Friday, March 13, 2009

~France in Tucson

One of my Favorite places to go for a Sunday brunch. It's like France dropped into my little Tucson neighborhood.Such a sweet place & with great food.

On their own
For the owners of La Baguette and Ghini's, hard work and tenacity are the ingredients for success.
Rising to the occasion
Tucson, Monday, October 19, 1998 - Tucson Citizen
By Lorrie Cohen, Tucson Citizen Business Writer

Whether it's quiche, a croissant or an éclair, the father and daughter team of Norbert Alex Satta and Coralie Satta-Williams gives you a taste of it all - with panache. The duo have turned their passion for cooking and baking into two businesses, La Baguette Bakery and Ghini's French Caffe, in the Safeway shopping center at North Campbell Avenue and East Prince Road.

Although the restaurants have separate entrances, there are no walls separating them inside, so customers are free to browse in either area. La Baguette serves more than 100 types of bread and about 200 pastries, such as a dark and white chocolate cake with mousse. The pastry selection has increased thanks to pastry chef Angelo Ferro, who recently moved here from Paris.

Satta called his daughter Ghini when she was a young child. Neither Satta nor his daughter remember what Ghini means, or if it even has a meaning. Nevertheless, Ghini's is an upscale French cafe that severs more than 60 items including eggs Provencale (eggs fried with tomato, garlic and thyme), grilled Portobello mushroom and smoked Gouda, and salade niáoise.

Many dishes are from southern France and therefore are influenced by Italy, Satta-Williams said. French accents and words are heard at both businesses. In one corner, a young mother feeds her toddler toast while teaching hear to say a simple French greeting: "Say, 'Bonjour, comment ca va?' " (Hi, how goes it?) If the questions were directed to both Satta and his daughter, the answer would be "trés bien" - very good.

But it wasn't always that way. Satta worked at many jobs, including his grandfather's bakery while growing up in Marseille, France. Hearing about opportunities in this country, Satta moved with his wife, Marierose, and young daughter to Lexington, Ky., in 1970 to open a pool construction business. "We found it hard to live and do business when the ground is cold and hard six months out of the year," said Satta, 51. In 1981 he moved his family to Tucson - the land of sunshine and pools aplenty.

Owners of bakery, cafe have recipe for success

Unfortunately, so are pool companies. "The competition was too fierce, and we had to do something else," he said. That something else went back to his roots. One day that year, Satta was sitting with a friend, an owner of a Tucson bakery. That friend suggested Satta open a shop. "He said to me: 'You can do this, so do it,' "Satta said.

After scouting Tucson, Satta found an empty store in the Safeway strip mall. With $40,000 down, he purchased the basic equipment and began baking from 2 to 6 a.m. Someone else would do the selling during the day while Satta worked at his day job, managing a Circle K. Satta kept this schedule for about six months, averaging three or four hours of sleep per night.

It was too much. "I knew I could not go on like this. I had to take a chance and jump right in," he said. He gave up his day job and spent 18 hours per day baking bread and waiting on customers. But it was not enough. Satta began knocking on restaurant and resorts doors and selling wholesale. It was profitable, but deadly.

Satta didn't have the manpower or the equipment to mass produce. "We were going crazy," he said. So crazy that in 1993 he went to the doctor after his family thought he was having a heart attack from stress. "I was OK but was told to take it easy for a year or so," her said. Satta-Williams, who was helping her father, called the wholesalers and told them the bad news: They had to find another baker. "This is not a good idea in business to do this, but we had no choice," Satta said. Without the wholesale part of the business, revenue began to drop.

In 1995 Satta decided to open a second location at 6470 N. Oracle Road to increase revenue. But the timing was bad. At the same time, two other bakeries and Reay's Ranch Market opened in the area. "Everything was wrong," Satta-Williams said. The second location closed last year.

With revenue dropping further, Satta decided to start the wholesale side of the business again. Despite disappointing his wholesale customers years earlier, he had success. Wholesale makes up about 40 percent of the business. Clients include The Westin La Paloma, the Viscount Hotel and the Holiday Inn Downtown.

This time, though, Satta did things differently. He had already taken over the shop next door and doubled his space. He bought bigger ovens and better and more equipment. He also doubled the baking staff from two to four.

In the meantime, Satta-Williams was also deciding the fate of her business. The business originally opened as a deli in 1992 after the yogurt shop next door to La Baguette closed. The owners sold Satta-Williams the equipment for about $4,000.

One stumbling block was getting a loan, which was almost impossible for a young woman with no collateral. "It took a while, but I got one unsecured loan for about $4,000 at 25 percent. A ripoff, but it was the only way I could get capital," said Satta-Williams, 29, who also took extra cash from credit cards. "I would not suggest this to anyone, but at that time it was the only way."

By 1996 her revenue was dropping, and it was time to make changes or close. "I was feeling sorry for myself, and one day I found a scribbled note in my car from my dad telling me to keep on going and try harder," said Satta-Williams, who has kept the note.

She changed the format from a deli to an upscale cafe. She opened Saturdays and Sundays for breakfast. She added catering. "It was like a revelation. I wasn't afraid to try something different. I tried everything to see what worked and what didn't," she said.

Most of her ideas worked. One that didn't was opening in the evenings. The cafe sat empty because there was no traffic.

Although they now feel secure in their respective businesses, father and daughter admit they are keeping an eye on the dozens of competitors who have come into Tucson in the past several years, including major grocery chains.

"When people are there (at the grocery store) they pick up a bread. They don't want to make another stop," Satta said. "But it's worth it. Our is fresh and made by hand with authentic recipes.


Stephanie said...

Hi! I just found your blog via The Paris Apartment and I love it! I'm going have to catch up on your previous posts soon. I love the design of the blog.


Mélanie said...

I've found you thanks Claudia. You are lucky to have a little bit of France near by you. I wish I could have a little slice of America or Mexico