Open Door Policy
New book reveals how Isabelle et Vincent make dreams come true
Isabelle et Vincent is a quintessential French—make that Alsatian—bakery on the Post Road that is every bit as alluring as an Édith Piaf love song. If your tastes run to sensory pleasures, this shop will tantalize with freshly baked croissants and baguettes; stunning cakes made to be eaten, not just looked at; dazzling fruit tarts; and sinful chocolate confections. Did I mention the superb French coffee? There’s a table for gathering, under a clock that doesn’t work, and outside, a Citroën deux chevaux, whose goggle-eyed headlamps seem to regard the world as it goes by with the same equanimity that customers inside regard their next meal.
The bakery’s namesakes, Isabelle and Vincent Koenig, decided in May 2007 to uproot themselves from their native Strasbourg, France, where they ran a successful family bakery, and set up virtually the same shop—with the same, impeccable French equipment—here in the U.S. They did this having never been to America before. Nor did they speak English. And they had two children. Plus, their French families objected—strenuously. Uh, allo?
When the couple came over to have a look at Westport and Fairfield in January 2007, Isabelle recalls, “We saw the door and pushed on it.” At the same time, the couple’s families shut the door on their old life—with a bang, Isabelle says, her blue eyes saddening at the memory of a rift that has healed somewhat over time. By July, having settled on Fairfield as the place they wanted to be, the couple searched for workspace, but few places were on the market and even fewer landlords were willing to consider what the couple wanted—a 20-year lease. Were the Koenigs dreaming?
No. They found a landlord who “opened to us a small door,” Isabelle says. “Lucky for us, he likes French people. After a glass of wine, he said, ‘Yes.’” And so, the Koenigs’ adventure began.
Their two children, Caroline and Philippe, are as well adjusted as you might imagine, with two single-minded parents who so obviously love what they do and each other. “We take a right decision,” Isabelle continues, her smile infectious. “Almost immediately, we found success here.”
Eschewing the American propensity for turning an idea into a franchise, the Koenigs’ goal is to be happy—not necessarily rich. “We are artisans,” Vincent says. “Ours is a small work but important. And in a very good location. Fairfield is a big town but at the same time a small town.” He opens a slim book with pictures of cakes—fantasies, more like—he has created for special occasions. “I never do the same cake twice. I have no menu. What I create comes from the wish of the person.”
To accomplish this, Vincent starts work at 2:30—in the morning. “My baking is my passion, my heart,” he adds, reaching for a baguette baked that morning and cutting off a piece with masterful sangfroid. “You see this? The holes, they are all different sizes. That is good bread.”
Still, why would a family leave the good life in France and risk everything to come here? “We are all bakers in my family but with every generation, each one sold the old business and started something new,” Vincent says of the business’s seven-generation legacy. “We decided to come to this country—the nicest country in the world. Here you can touch perfection.”
The duo is tentatively to be featured in Green Card Stories (Umbrage Books), to come out in November, about 50 immigrants who moved to the U.S. and succeeded. Meanwhile, customers drift in, greeted by name, their favorite things already being prepared. Many speak French. Many gather at the table under the clock that doesn’t work. All look satisfied, content, happy.
The logo for the shop, created by Isabelle and displayed on the door, consists of a small i intertwined with a capital V. It is attractive, red, and very French. All you have to do is push on the door, as Isabelle and Vincent did, to be transported into a warm, inviting world where, if you slow down enough, you, too, will find perfection.