Franco File Friday: Cat Beurnier of Sugar Daze

Before I knew Cat, I knew her cupcakes. And before her cupcakes, I thought the only place to get a taste of American nostalgia was at Berko, a French-owned cupcake bakery that falls short of perfecting our beloved, iced confection. I researched who else was concocting cupcakes in the city and found Sugar Daze (formerly known as Little Miss Cupcake). Slightly smaller than American cupcakes and just the right ratio of cake to icing, Cat's creations reassured me that not only was it possible to find childhood comforts in Paris but that there were trailblazing American entrepreneurs who weren't afraid of tackling the labyrinth of French administration. She's heading into year three of her successful cupcake business, with a newly opened tea salon and cupcake shop in the 9th, and shows no signs of slowing down, even with two young children.

Over the last year and a half, Cat and I have gotten very close. Her support, advice and candidness with me throughout professional and personal fluctations has been invaluable. But she really stepped up to the plate with guidance and moral support throughout the last 9 months as I planned and launched my own online cookie business, Lola's Cookies, with a friend. That's right, I have a cookie company! And I felt that featuring Cat was the best moment to publicly express my gratitude for all she has done for us, reveal my company and put the spotlight on this brilliant baker. A woman who has been knocked down, featured in countless magazines, catered for big-name clients like Gap and Hugo Boss, created wedding cakes, raised two children, and still manages to reply within hours to emails. Meet Cat.....  

Describe what you love about France in three words.

Timeless, passion, gourmandises.

Most challenging aspect of being a small business owner in France?

Being American! All the rules are different here! I have to constantly put on my "french hat" and think about how to approach every situation with a French point of view. It's been challenging to adapt my way of doing things, my perceptions, my expectations and even my knowledge base to deal with a foreign culture.

For day-to-day business matters, this means a lot of research and attention is needed to make sure I understand the processes, the laws, etc. in a foreign language. I often feel I have to work 10 times harder to find and then interpret whatever I need to know or get accomplished.

On a more profound level, and much more important, is that I come from a culture where things are done radically different than they are in France. This has meant taking a step back, re-evaluating every situation and adjusting my expectations or reactions to confront whatever or whomever I am dealing with. It's so easy to get frustrated or spend a lot of time trying to get to the bottom of issues which in reality may not be very important or relevant.

On the flip side, being American and having a different approach can often work to my advantage -- A simple example is that I try to answer all email/phone correspondence within 24-48 hours. I cannot begin to tell you how many emails I have received from people thanking me for my very prompt reply - it's practically unheard of in France. For me, it's just regular customer service.

Preferred pastry shop in Paris?

This is a tough one -- my busy schedule keeps me from trying out all the delicious pastry shops I want, and between all the cupcake batter and buttercream frosting I eat in the average day, I have to watch my sugar intake! When I decide to splurge, a few of my very favorite desserts around town are the dessert tout caramel at Apicius, the chocolate macaron from La Maison Charpentier, the chocolate mousse-raspberry ganache Adagio cake from Eric Kayser and the tarte au citron from La Petite Rose on Boulevard Courcelles. I recently read this blog post from ParisPatisserie and am just dying to work my way down the list. Anyone care to join me?

Ideal spot outside of the city to relax?

It's funny, my husband and I said we'd do a lot more traveling before we moved here than we actually do! It’s turned out to be a lot tougher scheduling vacations as the parents of 2 young kids! We do spend a lot of the school breaks at the beach on the West Coast of France since his family has property there. Besides that, some of my best memories in France are of weekends spent apple-picking or BBQing at friends' homes with the kids in Normandie.

Farther afield, we've just returned from our first ever trip to Positano, Italy and I have to say it was like heaven on earth. After weeks of gloom, cold and rain in France this past July, the tropical temperatures and never-ending sun of Italy was a welcome change. I loved exploring the Amalfitan coastal villages and an afternoon trekking through the ruins of Pompeii was a childhood dream come true. The whole trip was just magical and I hope to get back there soon!

Sugar Daze cupcakes

Kid-friendly Paris tips?
I grew up in Manhattan and my husband in Paris so raising kids in the city was kind of a no-brainer for us. Paris is an amazing place for families and I find that being a parent here multiplies my occasions to interact with a variety of people and explore the cultural differences. There is also a tremendous quality of life; you have access to some of the best healthcare, childcare and education in the world and you don’t need to be super-rich to take advantage of it (which is one of the reasons we left New York shortly after our son was born.). I know some people view the French as being stand-offish when it comes to kids – and yes, you certainly do often see remnants of the old adage “children should be seen but not heard” especially from the older generation – but on the whole I find them to be largely accommodating when it comes to having children around.

I do have to note though the amount of unsolicited feedback I receive from random people on the street in France related to my children (I truly believe this is a phenomenon unique to Paris). I’ve had virtual strangers stop me to discuss everything from the degree of warmth/comfort (read: lack thereof) my kids’ winter jackets provide to the (improper) way in which I have buckled my child into his or her stroller to my (undisciplined enough) reaction to my child’s temper tantrum when I wouldn’t give in to his or her pleas for an “insert toy of the week here”. I know many of my friends with kids can commiserate about these usually unwanted pearls of wisdom and other pieces of advice that passerbys dole out. My advice if this happen to you is to smile politely, say thank you and quickly carry on your way. You and your “mistakes” are likely to be forgotten just as quickly as the next child dressed in a lightweight jacket on a mildly cold day comes along.

There is so much to see and do with kids in a city as large and historic as Paris. In fact, I just wrote an article about what to do with kids when visiting Paris for AnyTrip.com that comes out next week It’s easy to feel intimidated or overwhelmed in Paris – I’ve heard this a lot from new arrivals to France and those with very young children. My best advice is to get out there and explore, no matter your child's age (the French expose their kids to art, culture, find food, etc. at a very young age) as this will help you find your way and become more integrated in the community. And you may want to consider joining a support group -- I belong to MESSAGE, an English-speaking parents’ network, which literally was like a lifeline to me when I first arrived here.

I cannot recommend Cat's treats highly enough - her flickr album alone will leave you drooling at your screen. Join her active community on Facebook, follow her on twitter and RSVP for Cupcake Camp which she is spearheading again this year. I will be in attendance with my partner, some kind of cookie cupcake and a gift certificate for a box of our cookies for the raffle! 

Sugar Daze Cupcake shop 
20 rue Henry Monnier
75009, Paris
Métro: Saint-Georges (12), Pigalle (2)

{Photos courtesy of Cat Beurnier and Geni Mermoud}
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