For weeks after Lacey's Produce on Falls Road turned into Bonjour, a funky little coffee and gift shop, customers came in and wanted to know where the potatoes were.
"They were disappointed," Gayle Brier, one of Bonjour's owners, admits with a laugh. "We said, 'No potatoes, but we do have a purple interior and this.' "
"This" is said with a sweep of her hand toward Bonjour's bakery case, which is nothing short of spectacular. Here in this tiny shop is an array of goodies that would do a French patisserie proud: almond croissants, brioches topped with rock sugar, meringues filled with praline cream, napoleons, eclairs, pear tartlets and all sorts of baguettes and artisan breads.
Surely even the grumpiest customer must have been won over by the baked goods, which are the creations of Gerard Billebault, former pastry chef of the four-star restaurant Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia. His dessert pastries are available only at Bonjour.
"For a Frenchman, this place is a paradise," says Victor Pascal, a native Parisian, who has stopped in for a pain au chocolate and a baguette, as he does every day.
But Bonjour is worth noting for more than pastries. This modest little store at 6070 Falls Road represents if not a wave, then a wavelet of the future.
"People's lives are so stressed," says the other owner, Mary Romeo, "They're into little affordable self-indulgences."
Which is what the two set out to provide when they transformed a glorified produce stand into Bonjour in October. Brier is also owner of the French Oven, a commercial bakery in Halethorpe, with Gerard Billebault. Romeo owns Coffee Coffee in Bel Air, which sells coffee, tea and related merchandise.
The two women offer other affordable self-indulgences: flavored coffees, specialty teas, gourmet chocolates, whimsical gifts, decoupage, a few antiques and craft items from Mexico.
In the new year, Romeo and Brier will tie their shop into another trend: the current interest in entertaining at home -- with elegance but without fuss.
"The way the store is evolving," says Brier, "we'll be bringing in a lot more packaged gourmet foods. I can't tell you how many people come in here and say, 'The best food in Baltimore is at my home.' " They want advice on which bread goes with a hearty soup, or they special-order a mango mousse cake for a dinner party.
A place like Bonjour succeeds by staying abreast of the trends. Here's what the two women say will be happening in the new year:
* Tapenades in unusual flavor combinations. Having this condiment on hand means instant hors d'oeuvres.
* Individual brioches. They're great for French toast or scooped out and filled with scrambled eggs.
* Decorative breads that can be used as centerpieces and then eaten.
* Freshly brewed teas.
* Green tea in fruit flavors. People want the supposed health benefits but don't like the astringency of green tea.
* Coffee from beans roasted locally.
* Varietal coffees: Sumatra, Java Estate, Mexican Marigogype.
Ideally, Brier would add an assortment of great French cheeses. She thinks her customers would respond positively to them as instant and delicious fast food.
"We have great plans," she says with a rueful laugh, "But we have space limitations."
6070 Falls Road
Open Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Parking is available in front of the shop.