Restaurant owner Olivier Brouillet’s secret weapon may be his smile. Immediately upon walking into the Baguette Café (8359 W. Sunset Road, 269-4781), his thick French-accented greeting and warm grin begin to work on you. The aromas emanating from the small kitchen will tip you off that this isn’t a typical deli. Making it all the sweeter, you begin to sense that you are among the first to discover this hidden gem, surrounded by an office complex off Raphael Rivera Way in southwest Las Vegas. This isn’t an eatery that you will just happen upon. Like a secret club for foodies, to find it, you will have to get directions, but you’ll never forget how to get there again.
Growing up in southern France in the coastal town of Agde, Brouillet was imbued with the restaurant spirit from a young age. There, his parents ran a small bistro, and while Brouillet enjoyed working there part-time, his path eventually led him away from the business. Studying film at Montpellier University he learned of a course in Pueblo, Colo., that taught students English in five months, so he came stateside in 1996. In 2001 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UNLV’s College of Hotel Administration.
“To me, the restaurant business has always been like filmmaking,” Brouillet, 36, says. “When you take it to the extreme you can create a star, really. There are so many things you can throw into the picture.”
Following his graduation, Brouillet honed his hospitality skills for the next seven years at some of the top French restaurants in the Valley: He managed at Jean Joho’s Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Joël Robuchon and Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro. Always dreaming of owning his own restaurant, Brouillet stepped down, becoming a part-time waiter at Wolfgang Puck’s Lupo to focus on the project.
When Brouillet finally settled on a space to create his restaurant, he knew it would be a risky location, but it reminded him of home. “What I miss from France is being able to walk to the place where I can have lunch,” Brouillet says. “Maybe I can re-create this environment where people can start meeting here and for it to be a ritual.”
“Another thing I like is the patio. In Vegas, where do you go if you want to have an espresso outside without staring at hundreds of cars driving by you? No matter how nice your umbrella, maybe you’re still staring at cars.” While there are only 18 seats inside the intimate space, a large patio saddles the side of the building, guarded by the shade of tall palms and a small olive tree that perfumes the air and beckons for al fresco dining.
Location settled, Brouillet knew he couldn’t succeed without an excellent kitchen staff, so he hired the best: his parents. Four years into retirement, father Lucien and mother Claudie were happy to oblige. Head chef Lucien developed all of the recipes, while Claudie became the café’s pastry chef. In October 2009, the Baguette Café opened its doors.
The café quickly developed a small but die-hard following from the business complex, many of whom would come just to see what soups Lucien had created that day. “We don’t even know at 9 in the morning what we are going to have,” Brouillet says. “We are just waiting for the inspiration from Lucien. He goes with whatever is in season, whatever is fresh.”
Lucien creates two new soups every day, such as cream of potato with mushroom and white onion infused with prosciutto, and always has one vegetarian option, such as roasted pepper with melted Gouda. Every sauce and pastry is made in-house as Brouillet is striving to create an eatery free of corn syrup, processed foods.
“The first year has been very hard, but now the word-of-mouth is really starting to pay off,” Brouillet says. The Baguette Café is rated as Vegas’ No. 1 French restaurant on Yelp.com, a fact that has more than doubled the foot traffic in the last few months.
“People are craving real hospitality in Vegas. There is amazing culinary talent here corrupted by the bottom-line. We need more genuine hospitality. Food tastes better when it comes from the heart, and sometimes hospitality tastes as good as food.”