Pâtisserie Mélanie expanding from home-based bakery to North Park bistro

Pâtisserie Mélanie’s buttery, flaky croissants have helped drive the Hillcrest shop's popularity. Her smoked paprika croissant will fit right in at lunchtime when it opens as a restaurant in North Park.
(Photo by VNKSM)

The popular Hillcrest shop, which was fueled by social media, will transform into to a full-on breakfast and lunch restaurant in 2020

Pâtisserie Mélanie, a home-based French bakery in Hillcrest whose business success was fueled by social media, is moving out of the house.

Former Crawford High School English teacher-turned French-trained pastry chef Melanie Dunn announced Monday that she’ll transform her small-batch residential business into a full-on commercial operation by opening a breakfast and lunch café in North Park — also called Pâtisserie Mélanie.

Slated to debut in the summer of 2020, Dunn said the opening will coincide with the phasing out of the jewel-box sized shop on the first floor of the Park Boulevard live/work townhouse she shares with her husband and 3-year-old daughter.

The move to a 1,500-square-foot, custom-built bakery and bistro at 3750 30th Street will give Dunn added production capacity but will also allow her to bake pastries that she and her customers have been clamoring for. Under the regulations of her cottage food operator permit, Dunn couldn’t offer cream-based pastries because they have to be refrigerated and aren’t considered shelf-stable. That meant no pastry cream-filled éclairs or elaborate choux pastry, cream-filled, caramel-laced Gâteau St-Honoré — which happens to be named after the French patron saint of bakers.

“I’m just excited to be able to bring more of a variety and more of the French pastries that you see in Paris,” Dunn said.

Pâtisserie Mélanie’s chef/owner Melanie Dunn was born in Hawaii and trained at Paris' famed Le Cordon Bleu Paris, earning a Dîplome de Pâtisserie.
(Photo by VNKSM)

Dunn said she’ll be hiring several more assistant bakers, a barista and someone to work the grill, where such hot dishes as croque monsieur and daily appetizer and entrée lunch specials will be made. Dunn is currently collaborating with architect Tony Garcia, of San Diego-based Asquared Studios, on the restaurant’s design, which she said will have intimate seating areas, reminiscent of being in someone’s home, and sidewalk seating evoking Parisian cafe society. Garcia, who won the 2018 National AIA (American Institute of Architects) Young Architect Award, previously worked on the design of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in Yountville.

When Pâtisserie Mélanie opened in February 2018, the charming, Art Deco-inspired bakery became an instant hit, thanks to viral social media sites Facebook and, especially, Instagram. Customers were lured in by images of buttery croissants, pain au chocolat, sablé shortbread cookies, lemon and sea salt chocolate tarts, macarons and such rarely-seen-in-San Diego treats like kouign-amann Breton butter cakes, and little caramelized cannelés Bordelais tea cakes. Visitors soon became enchanted by the quality of the hand-made baked goods that were made in such limited quantities, they often sold out shortly after the doors opened in the morning.

Dunn has to yet to reconcile how she’ll retain what made the original enterprise so successful at the expanded location.

“How do you hold on to that small, hand-made quality? That’s something I’m struggling with,” she said in a phone interview from her home.

Pâtisserie Mélanie’s adorable, Instagram-worthy, and utterly delicious, cannelés Bordelais cakes.
(Courtesy photo)

But the biggest adjustment, she said, will be to her family life. Working from home has allowed her to spend time with her 3-year-old daughter that owning a restaurant won’t. Dunn, whose daughter was 18 months old when the pâtisserie first opened, said she couldn’t have made the business work without the help of her support network, made up of family members and “a very supportive husband,” a high school English teacher.

“Between all of us, we made it work, but they really gave me the time and creative space to create and bake,” Dunn said, noting that Pâtisserie Mélanie 2.0 will go from being open five days a week to six, and she’ll no longer be just downstairs.

“That work/mom life is tough. Working from home is nice because if she really has a bad night (not sleeping), I can just roll out of bed in the morning and be in my kitchen. I’m hoping the timing will be good, she’s getting more independent and more mature and, knock on wood, she’s sleeping better,” Dunn said.

“It’s a new phase in the business for us, we’re just trying to take it as it comes. ... I think that will be the biggest struggle as a family, finding ways to come back together (at the end of the day) and maintain that closeness.”

Throughout the interview, the 3-year-old was peppering her mom with questions. “We’re talking about the bakery,” Dunn told her. Turning back to a reporter, she put it more perspective: “It’s exciting, but she doesn’t know her life is definitely going to change.”

Pâtisserie Mélanie’s puffy, flaky, slightly sweet, slightly savory kouign-amann (pronounced queen ah-MAHN) aren't commonly found at most San Diego French-inspired bakeries.
Pâtisserie Mélanie’s puffy, flaky, slightly sweet, slightly savory kouign-amann (pronounced queen ah-MAHN) aren’t commonly found at most San Diego French-inspired bakeries.
(Courtesy photo)