Tucked in the middle of a Parisian neighborhood on rue du Fbg Poissonière in the 10th arrondissement, is a small, airy shop that Vogue France claims bakes the best bagels in town. During weekdays, you can find Céline Tran up at the crack of dawn and in the pantry kitchen with her young staff churning out platterfuls of bagels, sausage rolls and homemade sweets in time for the first rush of morning breakfast clients and then, the busy midday lunch. By 4 pm, the empty display shelves reflect the success of BAKE.
British-born, Paris-raised and American-educated, Céline Tran is fulfilling her dream after leaving her job in the corporate world four years ago. Celine began her career as a lawyer in international arbitration. As she found herself more interested in food than the law, she decided to quit her post at a top American law firm in Paris to work for the well-known French restaurant guide Le Fooding. There she organized and produced a variety of food events with some of the world’s best chefs and restaurateurs.
After three years of events management, she decided it was time to make the final leap and open her own restaurant, inspired by her British origins and her love of simple, comfort food.
Céline had always dreamt of opening a small bakeshop where she would sell bagels, sandwiches and sweet treats. During the two-year Covid pandemic, she worked on her project—from developing her business plan to training as a baker, to finding the right commercial space. After many ups and downs and the birth of a daughter, Celine opened BAKE in November 2021, where from Monday to Friday you can find simple but delectable sandwiches served in homemade bagels and sourdough focaccia, as well as cookies and classic cakes.
INSPIRELLE dropped into BAKE to taste the delicious, light bagels and ask Céline how this former lawyer gave up the corporate world to pursue her passion of food.
Why did you make the leap from being a corporate lawyer to an independent baker?
After a few years of working as a lawyer, I quickly realized that I was more passionate about food than the law.
I quit my firm not knowing what I was going to do or where I would end up, but safe in the knowledge that I would one day work in the culinary world. I was lucky enough to be hired at a popular restaurant guide based in Paris (Le Fooding), as project manager working on events and brand content. The actual leap to baking came a few years later, shortly after I became a parent and decided I wanted to work for myself, and create real value rather than sitting at a desk all day.
Was it hard making a career switch?
Extremely. Especially that first decision to quit being a lawyer. It was the most daunting decision I ever made. But I’m so glad that I did. The decision to open my business was also a huge leap of faith, but weirdly it felt less risky. Perhaps I had grown to be more adventurous.
Why did you decide to bake bagels? And how did you learn to make them?
I am obsessed with an old Jewish bakery in East London called Beigel Bake. They make the best bagels and decadent salt beef sandwiches, at ridiculously low prices. They are open 24/7, it’s cash only and the vendors bark at you. It’s a true London institution. The bagels there are very different from NY-style bagels – they are softer, a tad sweeter, not as tough on the outside. I wanted to create something similar in Paris, where fresh bagels are a rarity.
I learned to make bagels at home, after testing countless recipes, watching videos, and comparing Montreal to NY to London style bagels. It took months of trial and error. I still haven’t managed to replicate those from Beigel Bake, but that’s okay!
What makes your bagels different?
I steam my bagels, instead of boiling them. I also add more water to the dough than your standard bagel recipe. This contributes to making a fluffier, lighter bagel, not as dense as you may be used to.
Bagels, donuts, hot dogs, tacos. A few years ago, you couldn’t find these non-French delicacies in France? How do you explain their acceptance?
Well, for one, they’re delicious! More seriously, I think that people here are keen to embrace anything that comes from America. It’s part of the broader appeal of American popular culture. I remember that growing up, I fantasized about buying a hot dog or warm pretzel from one of those NYC carts, or a big box of glazed donuts, just like the characters I watched on TV.
What advice do you have for other women thinking of launching a start-up business?
Believe in yourself and in your project.
Reach out for support from your friends and family but, more importantly, from other fellow entrepreneurs who know what you’re going through. I’ve found that people are always willing to share their knowledge and experience with those who ask. And I strive to do the same at my level.
How do you juggle motherhood and being a working mom?
As best I can! I devised my business model so that I don’t work on the weekends or in the evenings. Although I more often than not end up working a bit on my time off… I think it’s inevitable when you own a business.
It’s definitely a struggle to juggle both, as you wish you could put 100% of your time and energy towards your business but you can’t because you have this other baby that needs your attention too. I definitely see the difference with my friends who own businesses but have no kids. I just can’t invest myself as much, physically or emotionally. Still, one reward is that as a mum I know my daughter will be proud of me one day.