Jean-Marc Chatellier looking to sell his French bakery in Millvale

That reliable Frenchman who patrons have watched behind the counter for 30 years creating his sweet desserts and lovingly layering sheets of buttery dough for croissants is selling Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery in Millvale.

And not just anyone.

“There are people who have wanted to buy the business to invest,” said Jean-Marc Chatellier, 60, a French pastry chef who is the son of a baker from Brittany, France.

“But those people have no clue how to make macarons and nut roll,” he said.

When the bakery opened in 1992 as a wholesale business, it quickly became a destination for regional favorites such as nut and poppy seed rolls and French baked goods, then morphed into a successful retail shop.

Chatellier’s French delicacies include macarons, triple-layered cakes with buttercream, and gourmet fillings such as chocolate ganache, chocolate mousse, raspberry mousse, lemon cream and more. Then there is his beloved French Breton shortbread, one of Chatellier’s favorites while growing up, a plain-looking round cake that tastes like a large, moist butter cookie.

The new owner of the bakery has to have more than basic baking skills, he said. “We need someone who is willing to work.”

Chatellier noted that small bakeries have been disappearing in the United States, as well as in the small towns of France because of the required long and early hours of a baker.

It’s not all French

At the very least, the new owner should be able to whip up some of Chatellier’s non-French favorites such as nut roll and Key lime pie.

Chatellier uses a traditional Hungarian nut roll recipe with walnuts and honey. He was looking for a holiday dessert around Thanksgiving and a supplier gave him the recipe and said it was a good fit for the ethnic background of the area.

To this day, Chatellier hears about how his nut roll is almost as good or better than what a patron’s mother would make.

“One guy told me he took the nut roll to his mother and she said, ‘this is better than mine. So now you can get the nut roll from there.’”

Chatellier’s recipes don’t have to be French, “as long as it’s a very good quality,” he said.

That’s the case with his Key Lime pie. He still uses the same supplier for the Key Lime juice who he sold to a restaurant in Los Angeles where Chatellier worked as a pastry chef.

He brought a piece to a woman he was dating at the time after she lost her job – and that woman eventually became his wife.

“I remember sitting on my front steps in the sunshine eating that pie,” said Sandra Chatellier.

It’s still the couple’s favorite.

Where is Millvale?

Chatellier fell in love with and married a girl from Shaler, who brought him here and helped him realize his dream of owning his own bakery in her native land.

When the couple started out, they had little money, bought used equipment, and bought the local banks to buy the banks at 213 North Ave., the former Marlovits meat market. “What makes you think a French baker will work in Millvale?” Chatellier was asked by one banker.

Chatellier didn’t care about Millvale’s low profile compared to the more moneyed parts of town. He was already the pastry chef at La Normande restaurant in Shadyside and had worked at prestigious restaurants in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

All he knew is that it was located in the middle of Allegheny County and, as a wholesale business, he could easily travel to deliver his nut rolls, cakes and pastries anywhere.

“Millvale was rundown but it was a safe community,” Chatellier said of when he opened his shop.

In the summer when his bakery got hot in the wee hours of the night, Chatellier said he would prop open the back and front doors to circulate cooler air and he never had a problem.

His wife, who had already worked in marketing for cultural organizations, jumped in to grow the business.

“I remember thinking that he’s an artist, so why can’t I promote my own husband?” she said.

After the Pittsburgh media got wind of his baking and published numerous stories and produced television segments, Chatellier switched to retail.

The Millvale location still was not a detriment.

He wasn’t just the only French baker in Millvale, but the only French baker in Allegheny County.

One customer famously asked Chatellier, “Why don’t you move to Shadyside?” He replied, “Why should I? You’re coming here.”

Jim Burn, former Millvale mayor and a political consultant and analyst, said when he travels outside of Millvale, people identify the town with Chatellier’s bakery.

“The bakery has been a cornerstone of our community’s business district,” he said.

The bakeshop stuck with the town in hard times such as the flood from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, spurring a visit from President George W. Bush.

“In the days immediately following Hurricane Ivan, who decimated our town, we were concerned that Jean-Marc may move the bakery while we worked on the town’s recovery,” Burn said. “In true Millvale fashion, Jean-Marc hung a sign in his window announcing that ‘mudpies’ would be available until he was reopened for business and that he was not leaving.”

That sign inspired borough residents to keep pushing through, Burn said.

Not only did the town survive, but it has thrived in recent years and is booming with businesses and events such as the town’s music festival, concerts and historic tours of St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church.

“It is sad to see Jean-Marc stepping away,” Burn said. “We all wish him nothing but the best.”

Chatellier is determined to find a buyer to carry on his brand of baking in Millvale. He intends to train the new owners to produce the same baked goods. Although Chatellier will withdraw from his business, he said he might not be done baking.

Stay tuned.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, or via Twitter .

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