Western Washington is home to all sorts of incredible bakeries. Located in the heart of Olympia, Left Bank Pastry is something different: a French patisserie.
"A patisserie is a place that specializes in pastry," explained Gary Potter, pastry chef/owner of Left Bank. "We don't do bread. We stay in our lane. We also don't do chocolate chip cookies or banana bread or anything American. So, when people come here they know this is an experience that, we hope, replicates something they've had in Paris."
Potter would know. He learned pastry in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu, then brought those traditional methods and French philosophies back to the Northwest.
"I want the final product, the thing people get, to be as close to perfect as we can make it," said Potter. "We get our butter from Normandy. We get our chocolate from Switzerland and France. We use these techniques that have been codified and done the same way for hundreds of years. I figured if I just stuck on that it would work. To see that actually materializing, it has blown my mind."
In 2020, Left Bank was named one of the 100 best bakeries in America by Food & Wine Magazine. Though perhaps the truest measure of success is the crowds. On weekends the line starts forming about a half hour before Left Bank opens and the rush doesn't die down until early afternoon. Folks from near and far willing to wait, not just because the pastry is perfectly executed, but because Potter and his team are committed to making it as fresh as possible.
"Really I don't think there's any other bakeries making a product as fresh as ours where it's still hot when we open," said Potter. "And we're baking all morning long. So, there's fresh pastry coming out all morning. That's how we've set up our shifts, to ensure when someone is eating a croissant, yeah it's made better, but it was actually made 20 minutes ago or a half-hour ago. Then, we have customers for life."
The menu is uncompromisingly French. Countless varieties of croissants, croissant doughnuts, quiche, eclairs, macaroons and Left Bank's number one seller, the Kouign Amann. Which I can attest is wildly delicious, especially fresh out of the oven!
"Kouign Amann come from the Brittany region of France. [The name] is from an old language, a Celtic language that doesn't exist anymore. It means butter cake," explained Potter. "There's some croissant dough in there. There's salted butter. There's tons of sugar, some salt. It's just this caramely, salty, sugary thing that's pretty addictive. It's like creme brûlée in a pastry. We sell hundreds of them every single day."
In visiting Left Bank, even for just a brief moment, one gets to experience what makes this place so unique. A distinct vision, a focus on using traditional techniques and quality ingredients, all combining to create pastry that tastes truly remarkable.
"I want [our pastry] to bring back memories, like it does for me," said Potter. "I just want it to bring back good memories of a vacation they took or even for people who have never been there to experience something that you could find in Paris...That is what I'm trying to do here. I'm trying to bring an actual shop you would find in Paris and give it to this community."