Last year I wrote in this space about our annual pilgrimage to Le Petit Prince, a tiny French bakery in a nondescript strip mall on the edge of Birmingham, and when we recently visited on their second-busiest day of the year, the Didierjean family graciously allowed me take photos (it helped that some very nice new customers had been telling them they heard about the bakery here). In this photo, Juney is picking out her Easter bunny while Gram drools over the almond meringues.
Marcel Didierjean is the master baker whose skill and training seem like something that should be lost to time, or at least misplaced here in Southeastern Michigan, where too often it seems like the population prefers what is new, and cheap, and (in the case of small businesses) a national chain. This is just down 14 Mile from an intersection where extra police were recently deployed to control traffic at the opening of a Sonic Drive-In. Sometimes Marcel gets up at 2-3:00 a.m. to start baking, and stays as late as 8-9:00 p.m. In addition to the sweets, Le Petit Prince offers a full array of French baked goods including the best baguettes in Detroit, brioches, croissants, and a pain au chocolat with almond paste that will blow your mind. Marcel's wife Yvette and one of his three sons are usually there to manage the shop. Two of the sons are artists whose work is on the walls, and looking at these exquisite hand-painted bunnies, roosters, and squirrels, it's pretty clear that the whole family is pretty talented. The Didierjeans brought the molds with them from the shop they once ran in the south of France and make the chocolate themselves (and Marcel trained in Switzerland for two years on chocolate, so you know it's good stuff):
We bought a few of these for my niece:
We would never have known about this place if we hadn't been neighbors with a girl who was dating one of the sons, and when we had them over for drinks and he described the bakery I knew I'd go check it out in the next few days and I'm so glad we did. This year I let the girl pick out the Easter bunny, and she chose this one, because she has already dubbed this The Year of the Wagon:
I also bought one to bring to my sister's house for Easter with my family (our dad repairs antique cars for a living) and my son picked this one out for his Grandpa G. Sadly, no one had the nerve to crack her open to find all the secret little molded chocolates waiting inside. She remains intact.
Here are a few more of their finest examples. Take note also of the beautiful gateaux de soiree in the display case below them in the forms of tiny pigs, mice, frogs, chicks. It is impossible to leave the shop without one of these little treats, which always provide me with a silent drive back down I-75.
On Good Friday, Gregory Didierjean (who works in the auto industry and had the day off) was in the bakery to help the family, and I was able to get a family portrait in the shop with all three sons:
Every time I visit there is some talk about the shop's future. Obviously, a business like this must be supported by people who appreciate fine craftsmanship and the passion that goes into these products. But the Didierjeans also make it easy to appreciate the family nature of their business. Yvette is always there to greet her customers with a warm smile and some words in French. It was hard to pull Marcel away from his work for this photo, but after his sons pestered him a bit he finally came out in his baker's clothing. In the hope of keeping this treasure open for future generations of metro Detroiters, I know I am not alone in selfishly hoping his passion for this grueling work does not soon wane, at least not until after one of those young men is ready to follow him.
Le Petit Prince is located at 124 W. 14 Mile Rd., Birmingham, MI; I believe they open at 7:00 a.m. and are closed on Mondays. There are traditional French pastries and breads every day and seasonal chocolates and sweets for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Easter, but please be aware that like any honorable Frenchmen, the Didierjeans close their shop for an extended period in late summer (sometimes as long as two months) when they return to the south of France and presumably enjoy some time off. In the summer, it's best to call (248-644-7114). It makes a great stop before (or after) a trip to the Cranbrook grounds and gardens and museums!
All photos copyright sweet juniper media, ltd. 2010.