Beloved River Oaks Bakery Celebrates 50 Years In Business — How This French Gourmet Haven Changed Houston
A True Family Love Story That's Plenty SweetBY Laurann Claridge // 02.14.23
The French Gourmet Bakery also bakes loaves of bread daily. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
French Gourmet Bakery chef and founder Patrice Ramain and his family are celebrating 50 years in business in River Oaks. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
A photo of the French Gourmet Bakery on Westheimer Road before its recent renovation. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
A vintage photo of chef Patrice Ramain back in those early days when he first launched his bakery along with his beloved wife, Mary. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
A traditional galette de rois, a puff pastry cake filled with almond cream made to celebrate the Epiphany. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
Inside the newly remodeled French Gourmet Bakery with a dining room equipped to serve breakfast, lunch, and to-go orders. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
French-style cakes made daily are apropos for any occasion. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
An array of some of the lunch items including box lunch options from salads to sandwiches and of course, a sweet treat. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
A vintage photo back in the day of the bustling bakery. (Photo by Jenn Duncan)
French-born chef and baker extraordinaire Patrice Ramain and his American bride Mary have 50 candles to blow out on their proverbial birthday cake this year. It’s about celebrating not their nuptials, but five decades since the founding of the couple’s legendary Houston bake shop and restaurant called French Gourmet Bakery.
We presume, chef you’ll be cutting into one of the French gateaux you have come to be known for —perhaps an Amaretto or Moka Rum cake?
A little back story. Monsieur Ramain hails from a long legacy of bakers in his family and grew up in France’s verdant Loire Valley, an area filled with storied chateaux, wineries and orchards set along the banks of the Loire River. His life took a fortuitous turn when in his twenties, he moved to Houston and soon after met his would-be wife at a wine-tasting event. Mary Ramain is a bonified Francophile with the enviable ability to hold her own conversing in French and the two hit it off, courted for a time and married two years later.
That very same year, the duo opened the first location of the French Gourmet Bakery in River Oaks.
Now remember, in the early 1970s, Americans were positively entranced with French culture, particularly Gallic cuisine (thank you, Julia Child, among others), and the Ramains were only too happy to feed Houstonians appetites for scratch-made croissants, quiche, freshly baked bread and those aforementioned layered cakes. From chocolate mousse to Grand Marnier. To the uninitiated, they brought us festive bûche de Noël (yule log-style cakes) to celebrate at Christmas, hot cross buns at Easter and galettes de rois (a French-style king’s cake of a puff pastry filled with almond cream that differs from the New Orleans style which the couple has come to recreate at French Gourmet Bakery too) to celebrate the Epiphany.
Along the way, Patrice and Mary Ramain have influenced the sweets Houstonians have come to savor. An American sensibility has seeped into their menu too with offerings like cupcakes, American layer cakes like Italian cream and carrot cake, brownies, iced ginger cookies and my favorite (not to mention the editorial staff at PaperCity) chocolate thumbprint cookies. And for those who have to forgo gluten, there are gluten-free treats to quell your sweet tooth at French Gourmet Bakery too.
While over the years, the Ramains opened outposts of the French Gourmet Bakery in West University, Post Oak and Memorial, they elected to consolidate the business to a single location at 2250 Westheimer Road in River Oaks in 20212. Today, daughter Lauren Ramain Montgomery has joined the company and serves as the general manager. Along with her mom, Lauren oversaw the recent renovation of the dining room where French Gourmet Bakery regulars can enjoy breakfast and lunch. Or pickup to-go food.
“We wanted to add modern design elements while retaining the timeless feel of the space,” Lauren Ramain says. “Mom incorporated feng shui principles and created the color palette, while I focused on implementing modern furnishings.”
French Gourmet Bakery may be celebrating 50 years, but it’s also looking forward to a sweet future.