Let Them Eat Cake
By Piers Gladstone
In a large unassuming redbrick building in the north of Moscow, 5 kilometres from the third ring, a very French revolution is taking place. A 500 square metre state-of-the-art traditional bakery, “Serge”, has recently been set up by three Frenchmen to meet the ever-increasing demands of the top-end hotel and restaurant industry in Moscow.
“J’aime le pain”, states Serge Innocenti, the Master Baker, as he stands proudly next to his gleaming 9 tonne French deck oven that is crucial to baking thick-crust loaves, such as Pain de Campagne. Bakers in pristine whites are getting ready to start production, while a gaggle of cleaners finish off scrubbing down some baking racks. Despite the fact that Serge has been working 100 hours per week and has been up all night baking, he is full of energy. “I started baking in a patisserie in 1966 when I was 14. I started baking bread in 1977. It’s been a long time!”
Serge has been in Moscow for eleven years, working for the Hyatt Hotel, until he decided the time was right to go it alone, driven by the desire “to truly develop and promote a new product in Moscow – fresh bread.” Having teamed up with Henri Guyard and Olivier Fenton, Serge left the Hyatt with his protege and now production manager, Sergei.
“I first met Serge in July last year,” explains Henri Guyard, the President of Serge and Partner of PHG Investments, a private investment fund for Russian start-ups such as Serge. “We came to the full definition of the project in October and then put the financing together and found the premises. Work started on the building in February and by April we were already in testing mode. We planned very carefully in advance the layout of the bakery, and it actually took longer to do all the paperwork to get the authorization than to equip the building to our specifications.”
Serge Innocenti, Master Baker
So did they find the legendary Russian red tape a genuine problem? “There is a lot of red tape, yes; but it is manageable”, Henri says with an untroubled air. He has successfully been doing business in Russia for nine years, and it is evident that he knows how to get results efficiently and as trouble-free as possible. “There was one crazy situation though”, Henri adds with a smile. “At the last moment we were required to build a separate room for the storage and cleaning of eggs. Still, one good thing about Russia is that if you decide you need something done like this, the builders come in, work twenty-four hours a day, and in a matter of one week we had a new room.”
The bakery does not just produce French bread, but also a whole range of breads, from Italian Ciabatta and Foccacia, to Russian malted breads. Flour and ingredients are imported from countries such as France, Belgium, Finland and Canada. With the restaurant market becoming more and more sophisticated and demanding, Serge makes speciality breads with ingredients such as olives, sundried tomatoes, onions, cheese and herbs. They also produce a range of close to twenty different rolls, which is crucial for the hotel market. For large clients, they can also develop bespoke products according to the client’s recipes or wishes. Not content with offering the widest range of breads in Moscow, Serge also produces pastries such as pain aux chocolat and croissant, as well as gateaux, tarts and chocolates. In total, there are more than 80 products available, being made seven days a week.
At the beginning of June Serge started commercial production, and in less than one month it already has such names as The Hyatt, Novotel, Potel et Chabot, La Maree and Correas as clients. This is not surprising considering that Serge has a huge competitive advantage over the other companies in the market; “We compete mostly against frozen products brought from abroad,” explains Henri, “so we are something really new to the market. Our price is fully in line with the frozen products, but we have fresh products. Plus, our product range is much more extensive – for the hotels this is very important. It will not be easy for another company to move into this market after us.”
Serge himself is well known in the restaurant industry (he has even appeared on Russian television), which helped get the first clients for the bakery: “They know me and they know that I make good bread. I know my work from A-Z and I deliver.” Already the bakery is making waves in the industry, and while I talk with Serge, a glamorous lady in a pink suit arrives for a tasting. “They hear about us and they come”, Serge says with a smile.
At the moment, Serge produces 5000 pieces a day, employs 25 people, and runs two vans; but in the near future they expect to have a staff of 60 and anything up to 10 vans. They are, however, in no hurry to cash-in, instead concentrating on getting everything in place to expand at a sensible pace. “We are still in the start-up phase, working at less than 20% of our capacity”, Henri explains. “We don’t count on chance to perform. We don’t want to have anything go wrong with clients like Hyatt. Maybe we will take three months more, but it is necessary.”
There is no doubt that the top-end restaurants, hotels, outside catering and food stores of Moscow will all be well served in the future. Where Napoleon failed, Serge will succeed.
Craft baking by hand
Serge Bakery: +7 (095) 937 2742, 937 2743
PHG Investments: +7 (095) 933 8354,