Peer into the big picture windows of the venerable, ever-bustling French Pastry Shop on any given summer morning, and it’s hard to imagine it any other way.
Now picture this place 45 years ago.
Georges Zadeyan, then 32, looks out through the tiny windows of his then-brand new pastry shop, anchored in La Fonda’s complex. There are few restaurants near the Plaza — and perhaps even fewer people here who are familiar with French cuisine.
“We were the first in Santa Fe to sell croissants,” Zadeyan said. “The people who came in were asking for doughnuts!”
Much has changed since Zadeyan and partners opened The French Pastry Shop, first in the Casa Solana shopping district and then shortly after in its permanent home fronting San Francisco Street. But as the restaurant gained its footing here in Santa Fe and French baking and cuisine became a much-loved familiarity in the U.S., the shop’s owners say it’s stayed successful by staying the same in all the ways that matter.
“People come in and compliment us on our consistency,” said Zadeyan’s son, Sarkis Zadeyan, 40, who now runs the restaurant. “You can come in once, and then come in again 25 years later and enjoy the exact same pastry you had all those years before. That’s what makes the experience unique.”
Consistency is key here, from quickly consumed trays of Viennoiseries including croissants and palmiers to a secret-recipe crepe batter cooked on plates brought over from France when such equipment couldn’t be bought stateside. Then there are the pastries: gleaming rows of eclairs, cream puffs, tarts and napoleons and opera cakes tempting customers from behind display glass.
Their pedigree, as it turns out, is perhaps the restaurant’s most impressive hidden tradition.
Georges Zadeyan, who was born in a small town near Toulon in southern France, followed his older brother to America. After helping to run a restaurant in Puerto Rico, he and his partners set their sights on a French cafe in Santa Fe, and after their brief stint at Casa Solana in 1973, they discovered this spot through Sam Ballen, the local businessman who acquired La Fonda with his wife, Ethel, in 1969. Back then, it was part of a larger cafeteria with only small windows looking onto San Francisco Street, not the large picture windows that give today’s passersby a glimpse of the often-packed tables.
As the restaurant gained its footing — thanks in large part to tourists and hotel patrons flocking to the restaurant from the West and East coasts, where French-style baking and cooking were more common — Zadeyan hired a young, ambitious pastry chef to develop his bakery recipes.
His name? Michel Richard.
Richard, the French-born chef who would go on to become one of the most noted names in the restaurant world for ventures such as Citrus in Los Angeles and Citronelle in Washington, D.C., before dying in 2016 at age 68, spent two years at The French Pastry Shop before leaving for L.A. While here, he drew oohs and aahs for his elaborate, towering cakes.
He also passed along his knowledge and recipes to the next pastry chef, who in turn trained current head baker Hector Mendoza, who’s been in the position for 20 years. Yes, that means the tart or cake you eat today was dreamed up way back in the 1970s by Richard.
If it’s the freshly baked breakfast pastries you’re after, though, get there early: They’ll put out a dozen trays in the glass display case nearest the door, but the goodies are usually gone by 10 or 11 a.m.
The crepes are the most popular, and the Zadeyans said the ratatouille variety is the best, with a fresh stewed assortment of zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, onions and green peppers. (And, in culinary catnip to so many food lovers: You can put an egg on it.) The delicate crepes come in sweet and savory varieties, and you’ll also find traditional lunch offerings including a croque-monsieur and madame, quiche, salade nicoise and french onion soup. There is an array of drip and espresso drinks.
In the glass cases, you’ll also find beguilingly woven animal sculptures fashioned out of baguette bread; alligators, frogs and turtles range from $18 to $22; seasonal bread sculptures like Christmas trees and Zozobras also make an appearance.
The restaurant always has been a family affair — mom Nancy has played a guiding role here, even creating the crepe batter recipe that’s still being used today, and Sarkis Zadeyan said remembers eating breakfast here every morning before school. In 2013, he and his brother Yannik took over operations, but Georges Zadeyan still comes in every morning.
“This is his social life,” Sarkis Zadeyan said. “He knows everybody, and everybody knows him. It’s his way of staying young.”
The restaurant opens at 6:30 a.m., a boon for tourists getting an early start on the Plaza. They make up about 70 percent of business — particularly in July, August and around the winter holidays — and many of them are recurring visitors. You’ll find many of them there in the morning, poring over maps and plotting itineraries on their phones. Locals stop in for their coffee and croissants; many of the Native American artisans who sell their work at the Palace of the Governors stop in to grab a quick breakfast before the day begins.
“We’ve stuck to the old tradition of baking fresh daily,” Sarkis Zadeyan said, adding that the bakers get started at 2 a.m. And they do mean daily: The restaurant is only closed one day a year: Christmas.
They give away food that doesn’t sell to local parishes and other groups.
“It’s very important to us” to support the community in that way, Sarkis Zadeyan said. “This restaurant has brought great fortune to my family, all from my father’s sweat and tears. We are very fortunate.”
While the restaurant prides itself on consistency and tradition, some changes are afoot. Renovations are planned by the end of the year, including repainting, sprucing up the entry area, replacing the tables and chairs, and swapping out the display cases for more modern ones. The Zadeyans will keep the mainstay decorations, including the hanging copper cookware, the dramatic chandeliers and the bulk of the eye-catching assortment of art on the walls.
And another modern adaptation: As of June, the shop did away with its cash-only policy and began allowing its customers to use credit cards.
For the restaurant’s loyal returning customers, that might be a surprise. But if the owners have their way, it’ll be the only one.
“Our customers love that consistency,” Sarkis said. “People come once; they come back.”
If you go
What: The French Pastry Shop
When: 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Where: In La Fonda on the Plaza, 100 E. San Francisco St.
More info: Call 505-983-6697 or visit thefrenchpastryshop.com