Growing up in Memorial, it was a given that the area had a large French ex-pat community. I know this because once you start babysitting for one French family, you're suddenly babysitting for all of them. Most of the kids went to Awty, the nearby school that long ago merged with The French School to offer a complete curriculum—preschool to senior year—that culminates in a French baccalaureate for students who graduate. Today, French companies like Sodexo, Bureau Veritas and Vallourec SA still employ thousands of French workers in Houston, while the base of ex-pats continues to grow.
This goes a long way towards explaining the enduring popularity of authentic French restaurants such as Bistro Provence, Le Mistral and Bistro Le Cep in the area and its surrounding neighborhoods. It also provides some insight into why pastry chef Julie Clemenceau decided to open Julie's French Pastries in a little strip center at Dairy Ashford and Memorial. One could argue that the rent is cheaper outside of the Beltway, yes, but it surely also helps to have a built-in customer base for your buttery croissants and fruit-filled crepes right around the corner.
By all indications, Julie's has already found its niche though it's only been open for two short months. Customers popped in and out last Saturday morning as though Julie's were a well-known boulangerie on a Parisian street instead of tucked awkwardly into the corner of a strip mall that's frankly seen better days. Having an anchor tenant like an H-E-B Pantry helps, I imagine—they're not known for their French pastries, but it's easy to drop into Julie's before or after your weekly marketing excursion for a sack of croissants or even some local eggs from Whitehurst Heritage Farms in Cypress. Clemenceau sells them by the dozen; they're also the eggs she uses for her own baked goods. I also imagine that being located next door to Blue Willow Bookshop helps; both Julie's and the longtime bookseller are transportive in their offerings, and I can easily imagine an afternoon spent dividing time between them both, perhaps taking the book you just bought over to Julie's to enjoy over a cappuccino and some pain au chocolat.
Clemenceau herself is a French ex-pat, born and raised in Normandy before heading to Houston a little over seven years ago. Here, she found work as the well-regarded pastry chef at Allô French Rotisserie in Cypress, where she found that customers were just as willing to pay for her custom cakes outside Allô as they were at dinner. Soon, she was catering everything from birthdays to weddings, and on her way to opening a bakery of her very own. Finding the space here at 14522 Memorial Dr. was pure fate; Mabis Patisserie, the former tenant, had decided to close shop—but the owners were eager to hand over the turn-key operation, ovens and all, to Clemenceau and husband Matthew.
Since the takeover, it appears some former customers of Mabis are a little confused about the new tenants, but they needn't be. The owners are still French. Crepes and cakes are still on the menu, and they're excellent crepes at that (I can't vouch for the cakes, as I only had room for one berry crepe and one chocolate croissant the day I visited). Coffee and cafe au lait are still found here too. Plus, Clemenceau has begun to add a few touches of her own, to the delight of at least one customer on Yelp, who reported: "The previous owners were nice and had amazing food and coffee but were not so kid friendly. We stopped by today for brunch. A much better selection than when it was Mabis. I can't wait to try Julie's cakes!! She has a little play area, which was a brilliant move!!!!"
Julie's French Pastries, 14522 Memorial Dr., 281-741-9161, juliesfrenchpastries.com