There’s a new chapter ahead for Bellegarde Bakery, the ubiquitous and beloved bread brand found in New Orleans restaurants, grocery stores, farmers' markets, and wine shops. The bakery’s James Beard Award-nominated founder, Graison Gill, has sold it to a group of employees and taken off across the pond for London where he’ll open a bakery, Gill announced in a newsletter last week.
“How do I walk away from something so personal and ingrained in my soul [and] body without looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life?” Gill wrote. His answer: “A cooperative.” An initial group of five employees now own and run Bellegarde, Gill says, the brand he founded in 2013. After five years as a wholesaler supplying restaurants and markets, Gill expanded Bellegarde in a big way when he opened a retail bakery to the delight of residents, a move that led to a James Beard nom for Gill — he was a finalist for Outstanding Baker in 2020. “The energy and integrity of Bellegarde will be retained by the people who maintained it all these years,” Gill said in the newsletter.
Gill became known as an earnest figure, devoted to the craft of Old World bread making and the art of milling flour — he sourced wheat from Oklahoma to mill in-house, producing up to 2,000 pounds of flour per week at Bellegarde. Gill closed the bakery twice during the pandemic, first in March 2020 and again later that summer, both times gaining attention for forceful, emotional statements expressing disappointment in the American system and, concern that “The people who make our music, serve our drinks, build our homes, paint our murals, teach our children, bake our bread, the New Orleanians who make New Orleans are at risk of extinction because brutal social and economic policies have made it unbearable to live here.”
Gill says in the newsletter he was offered “a fairy-tale opportunity” to open a bakery in London, and that it won’t be much different from Bellegarde — “The same integrity, energy, and ingredients are to be used,” he said. Under the new ownership model at Bellegarde, additional employees will be eligible to become owners after a year of working at the bakery, Gill told the Times Picyaune-New Orleans Advocate. The structure is similar to that at Velveteen Lounge, the new worker-owned bar and restaurant that replaced neighborhood favorite Pirogue’s earlier this year.
“[It’s] an opportunity to show the city how business can be done,” Gill says. “We hope a more exciting, more viable, more reflexive lifestyle can be carved and maintained for those doing the heavy lifting.”