Loic Autret figures he’s on his second or third life, which partly explains why he’s so over-the-top about the bakery/bar/cafe he’s about to open in downtown West Palm near the corner of South Dixie Highway and Hibiscus Street.
Tours of duty in Iraq and Cambodia left the French former paratrooper and minesweeper scarred with memories of long hospital stays, but ebullient about his transformation and vision for the eatery he quite purposefully named for himself.
“You need to put a face on it, to know the chef,” he said. “You need to feel the love of that person who made the cafe. If you feel like we are friends, you will always enjoy!”
He’s quick with a hug and if he pecks you on the cheek, calm down big boy, it’s a French thing.
He learned his trade at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach, Barton G. catering in Miami, Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood and at the Green Market and his first cafe, in Delray Beach.
“Baking is my profession but excellence is my job,” he says, as sincere as he is motivated. “I will be the French Tony Robbins,” he said about the uber motivational speaker, possibly joking, possibly not.
The cafe has 22-foot ceilings, smoked mirrors, and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook a tree-shaded passageway and a broad South Dixie sidewalk. The chairs are simple, the tabletops, marble. An accent wall is papered with a colorful heliconia design. “It’s industrial a little bit, with a little bit of chic.”
The ovens and other baking machinery are easily visible to customers, even to people who want to peer in from outside to watch the staff baking in the middle of the night.
Loic and his wife Pauline plan to serve sandwiches, salads, beer and wine, along with coffee, pastry and breads.
There’s no scent of baked goods in the place yet. Between final touches and permits, it could take two weeks to a month before Loic fires up the ovens.
But it will smell good soon. No, not good. He doesn’t want to be good or even great. “I want to be excellence,” he said. “For me, baking is art.”
“Simple but quality” is the theme. “Everything I make from scratch.”
Loic hails from France’s Champagne region. He father served in the military in Africa and Germany.
Loic, now lean and fit, was chubby as a youth. He joined the French army to prove he was strong and went into its paratrooper/de-miner unit, serving in Iraq in 1991 and later with United Nations troops in Cambodia.
He prefers not to talk much about his injuries. In the army some people fall, some go up, he explained. He’s been going up, with his American wife, his new language and his second career.
He wants everyone who comes to his cafe to be his friend, he said, and more than that: “I want it to be something people will always remember…. I want to make people happy. I want people to come here to be happy.”
Have a West Palm Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-820-4703.