Alan Lohof, a captain with the Billings Fire Department, was in line at Le Fournil, a new French bakery in downtown Billings, about 20 minutes after it finally opened its doors Wednesday morning.
“We’ve been chomping at the bit for quite a little while,” Lohof said.
A few minutes later he was on his way, toting two baguettes and two country loaves, which he planned to share with his colleagues back at the fire station.
Francois Morin, whose plans we wrote about last January, had hoped to open his bakery last spring, but he said on Wednesday that he had to wait until July just to get a work permit, and has been busy remodeling and installing equipment since then. He said the electrical system also had to be upgraded to handle his large oven and commercial mixer.
He opened for a couple of hours last Friday, during the Holiday ArtWalk and Christmas Stroll, but he didn’t even have a point-of-sale system operating yet and could only take cash.
He officially opened Wednesday at 11 a.m. and planned to close at 2, bake another batch of fresh bread and open again from 4 to 6 p.m.
He said those will probably be his hours for now, as he figures out the best way forward. Your best bet is to follow him on Facebook, where he will be posting his hours and what kinds of bread are available each day.
As he told another customer Wednesday morning, “It’s going to change a lot, on a daily basis.”
On his first day he was offering four kinds of bread — pain au levain (sourdough country bread), baguettes viennoises, traditional baguettes and black baguettes.
His bakery is at 2805 First Ave. N., in the Stapleton Building between Big Dipper Ice Cream and Rockets Gourmet Wraps. He is leasing the space from Jeremiah Young, who runs the Kibler & Kirch design studio on the second floor of the Stapleton.
“We got just great support from Jeremiah,” who also designed the space, Morin said.
One of the first half dozen customers in the door was Paul Berger, who has been keeping on eye on Morin’s Facebook page.
“I’ve been anticipating it for a couple weeks,” he said. “It’s nice to have authentic French cuisine.”
Another early customer was Dan Yazak, who teaches school counseling at Montana State University. His first words upon entering the bakery and having a look around were, “Wow!” and then “wow!” again. It wasn’t clear whether he was mainly impressed with the breads or the decor, but he was definitely enthusiastic.
“Thank you for coming and doing all this hard work,” he told Morin.
Morin said he may expand his offerings to include things like croissants and brioches in the future, but for now he just wants to offer good French bread.
He opens in a downtown that suddenly finds itself with four bakeries making European-style breads and pastries, the others being the Annex Coffeehouse and Bakery at 2601 Minnesota Ave., Veronika’s Pastry Shop at 2513 Montana Ave., and Three Birds Bakery, inside the old Log Cabin Bakery at 2401 Second Ave. N.
Le Fournil, Morin says, is French for “oven” but also for a place that sells baked goods. As for how to pronounce it, we hesitate even to attempt to render it phonetically. You’ll have to ask Morin.