Born in France and raised in French Guiana by his farmer parents, Marc Heu initally set out for a career in medicine. “But I wanted to do something I was passionate about, so I went to pastry school,” he said.
Love is the reason he landed in the Twin Cities. He was visiting family in 2012 when he met a Minnesota native. “Soon enough it was time for me to go back home, and I thought, ‘Am I going to regret it if I leave her? What if she is the one?’ ” She was, they married, and Marc and Gaosong Heu figured out a plan.
By 2018 he was training at a world-famous pastry school in Paris, she was studying at Columbia University in New York City and they were planning to open a pastry shop in the Twin Cities.
When Marc Heu Patisserie Paris debuted last August, it transformed the corner of Western and University avenues into a busy destination for decadent éclairs, sublime fruit tarts, absurdly flaky croissants and other classics. Go early. “We sell out, often,” said Heu.
Q: You’re studying at the Ecole Lenôtre in Paris, and your mentor becomes Jeffrey Cagnes, who is executive chef at Stohrer, the oldest pastry shop in France. How did you connect with him?
A: I saw a video of someone piping éclairs, and they were fast, faster than a machine. I wondered, “Who is that guy?” I looked up his place in Paris and I said to my wife, “Let’s go next weekend.” We were waiting in line for pastries, and I saw him in the back, and I don’t know why, but I asked one of the vendors, “Can I talk to the chef?” I introduced myself and told him that I was a big fan of his work, and that I basically wanted to be just like him. He asked what I was doing, and when I told him I was in school, he said, “Why don’t you come and intern with me?” And I almost cried. It was like telling a kid to walk into a toy store and have them pick out whatever they want.
Q: What was that experience like?
A: I was there from July until November. Everything started from there. He taught me everything. I learned more in two days with him than at six months at school.
Q: How did you find yourself back in the Twin Cities?
A: I am very impatient. And impulsive. We decided that I would go back to Minnesota and start something here, even though we would be apart. That wasn’t part of the plan. It was ahead of schedule. But I never stick to the plan.
Q: How did you start out?
A: On Jan. 4th, 2019, I created the business. I started baking cakes at home, because in Minnesota you have that law where you can do that, you just can’t make more than $18,000 in a year. After the first month I already reached half that, so I started looking for a place. People were coming to us and saying, “Hey, we want to help you, if you need a location, or you need a loan.” We found this place. It was empty.
Q: It’s a great setup because it’s very open. Was that a reason you chose it?
A: Yes. I have nothing to hide. People say they love watching us work, and I love seeing them watch us work. At first, it was just online. People would order, and then they would come, ring the bell, and I would have the cake ready and hand the box to them. But in July, here on Western, we have Little Mekong Night Market, so we decided to do a pop-up. It went crazy; it went viral. There was a line down the block probably 45 minutes before we opened. I couldn’t believe it. At first I was, like, “What are they waiting for?” And my wife was, like, “Dude, it’s for you.” The following Monday, people were coming and banging on the door. They thought we were a bakery. It went on like that for the whole week.
Q: That must have been encouraging motivation, right?
A: We decided that we had to do something. We didn’t want to disappoint people or lose the momentum. And it’s always something that I wanted to do. It was very exciting. I really wanted to share what I love with the people. I take nothing for granted. I just work the way my mentor taught me: Be true to the ingredients, and don’t take any shortcuts. He told me, “If you have something good when you start, you’ll have something good at the end.”
Q: How does it feel to be such a sudden success story?
A: My wife tells me that when I go out, I have to dress better, and that I have to make sure that I’ve shaved, because I’m a local celebrity now. I want to show them where I come from, that I’m the son of farmers in the jungle in French Guiana, that I make a living, that I make jobs for people, and people are happy to come here. The first thing that people do when they walk in is they take out their cellphones and start filming. They’re just so happy.
Q: You now have nine employees, and you’ve gone from having a mentor to being one. How does that feel?
A: I’m very grateful, and humbled. I want to share what I’ve learned. Not everyone has the opportunity to study French pastry in Paris. I’m the bridge in between both. I’m doing my very best to teach what I learned, the way they taught me. Most of my staff, they don’t have any background in baking. I’m pretty proud of them. They’re learning faster than I did. In March, I’m going to Chicago because my mentor will be teaching a master class. He asked me, “If you’re away, who will run your kitchen? Your staff? Are they going to be able to do it?” And I said, “Of course. Do you think I got this far on my own?”
Q: Does the case feature daily standards, or does the selection vary?
A: There are always croissants, and the chocolate croissant, and the passion fruit [tart], because people love it. Last week, we had no éclairs, we had L’Opera cake instead. I try to change. I have to find a balance between what people want, and what I want to make, and what I want my staff to learn how to make. Summer is coming. I want to bring in ice cream.
Q: Are there particular pastries that you enjoy making?
A: I love doing everything. For me, there is no nasty task. Everything has importance. I do enjoy the last touch, the finishing touch. That’s when everything takes shape, and I just love it. I also love making laminated dough. At first, I hated it. It’s very messy, there’s nothing glamorous, or fancy, about it. Now I enjoy it, because it’s a key position in the pastry shop. It’s where everything starts. For me, everything is simple. I was disappointed while I was studying at pastry school and working with my mentor, because I thought it was going to be way more complex than what it was. They would show me, and I was, like, “This is it?” It seems so complex, but it’s easy.
Q: It’s great that you’re in Frogtown. How did you choose this location?
A: People say, “Oh, you should be in Edina or some other suburb where all the rich people are.” Obviously, this place was available. When I started baking at home, I was living in Woodbury. But people in Minneapolis, Rochester, Brooklyn Park — I don’t know all the names of all the cities around here — they came from all over and bought a cake from me. This location is obviously very close to I-94, so access is easy for everyone. I don’t want this reserved exclusively for what they call the elite. I just want to share what I love with as many people as I can.
Marc Heu Patisserie Paris
383 W. University Av., St. Paul, 651-666-1464, marcheuparis.com
Open 7 a.m.-noon Tue.-Fri., 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.-Sun.