Marek Belka is a busy man. Designing a newly constructed space for The French Bakery, setting up a new kitchen, hiring additional staff and managing all the important details of opening a restaurant are keeping him well occupied.
“I would not sleep until I found just the right lighting for the space,” Belka said. “My customers requested the look of French country. Because it is a much larger space than our former location, it is more challenging to make it cozy. I am proud to say my customers are my family. A group of my customers came by throughout our move to tell me what works and what doesn't. They gave us so much support when we came in three years ago, so we built this location based on their advice and suggestions.”
Belka handpicked everything in the new restaurant, from the chairs to the lighting fixtures. Some of the walls in the new bakery space are covered in reclaimed barn wood — functional, yes, but aesthetically beautiful as well. The wood serves as more than just a wall covering; it is art. “A local carpenter cleaned and cut the reclaimed wood, then mounted it. The Art League of Hilton Head Island will be exhibiting some of the artwork of its members as well,” he said, motioning toward the sienna-colored walls.
There are a handful of comfy armchairs, along with raised banquette seating to let customers see out onto Broad Creek. The bakery also carries a line of retail items from Provence, France. Belka believes the new location will draw more visitors as well as loyal locals — and now he’ll have plenty of room for them. With both indoor and outdoor seating, the French Bakery has tripled its capacity, now at 120, with both a self-seating area as well as table service now offered.
New to the team is chef Kenneth Rogers, formerly of Le Bistro Mediterranean, who works in the kitchen with Tomasz Belka, Marek Belka’s son. Both breakfast and lunch crepes are going to be a signature highlight of the menu — orange with Grand Marnier and chocolate, Nutella with fresh fruit and whipped cream, and French ham and cheese are very popular crepes. Tomasz Belka has been baking bread since the family took over in May 2012, when the bakery was in its original location at Pineland Station.
"When it comes to making bread, there is no room for error,” he said. “The key ingredient is water. Just as with breweries, if the water is not right, the beer is not right. The same applies to bread. The room temperature has to be just right; otherwise, the dough will rise too soon. From start to finish, it is a very time consuming project. During the holidays, we bake approximately 600 loaves a day — Asiago-Parmesan, raisin, rye, pumpernickel and cranberry apricot, to name a few. We also sell locally to Whole Foods; our breads meet their rigorous standards. Our most popular sandwich is our chicken salad on cranberry apricot bread.”
They also serve a unique selection of soups.
As part of the family-run operation, Tomasz Belka’s wife, Ellie, helps with the day-to-day operations and also oversees the front of the house. “My employees are proud to work here. After all, even the best coach, without a team, has no wins,” Marek Belka said.
Pastries, cakes and desserts are displayed in shiny new glass cases — trays of rugula, cinnamon rolls and scones disappear as quickly as they come out of the ovens. French macarons, a meringue-based confection made with ground almonds (not the coconut-based macaroon), are lined up like colorful polka dots; to call them “cookies” would be a culinary crime. The delicate rounds melt in the mouth and bring pure joy to the customers, which in turn brings pure joy to Marek Belka: “We are all family here.”
THE FRENCH BAKERY (new location):
Shelter Cove Towne Center
28 Shelter Cove Lane
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
Monday-Sunday: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. (hours will vary seasonally)
Wine and beer served