STORY BY EMILY VANSCHMUS
At 12:15 p.m. on a drizzly Wednesday afternoon, the doors of La Mie swing shut as a couple walks into the crowded bakery. They squeeze past dozens of people, making their way to the last unclaimed table in the far corner. The small space is filled with happy chatter as a waiter walks by carrying brie and pesto sandwiches and the soup of the day.
At La Mie Bakery, located on 42nd Street in Des Moines, the lunch hour is a nonstop buzz of business people and local hipsters alike who flock to the French bakery for signature sandwiches, soups and pastries. What these happily munching customers don’t know is that they are sitting on top of the most eclectic part of the bakery: the kitchen.
As customers file in for the lunch hour, the line snakes through the tables piled high with croissants and scones, making it almost impossible to move except to box up a few pastries as the line moves past the tables.
Rewind eight hours. At 4 a.m., La Mie is a dark and quiet space, filled only with the sounds of rolling dough and trays sliding into the oven. Upstairs, the pastry tables are bare and the wire trays behind the counter sit cold and empty, waiting the arrival of freshly baked bread.
Every day, 15 staff members arrive in the wee hours of the morning to transform the dark and cold building into a warm and lively space filled with freshly baked bread, pastries and sandwiches.
A narrow flight of concrete stairs leads to several connected spaces that make up the kitchen. The main area houses a large countertop where a woman named Olga shapes dough into breakfast pastries. To her left, the room gets warmer as two men open the doors to a three-deck oven to load in loaves of brioche, letting a blast of hot air into the room. The two men are careful not to bump into any of the four convection ovens housed in the small space.
Moving past this area and out of the heat leads to a long room lined with mixers big enough to fit a seated child. A countertop stretches the length of the room, holding dough, rolling pins and slabs of butter. It is here that one of the most intricate parts of the baking process happens.
Owner Christina Logsdon explains that their traditional French baking techniques is one of the elements that sets La Mie apart from other bakeries.
“The French are master bakers, so it’s their methods we employ,” she said. “Some of the techniques we use are original methods. One in particular is the process of laminating, or coating dough in butter and folding over and over, which we do all by hand.”
She also explains that the bakers in La Mie work strictly with the metric system, as is typical for European bakers.
In the early hours of the morning, the kitchen is alive with sounds of rolling pins rolling, dough being kneaded and baking sheets sliding in an out of the five ovens.
After three hours of baking, croissants, scones and fruit-filled pastries begin to fill the tables, and the bakery is officially open for business.
Manager Nicolas Percheron, affectionately referred to as “Nico” by the bakery staff, uses the quiet early hours upstairs to organize the day. He coordinates a delivery of two cases of butter and calls a customer to confirm an order of 300 French rolls, which are already in the oven.
Percheron explains that the staff of 28 puts so much work into baking every morning because everything sold in the bakery is completely homemade using the traditional French methods not used in other local bakeries.
Over 50 breakfast pastries and desserts are made fresh each morning and are set out across from the 10 traditional French breads baked in the three-deck oven.
Logsdon explains that because of the bakery’s specialties in artisan breads, the name La Mie was an easy choice. In French, the name translates directly to ‘the crumb,’ referring to the soft inside of the bread.
Throughout the morning, Logsdon periodically steps behind the counter to help customers or recommend menu items, the most popular of which are the vegetable scramble and the pecan roll.
As the bakery comes alive with the hustle and bustle of daily customers, the kitchen staff works to prepare the next day’s dough.
Sounds of happy chatter float down the staircase and fill the kitchen, as customers above line up to order French toast and hand-crafted sandwiches.