Second Rise

At La Colmar Bakery & Bistro, master baker Yannick Brendel makes bread to rival France’s finest.

BY February 1, 2022
La Colmar Returns
(Photography by Brian Tietz)

In 2017, Ana and Yannick Brendel opened La Colmar Bakery & Bistro in the Naples Design District, delighting diners with flaky croissants and rich quiches—but the venture was short-lived. Before its first anniversary, the pair departed the bakery due to unfortunate business circumstances. “Everywhere we went, people would stop us—in the supermarket, in the street—and say, ‘We love your products, where can we find them?’” Yannick recalls. In the years that followed, the Brendels launched gourmet food delivery service Yana Eats and opened the pop-up Bakery E at the Hotel Escalante. But they yearned to return to a brick-and-mortar.

In 2020, when the bakery’s original location fell vacant, the two jumped at the second chance. By October, La Colmar was reborn in the same space where it previously lived, with pastries and bread just as fans remember them.

Named for the village in northeast France where Yannick, a third-generation baker, grew up, La Colmar is informed by his family’s artisan traditions. Each production component is painstakingly curated to replicate authentic French baguettes, loaves and patisserie. A reverse osmosis water filtration system removes contaminants and adjusts the mineral content and pH to emulate the water that flows into Colmar from the Vosges mountains, which Yannick considers ideal for bread baking. The steam oven comes from a 100-year-old French producer who partners with bakers to analyze ideal functionality and precisely calibrate specs.

Yannick sources non-GMO flours with varying protein levels (lower for tender pastries, higher for bread with a hearty chew) from the same mill his grandfather used to create the perfect texture for each of his baked goods. Six years ago, when he started working with the fourth-generation millers, they didn’t think they could export to the U.S. “I said, ‘We sent people to the moon 50 years ago. You’re in France; I’m in the U.S. There’s got to be a way,’” Yannick, who ultimately decided to broker the import himself, recalls. “Everything comes with a challenge. I have a fantastic oven, but there’s no technician here to service it. Now, I’m the technician that has to fix my machine.”

While the machinery and import process can be complicated, dough-making is intentionally simple. Baguettes, for example, start with just four ingredients: flour, water, Mediterranean sea salt and a fermented starter (or mother dough), which acts as a leavening agent. Once combined, the mixture undergoes a long, slow fermentation, typically about 72 hours, to build flavor. “Commercial bread adds an intense amount of yeast to accelerate the process, but the bread will not have flavor. Flavor comes from time,” Yannick says. “We do it the way my grandfather did it. It’s pretty simple, but you have to accept that you’re not in charge—the mother dough is.” Once loaves are shaped, they’re baked in small batches throughout the day.

In addition to excellent, crusty baguettes, La Colmar also produces French-butter-laden pastries, like strawberry cream croissants, caramel sables and beignets. The bakery’s loaves are used in a variety of sandwiches, including a traditional croque monsieur, an open-face vegan tartine, and croissants with chicken salad, smoked salmon and other fillings. Various quiches and omelets round out the breakfast menu, while lunch favors salads (ahi tuna niçoise, raspberry-goat cheese) and heartier plates, like the ropa vieja pie (a nod to Ana’s Dominican heritage), encased in the bakery’s 1,000-layer puff pastry. “Not many people know Ana is behind every savory item we have on the menu,” Yannick says. “She has the most refined palate of anyone I have ever met. She can eat something, describe every ingredient and recreate the dish.”

While the flavors and techniques are a testament to the Brendels’ combined culinary talents, Yannick cites a story from his grandfather when asked why it was so crucial for La Colmar to reopen in Naples. “He was baking during World War II, which was a very tough time because Colmar is near Germany. He always told me, ‘Yannick, a bakery keeps the town together.’ Not everyone goes to church, but everyone goes to the baker,” Yannick says, drawing a connection to his customers who build their routines around a daily croissant or order a special-occasion cake. “What a beautiful responsibility.”

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