As Lake Charles slowly recovers from two hurricanes, journalists from outside of the area occasionally make the effort to cover the story. In a recent feature titled “Proof Of Concept: New Bakeries Rise In Lake Charles After Hurricanes Laura And Delta,” a reporter for Lafayette’s The Current, Nathan Stubbs, relates the stories of “a new crop of culinary artisans in Lake Charles” who are focused on wheat products.
Three businesses are profiled. Cary Sole’s Helen St. Bakehouse has been a wholesale operation for two years in the city. At the Pasta Lab, which had a soft opening in October, Michael Gardner sells fresh and dried pastas on McNeese Street next to the Crying Eagle Brewery. The third business covered in the story is Rebekah Hoffpauir’s The Bekery; it’s a little less new than the others, having opened in 2016.
These businesses, says Stubbs, sell “handcrafted wares” to “a small town market that has traditionally been lacking in many cosmopolitan amenities.”
The idea of such commerce is advocated by Ben Herrera, owner of 121 Artisan Bistro: “There’s been a huge void [in wholesale baked goods]. I have always tried to find someone who was a baker who was going to go down that road.” At 121, the braided Italian loaf from Helen St. Bakehouse is the house bread. Herrera plans to reopen Calla restaurant and open the upscale but casual The James 710. He will feature Helen St. bread and Pasta Lab pasta at all three locations.
If you are active on social media, you may have seen references to Helen St. Bakehouse’s Japanese milk bread, which Stubbs says is “a rich buttery sliced loaf similar to brioche.”
The Pasta Lab is offering traditional straight and shaped pastas alongside flavored and alternative wheat options, select olive oils and Italian hard cheeses.
Both Helen St. Bakehouse and The Bekery are currently working toward moving to larger facilities that are more capable of wholesale work.
Traditionally, in Lake Charles, bakeries have focused on making custom cakes and selling sweets. Herrera says most Lake Charles restaurants buy much of their sandwich bread and poboy loaves from out-of-town providers like Leidenheimer’s in New Orleans. Herrera says that in the past, local bakeries have been unable to keep up with local restaurants’ demand for bread.
A seasoned entrepreneur, Herrera says the boom that’s been fueled by LNG commerce is the “reason the economy was growing and will continue to grow even though we’ve had a huge setback.” Still, with many Lake Charles restaurants remaining shuttered, “it’s rough,” Herrera says. “There’s going be quite a lot that aren’t going to reopen, especially the independents.”
121 Artisan Bistro reopened nearly a month after Laura hit. It’s done brisk business ever since.
Right after Delta, Rebekah Hoffpauir reopened The Bekery and found her venue immediately packed. By the end of the first day, she’d sold all of the venue’s prepared baked items, including quiche, pastries and 300 of its specialty croissants. “It was crazy busy,” Hoffpauir said. At the time of The Current’s story, she still didn’t have internet, and wasn’t able to compare present sales with past records. She wanted to go ahead and open because she had no idea when her internet would be restored. (That’s been a common refrain in SWLA in the last few months.)
Hoffpauir wanted to open a bakery where she could sell the breads, croissants and pastries she’d seen during a high school trip to Italy. “There was nothing like that in Lake Charles, and so I wanted to make it myself.”
Before Laura came, Hoffpauir went through a week-long consultation with French pastry chef Francois Brunet. “I’ve always known how to make croissants, and they were delicious and people loved them,” she told The Current. “But I wanted to figure out how to get them perfect like I’ve seen and had before.”
When Sole, of Helen St. Bakehouse, was a kid, the only bread he ate was Evangeline Maid “without the crust.” Later on, he just “went down the rabbit hole [with baking].”
“Now,” he says, “I know so much of what good bread can be.” These days, he makes his demi-baguette dough with an 18-hour French pre-fermented starter.
The space he is using for his catering business in the back of Cash & Carry is too small for his convection ovens. It was supposed to be temporary. He recently reached an agreement to move into a new building. But he says the hurricane may have pushed construction for the project back more than a year.
“I kind of enjoy the challenge,” he told The Current.
LSU Group Promotes Civil Discourse
At LSU, political science and economics major Rehm Maham just founded a chapter of BridgeUSA, an organization meant to promote civil political discourse among college students. The group also has chapters at such universities as Notre Dame, Arizona State and UC-Berkeley.
Maham decided to start the chapter after he went to an honors college event where professors spoke about the importance of civility in political discourse. “That idea that civility is important resonated with me,” Maham said.
After the professors spoke about the BridgeUSA chapter at Arizona State, Maham spoke to LSU Honors College dean Jonathan Earle about starting a chapter at LSU.
“In our national political discourse, civility is not the norm,” Maham said. “Anyone who watched the first presidential debate can recognize that. I don’t think it’s good for our politics, much less our country. BridgeUSA agrees and is actively working to change that.”
Nate Wiggins, a political science major who joined the group, said, “Bridge is not an echo chamber. We take in all kinds of people. We take in all people who are interested in hearing out the other side.
“In an echo chamber, you don’t have to be on your feet. [On the other hand] if you’re talking about issues with people who don’t agree with you, it forces you to better articulate yourself.”
Maham said engaging with those one disagrees with is the first step in having a productive discussion about politics. However, he admits that once people do engage with one another, the whole thing can quickly devolve into a screaming match in which each person is simply trying to “own the other person.”
“We are not a debate club,” he said. “We’re trying to go a step beyond the divisive rhetoric that happens in our political conversations here in the United States and actually talk about policies people want to see implemented — not just repeat catch phrases.”
The LSU group presently has a membership of eight students and is meeting one night a week. The write-up on the new group appeared in the Nov. 10 edition of LSU’s The Reveille.
Christmas Favorites Return
In these days when even old programming is often streamed at high-dollar prices, it’s nice to know there are a few Christmas classics you can get just by tuning in to your Louisiana Public Broadcasting station.
The following shows are on the schedule this year:
• A Charlie Brown Christmas (Sunday, Dec. 13, 6:30 pm). This is the first time the show will air on PBS.
• Christmas With The Tabernacle Choir (Monday, Dec. 14, 8 pm). The 17th annual holiday special features Kelli O’Hara and Richard Thomas.
• Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas With Vanessa Williams (Tuesday, Dec. 15, 7 pm). Williams performs all of Ella Fitzgerald’s Christmas songs.
• Christmas At Belmont (Tuesday, Dec. 15, 8 pm). Students from Nashville’s Belmont University along with Michael W. Smith and CeCe Winans perform holiday songs and festive tunes.
• Evening At The Governor’s Mansion (Thursday, Dec. 24, 7 pm). This year, COVID-19 knocked out the annual show from the Governor’s Mansion. You can still celebrate with these broadcasts from 2019 and 2018. Features Kix Brooks and John Boutte.
• Call The Midwife Holiday Special (Friday, Dec. 25, 8 pm). I’m not familiar with this one. But I’m told it chronicles the celebration of Christmas in the Nonnatus House. The show, we are told, is marked by unexpected twists and turns.
• United In Song: A Celebration Of America’s Resilience (Thursday, Dec. 31, 7 pm). Watch this show to get your resilience mindset ready for the new year.