French sweets for the UES
The “hell to heaven” story behind Miss Madeleine, newest addition to the neighborhood
Miss Madeleine, a bright little shop on East 82nd Street, is bringing authentic French pastries to the Upper East Side. Opened last week, the newest neighborhood addition is the result of years of dreaming and planning by husband and wife Gerald and Peggy Huteau. Named after the small French madeleine cake — their specialty — Miss Madeleine will also serve a number of other traditional baked goods, all handmade by Peggy, including baguettes and what Gerald calls “the best croissant in all of Manhattan.”
“You will find cakes, you will find macarons — all the French pastries you will find exactly as in Paris,” he said. “We’re going to have apple turnover, chocolate eclair, and French pies.”
The shop will also sell canelés, mini-pastries that were the signature creation of the store’s previous tenant, Canelé by Celine, where the couple worked for more than a year before taking over the lease. Celine Legros hired Peggy as a baker in 2015, and when Legros needed a new general manager, Peggy recommended her husband.
“Celine started the business three years ago and she decided to stop because she wanted to focus only on catering business,” Gerald said. “She asked me if I would be interested in taking over the lease and at the same time it was a great opportunity because I was looking for a store and we said yes.”
Gerald, born in Guadeloupe, and Peggy, who was born in France, met over a decade ago while working for the social security administration in Guadeloupe — he as a computer scientist and she as an administrator.
“We both got the passion about the food industry and the food business,” Gerald said of their decision to change careers. “My wife is passionate about creating new recipes and creating something very amazing. We’ve got the same passion for that and both got the same passion for New York City.”
The beginning of the Huteaus’ journey, however, was not such a seamless transition. After being denied a visa for their family three times by the U.S. Embassy, Gerald came to New York City by himself in 2014 to set up what he hoped would be their own bakery, leaving Peggy and their five children in Paris. The location a broker had procured in East Harlem, however, was less than ideal: it was too large, at nearly 2,000 square feet, and presented a string of maintenance issues.
“One day the boiler of the building exploded in my basement,” Gerald said. “It was like a swimming pool.”
After investing $150,000 in rent and repairs, he was unable to maintain the business and was forced to close after just one week. Gerald took various managerial jobs with Insomnia Cookies, Just Salad and By Suzette to keep a steady income. Finally, after months of paperwork, and replacing passports that were lost in the mail, Peggy obtained a visa for herself and their youngest daughter in 2015 and joined Gerald.
“It was a very dark period,” Gerald said. “When I got my family, my wife and daughter here, I was very happy.”
Peggy soon began working for Celine and things started to look up.
“I would tend to say that we came back from hell to heaven, because it was really difficult,” Gerald said. “Sometimes you doubt and you wonder if you’re doing the right thing because it’s something you have to take serious because there’s kids.”
Now, with their whole family together again and settled into their new life in New York City, Gerald and Peggy are happy they continued to fight for their dream.
“We are very proud of that,” he said. “What you can see here, it’s the result of a long battle.”
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