La Belle Vie Bakery Opens a Brick-and-Mortar in Scottsdale

Although the bakery doesn’t yet have a sign, you don’t need a name to identify it. The intoxicating smell of baked sugar and butter lures you in like the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Inside, the pastry case holds a variety of croissants, loaves of bread, and swirl pastries.

“Come on back,” invites Nathas Kraus, owner of La Belle Vie and head baker at the new space in Scottsdale. The large kitchen is divided into three parts: an area for mixing and shaping the dough, one for refrigeration, and another for baking. The left side houses three ovens: a horizontal deck version, a vertical rotating oven, and a small countertop style. Refrigerators stand at attention against the wall facing the ranges. The right side of the space belongs to the dough. Three mixers, starting with a Kitchen Aid (1.9 kg or 4.2 pound capacity) and ending with a commercial spiral mixer with a capacity for up to 130 kg, or 286.6 pounds, demonstrate the bakery’s evolution.

Trays of pastries in different stages of readiness are lined up vertically on multiple racks.

Kraus, a banker from Haute-Savoie, a French town bordering Switzerland, moved his family to Arizona in 2014 so that his son could receive care for a rare eye disease. Once he arrived, he took what the grocery stores called French bread as a personal affront — “I didn’t want Americans to think this was French bread” — so he started baking his own.

During today’s visit, Kraus has four classic kouign-amanns (pronounced kween amahn) in the deck oven, ready to come out. Kouign stands for cake, amann for butter. You may have seen individual versions of this sweet made with croissant dough layered with sugar; however, the traditional version is a mix of butter and sugar inside bread dough. When Kraus opens the oven, a hot, fragrant plume is released.

He removes the 8-inch pans from the oven, flips them over on his workbench, and teases the parchment paper off. “Ça c’est fait!,” he exclaims. “It’s done!” As the three of us (his assistant, Kari Kauffman, is there, too) wait for the cakes to cool, we peel caramelized bits of dough (the best part) from the parchment paper.

click to enlarge

Nathas Kraus patiently peels the parchment paper off his traditional kouign-amann.

Bahar Anooshahr

“There is as much sugar and butter as dough,” notes Kraus. “It took me 100 tries to get it right.” He echoes the New York Times, which once called this “the fattiest pastry in all of Europe.” In his French accent, Kraus adds: “If I ’ad to put a nutrition label on it, I’d ’ave to put 10,000 calories.”

Next, he pushes a rack of almond cookies into the rotating oven. “Tac,” he says. “Check.”

Ever since Kraus hosted his first farmers’ market stand in 2018, the volume of his work has continued to grow, to the point that he needed to move the business out of his house. “It was that or stop La Belle Vie,” he says, “and why would you stop something that is giving pleasure to people, giving pleasure to yourself, and working?”

The current space belonged to the Universal Church before Kraus turned it into an edible liturgy. “I believe in signs, and it felt good the moment I walked into the building,” he recalls. “I figured it was meant to be.”

Did he have setbacks? Of course. His deck oven delivery was delayed because of the dockworkers’ strike. And once it arrived, it wouldn’t fit through the door, so he had to have one wall of windows removed in order to lift it in.

Next, the rotating oven required a complete revamping of the electrical wiring. “I had to take a mortgage on my house to pay for all of it,” says Kraus.

After he’s done with today’s baking, he’ll go home to prepare tags and bags for pre-orders. The bakery’s selection varies every week.

A loaf of French bread is left from the morning’s baked goods; Kraus uses natural levain (a starter dough made with flour and water) for his loaves. When he pushes on the caramelized crust, it crackles.

“I like darker crust, because that’s the way we like bread in the north of Switzerland — really roasted, toasted crust,” he explains. “I have now converted 90 percent of people to like this kind of crusty bread.” He’d like to also offer cheese and charcuterie at the bakery one day.

click to enlarge La Belle Vie's "badass" mixer. - BAHAR ANOOSHAHR

La Belle Vie’s “badass” mixer.

Bahar Anooshahr

As Kauffman gets ready to leave for the day, Kraus asks her to wait; he wants her to have a slice of the kouign-amann. Using a pastry cutter, he cuts the cake into equal-size triangles and hands us each a piece. Butter coats our fingertips. The crust is golden brown and crispy on the outside, with identifiable layers making up a creamy interior. It’s almost as if it has apples or pears in the center. With ecstatic pleasure, Kauffman and I look at each other and simultaneously let out an “Mmmm. So good.”

“When you take a bite of something, you are transported to a place and time in memory,” says Kraus. “That’s what I want to give to people.”

Kauffman and I are already forming our own memories with this heavenly slice.

Kraus reads a sentence, written in red under the pastry case, and translates it into English: “À ces petits moments parfaits que les Anges nous envient”: It’s in those perfect little moments that the angels envy us.

Currently, the Belle Vie storefront is open for pre-order pick-ups Wednesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Kraus highly recommends pre-ordering, but there will be a few items available for walk-ins during those hours. Pre-order options are available on the bakery’s website.

Kraus will continue to run his farmers’ market stand in Gilbert, and is currently looking to hire a team member to help with it.

Follow La Belle Vie on Instagram or Facebook for the most up-to-date information.

La Belle Vie Bakery
8119 East Roosevelt Street
, Scottsdale
Pick-up hours: 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday

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