I’m not the kind of traveler who goes somewhere new and immediately begins to sniff out Chipotle. I don’t go searching for McDonald’s, or fire up Google Maps to find the nearest Starbucks.
I decided long ago to never be a picky eater. Who wants to live a life without tasting escargot or deep-fried chicken livers when they’re on the menu? Food connects people to the land (and one another); it helps us better understand a place’s history and culture. But I do get why some globe trotters seek out their favorite fast food. There’s comfort in the familiar when you’re in a foreign place, after all.
For me, however, the traveling takes place in my mouth, which isn’t as dirty as it sounds. I enjoy eating like a local. It makes me feel more at ease while trying to blend in as much as possible.
Unfortunately, on a recent study abroad trip to France with USF St. Petersburg, I could only blend in by keeping my mouth shut. I don’t speak French. I can barely pronounce l'addition s'il vous plait. Translation: "Can I get that bill, please?" That’s why I was excited to step foot into the city’s only true American bakery.
It was a mid-June day. The Supremes played on a radio as the summer heat caused buttercream to melt in Paris. French establishments don’t often use air conditioners, which affects how flour rises and butter melts.
St. Louis-born Beth Beji stepped back from an oven. The baker had to get used to no AC, and other differences such as French tastes, when she and her two partners recently opened Stoney Clove Bakery.
“We’ve created our own little bit of America in Paris,” said Beji, who studied marketing at Florida State University. “People come in and the customer service is friendly, and that’s not always the case in Paris.”
Before moving to the capital of France, Beji left FSU midway through her college career to accept a modeling contract in Asia. She then lived in New York City, where she began to work for a man who organized major events like Oscar parties.
“Being in that world of socialites and billionaires really drew me back to my Midwestern, or even Southern roots, of wanting to be in the kitchen baking cookies and cakes,” she said.
Beji decided to attend culinary school in Los Angeles. In the process of learning French pastries, she met the French man whom she’d later marry. The two moved to Paris about eight years ago.
“The more time I spent in Paris,” Beji said, “the more I started to miss the stuff I grew up baking in the kitchen with my grandmother.”
Snickerdoodles aren’t common in the city, so to get the American sweets she craved, Beji (who regularly goes by her maiden name, as is custom for French women) realized she needed to make them herself. She partnered with Philip Andelman — a music video director for artists that include Beyoncé and Taylor Swift who also has a passion for baking — and chef Cassandra Choi — who, Beji says, went to a serious culinary school and possesses a good understanding of the French restaurant industry.
The 4-month-old venture began almost two years ago, though French paperwork, according to Beji, proved difficult to navigate. Their building in Paris’s Second Arrondissement remains under construction, yet the bakery’s interior, crisp and painted pale yellow, transports customers to a classic American kitchen.
While France might be famous for desserts like crème brûlée and macarons, Stoney Clove’s treats have found a niche in layer pies and cakes (two selections that Beji says can’t really be found anywhere else in Paris), as well as puddings. Brownies cost 4 euros each, in case you’re wondering, and a piece of cherry pie costs 6. They aim to frequently change and add to the lineup of sweets.
On my visit, I tried the oatmeal cookie and a lemon bar. I also took a slice of red velvet cake to-go, but it was so good that I finished it before arriving back at my hotel.
“We’ve had a really good reception from locals,” Choi said, “because what we’re doing is unique.”
The bakery sources U.S. ingredients, including sprinkles and baking soda, to make certain menu items. Choi says they’ve tinkered with recipes to match French tastes, too, altering the amount of sugar and flour variety, among other things.
“The French don’t like things to be as sweet as American desserts tend to be. We still get complaints that these are too sweet,” she said.
Beji grew up in the ’80s, and her childhood was filled with throwback snacks like Twinkies and Ding Dongs. Playing to this nostalgia, the bakery serves up its own versions from scratch. S’mores, for example, are baked with house-made brown sugar and graham crackers, which aren’t readily available in Paris.
Although its recipes might be decades old, Stoney Clove is still a young venture (there’s no permanent signage yet because of construction). Plans for the future include an Italian chef who’s set to create gelato ice cream cookie sandwiches.
“Everything we do is stuff I grew up doing,” Beji says. “It’s just your simple American treats.”