On a bright and sunny morning on a tree-lined street in San Mateo, Francois Bernaudin and his teenage daughter are already busy behind the bakery window at Bonjour Bakehouse. The ovens have been firing since before dawn, filling the case with chewy chocolate chip and rainbow sprinkle cookies, as well as airy apricot and berry scones. The espresso machine wakes up with a gasp, ready for customers. A tired dad, an energized toddler, and a big floppy bunny are first up. “Are you going to have a cookie for breakfast?” this hard-hitting reporter asks the toddler. “Yes,” she confirms seriously. "Bonne journée! See you tomorrow!” Bernaudin beams as he hands fresh pastries through the open window.
Bernaudin might be one of the most influential pastry chefs in Silicon Valley who you haven’t met yet, as the man behind the cookies at La Boulange and Doughbies. Originally from France, he grew up in the wine country of Bordeaux, starting in restaurants at age 16. In his early twenties, the Ritz-Carlton brought him to SF. During the aughts, he crafted all of the macarons, choux, and tarts for La Boulange, the rapidly scaling bakery later acquired by Starbucks. For a couple of years, he baked in Tokyo and Vancouver, where he opened a charming creperie, unfortunately during the recession. But his wife works in tech, and both craving sunshine, they moved back to the Bay, this time with two young daughters in tow.
Bernaudin signed on as head chef of Doughbies, the same-day delivery service once hailed as the “Uber for cookies.” Which crumbled in 2018, even though it was profitable. “If you don’t know or didn’t order cookies from @Doughbies, were you even in tech?” one Twitter user mused just this year. In a startup experience many may relate to, Bernaudin says it was wildly fun until he burnt out: the startup went from making $27,000 to $250,000 a month, the equivalent of about 15,000 cookies by the end. “People are extremely nostalgic,” Bernaudin says. “It was unique to provide cookies totally on demand. The products were as fresh as could be. And the marketing was top notch. It was a full experience.”
Bernaudin launched Bonjour Bakehouse in 2019, never leaving the kitchen in San Mateo (now shared by a few other bakers, including Saltwater Bakeshop). For diehard Doughbies fans, rest assured it’s a similar style of cookies, meaning classic American drop cookies, with crisp edges and chewy centers. But there are certain French refinements, and Bernaudin says the difference is the quality of ingredients, which are local and organic. The most popular are the rainbow cookies rolled in sprinkles and the chocolate chip with a pinch of sea salt. His favorite is the snickerdoodle, which packs in toasty brown butter, cinnamon sugar, and crushed toffee. His daughter prefers the gluten-free chocolate with a fudgy, brownie-like texture. He’s also known for scones, which are exceptionally airy and light, and folded with tangy apricots and jammy berries from the farmers’ market. Plus truly adorable holiday specials, from spring shamrocks to spooky pumpkins.
All those are packed in compostable boxes with cute stickers, which can even be customized with different messages and logos, for fun gifts for friends, family, and remote coworkers. In addition to quality ingredients and sustainable packaging, the other thing Bonjour Bakehouse aims to do differently is treat employees like family. Bernaudin says he pays higher wages and time off, and several of his loyal bakers decided to return to the team. They only work weekdays and they close up shop by mid afternoon, so everyone gets to go home and see their kids.
His daughters are now both teenagers, Louann (15 years old) and Elea (13). His wife Ingrid works full time, so Francois is the parent who picks up his girls from swim practice and cooks dinners. Reflecting back on his first small business, the creperie in Vancouver, compared to this second round, with Bonjour Bakehouse, the chef says, “Working my ass off when they were young was the biggest mistake I ever made. You don’t get those years back.” The cookie fans in San Mateo have been begging him to open the bakery window on Saturday mornings. He finally agreed to do it, only because school is out for the summer — and Louann wants to join him. This does mean that Ingrid and Elea are now responsible for shopping the farmers’ market and making good peach decisions, the pastry chef notes with a raised brow.
Selling rainbow cookies to toddlers and their bunnies kind of sounds like a fun summer job. Does Louann think that what her dad does for a living is cool? Is he like, a cool cookie dad?
“I’m a tough cookie dad,” Francois corrects.
Louann confirms, “A tough cookie dad. For sure. He’s strict.”
Bonjour Bakehouse is open for walk ups to the bakery window, and available for pickup in San Mateo, local delivery to Burlingame and Hillsborough, and national shipping. And the cookies and scones are available for neighborhood pickup across the Bay Area through Pastel.