.”
As a result, the hours are long and the help is hard to come by, she says. Jon Feldman begins baking at 5 a.m., and her hours usually run 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
“We have this fun candy-land appearance, but cooking is exhausting,” Feldman says. “We struggle to find people to work in the kitchen.”
Jon Feldman a few years ago converted from work in commercial construction and architecture. She taught him in the kitchen.
“He’s better than me at some of it now,” Elle Feldman says. “I’m the truffle fairy; he’s the king of macarons.”
A box of four macarons runs $9, while a dozen truffles are $31, according to the shop’s e-commerce website. A half-pound bag of salted caramel corn is $10.85. But a high-impression macaron tree, that’s $120.
Truffle sales account for half of the shop’s revenue, which Feldman says came in at $167,000 last year.
“It’s our biggest return on investment,” she says.
Ideally, confectioners charge $1 for every 25 cents of ingredient cost.
“That’s kind of old-fashioned thought, because it’s not really possible anymore,” she says, pointing to heavy whipping cream’s quadrupled pricing.
“I have not quadrupled my prices,” she says. “What kills us is the cost of ingredients.”
It’s a business challenge Feldman’s learning and taking seriously.
“My accountant says our growth is fine,” she says. “It’s not meeting my personal expectations because I don’t take a paycheck. I still work at the spa.”
An easy solution would be to cut corners on quality ingredients, but Feldman says she’s not going there.
“In order to make it faster and make more money, we would be like everything else cranking out things with processed ingredients,” she says. “We definitely need to see a bigger profit margin. It’s edible art.”
Elle’s Patisserie orders specialty ingredients from EuroGourmet Inc. in St. Louis. Sales Executive Stacy Elgin says Callebaut Belgian chocolate always is on Feldman’s monthly order.
“It makes its journey from Belgium to New Jersey, where it goes through customs and from there, it’s shipped to our warehouse,” Elgin says.
EuroGourmet has about 20 other Springfield-area clients, including Hickory Hills, Highland Springs and Twin Oaks country clubs, as well as Chateau on the Lake, College of the Ozarks and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson.
Elgin says chocolate is among the more steady pricing, but as commodities go, other items are volatile.
“Vanilla beans are crazy expensive now,” she says. “A couple years ago, vanilla beans were $15-$20 for a quarter pound, now it’s about $60. It’ll come back down.”
According to the Commodity Food Price Index by Mundi, pricing spiked in June. While the index has come down, October’s prices are up about 7 percent the last year.
This year, the Feldmans rebranded the business logo and website. She’s thinking and talking more like a businessperson. One idea she can’t shake is expanding with baking utensils, tools and specialty ingredients available for purchase.
“That would be an interesting retail option for me, if I had more space,” Feldman says. “I’ve got lots of ideas. I just need to get a few hours of sleep at night.”