Eric Rousseau, owner of Craft Business Award winner Belle Époque, has business ambitions and further awards in his sights, as Ashley Williams reports

From childhood, Belle Époque Patisserie founder Eric Rousseau knew he wanted to be a baker.

That ambition, and a lot of toil, led him to London’s Hilton Park Lane last September when he won the Craft Business category at the Baking Industry Awards.

“It was great to win the award. I was very proud and it’s a celebration of the last 15 years of non-stop hard work,” says Rousseau, who has three boutique outlets in London.

Originally from France, Rousseau grew up in the restaurant business and followed his family’s footsteps into the catering industry.

He grew up opposite a bakery and often spent time with the children who lived there. He then went on to work there during the school holidays. And from there his baking career began.

Rousseau admits he felt nervous in the run-up to awards night as it was the first time Belle Époque had entered any type of UK competition.

“I did not know what to expect,” he says. “But, during the inspection, the judges made me feel very at ease and I took it in my stride.

“I described the business, showed them what we do, and brought them to the retail outlets to see how our products are presented. I also took them to the production pastry lab to show how it’s done and to show them the discipline and hard work the entire team puts in every single day.”

Since he won the award, customers have flocked to Rousseau’s outlets in Newington Green, Islington and the Selfridges department store in Oxford Street.

“The customers have been pouring through the doors,” he tells British Baker. “We did a lot of promotion, such as banners in the window and using the winner’s logo. We have also had a couple of interviews with local magazines and papers.

“Customers have said they are very happy for us, and that there is no better bakery in Islington and even the UK. That’s great to hear – we can’t complain.”

However, Rousseau insists he is not the only person who should take credit for the success of Belle Époque. His wife Hulya, who helped him set up the business, plays a major part in its day-to-day operation.

“She’s very proud and happy to have won the prize,” says Rousseau. “She takes care of the offices and the shop floor side of the business, while I run the wholesale, kitchen, purchasing, invoicing and accounting.

“We really complete each other; we know our roles and we try not to fight too much,” he jokes. Travel influence Rousseau met Hulya in 2000, when they learned they shared a love for Africa, and he says the history of the business is intimately tied with the couple’s extensive travels around the world.

Recent developments have included a rebranding in 2014, which has taken the business to a new level, says Rousseau. “It has certainly contributed to our success,” he adds. “We put more of a modern touch.”

Rousseau plans to extend beyond north London and into the West End this year, as he wants to be playing with the “big boys”.

“We want to put Belle Époque a bit more on the map because, at the moment, we are concentrated in north London,” he says. “We want to be competing with the likes of Pierre Marcolini and Paul UK in London.”

He is also hungry for more trophies, and says he has something up his sleeve for the 2017 Baking Industry Awards, which are launched in this issue of British Baker (see p17).

“We are looking to enter the Celebration Cake Business of the Year and Bakery Product of the Year categories,” he says. “For the Celebration Cake, I want to do something very special and have something planned that is unseen in the UK market.”

Sponsor’s comment

Award sponsor Dawn Foods says Rousseau and his team demonstrated their passion and skill for producing high-quality craft bakery products to earn The Craft Business Award.

“His business, Belle Époque Patisserie, is ‘one to watch’ in the independent baking industry,” according to Chris Jenkins, cluster director for Dawn Foods UK and Ireland (left in picture), who presented the award to Rousseau along with celebrity host Matt Dawson (far right).

“Its talented team of pastry chefs and bakers use the skills handed down from generation to generation to create exquisite cakes, chocolates, breads, Viennoiserie and tarts, all to Eric’s exactingly high standards.”