Taste of Essex Street Market: Pain d'Avignon
A historic culinary destination on the Lower East Side, Essex Street Market is home to more than 20 independent merchants. This series features the characters that make up the bustling corner of Delancey and Essex Street.
At Pain d'Avignon, bread is made the old-fashioned way.
Step in and you'll see that this cozy, warmly lit shop at Essex Street Market is no ordinary bakery or boulangerie, as the owners would like to call it.
The three owners of Pain d'Avignon, who all hail from Europe, first started their bread-making journey in Cape Cod, Massachusetts more than 20 years ago. In 2000, they moved to NYC and based their wholesale business in Long Island City. In 2010, they started their retail experience at Essex Street Market.
Stocked full of breads, pastries, and coffee, Pain d'Avignon pays meticulous attention to every corner of the shop, from the making of bread to the wood used to hold the bread. All of its offerings are based on traditional European recipes and techniques, where the dough is cut and shaped by hand and most breads are made 'en couche' to maintain shape and moisture while fermenting.
We spoke to Sina Clark, Pain d'Avignon's Director of Retail Operations in NYC about why Essex Street Market is the perfect retail location for Pain d'Avignon.
Owner: Ulikes Fehmiu, Tole Zurovac, Bane Stamenkovic
Business name: Pain d'Avignon
Market start: February 2010
Product sold: A wide variety of French breads, Viennoiserie, and coffee
What is your specialty? Tell us the story of the product.
Flour, water, and salt.
Being creative using just these three basic ingredients can be challenging sometimes. This is why we constantly focus on “how” to combine these same basic ingredients in order to make something new and unique, something that will make us and our customers happy and remind us of the aromas and flavors of our childhoods.
In addition to maintaining the time-consuming old-world techniques we are trying to adopt to the fast paced world we leave in today without compromising the quality of our breads and the dedication and commitment to our trade. We use a long fermentation process. We cut the dough by hand, shape them by hand and score them by hand. It is a lost art that we are dedicated to working within.
What is your favorite memory at the market?
What has really struck me is the community here. The sense of community, not just between vendor and customer, but also between vendors is unmistakable. We collaborate with each other and help each other out. Essex Street Market is an iconic place and it’s a rare and lucky thing to be a part of.
The ability to be part of a community where everyone is striving to create things made with integrity and sincerity is remarkable. The people who work here and shop here care about food and that fits with Pain d’Avignon’s mission and sensibility.
What is your favorite time of the week at the market and why?
We have two favorite times. The first is early in the morning when the bread arrives from the bakery. The breads are still warm from the oven and the smells of all the different varieties are intoxicating. It takes a lot of willpower not to break open a loaf, spread butter on it, and have it for breakfast.
The other favorite time is Friday to Sunday, when the market is bustling with people. We love talking to customers about what they are serving for their meal or appetizer so that we can suggest the perfect loaf or baguette.
Do you source any products within the market?
Yes! We get our organic milk and sugar from the specialty shops located here, and of course all of the staff enjoys eating breakfast, lunch, snack, and desserts at the market. We suggest to each customer some of the other things here in the market that would pair well with what they are buying or that they should try. It seems like every day we are referring someone to Saxelby, Nordic Preserves or Formaggio, New Star or Roni-Sue’s and Luca Bosco.
The food here is incredible. It really is the best-kept secret in NYC.
Are there any 'fun facts' about your business that you want to share?
The natural sourdough starter that is used every day as the base of many different loaves is almost 20 years old. Our bakers keep the timing, hydration, and temperature just right to maintain the starter and use it over and over. It’s a traditional way of doing things that takes a lot of effort, but you can taste the difference. Some of our breads require 36 hours from refreshing the starter to the final bake, which happens in the wee hours of the morning, from 3 am to 7 am.
Every loaf is hand-shaped, which we believe makes it unique. As soon as the bread is cool enough to handle, it goes on the truck for delivery. And since our bread is baked in Long Island City, it’s just 15 minutes from oven to serving.
Now that it's fall, there's no better place to go to for warm, fresh-baked goods. Head to the neighborhood's go-to purveyor for fresh-baked goods, Pain d'Avignon. Hungry for more? Browse the market for the rest of your cupboard. Find more inspiration from our other Essex Street Market profiles and learn more about all of the market's offerings at the Essex Street Market website.