Britt-Marie and Shane Culey just celebrated three years at Coquette Patisserie, their warm and cozy Paris-inspired café and bake shop in University Circle. An airy corner spot, with large windows overlooking Euclid Avenue, the café offers a pleasant daytime respite for museum-goers and students. At sunset, the place takes on a sexy, sophisticated vibe.
An evolving menu of pastries, signature macarons, quiches, and sandwiches accompanies coffee drinks, crafted cocktails or flights of Champagne. They’ve introduced afternoon teas and oyster pairings, and build community around art, books, or whatever piques their interest. They’ve cultivated a following of regulars, and are a popular for stop for Cleveland tourists. They’ve also built a loyal following on their custom work, having attracted the notice of some VIPs and legends, like Sir Paul McCartney, who enjoyed a proper afternoon tea with some of Coquette’s creations.
As Chef Britt-Marie works, the couple’s young kids, Finnian and Lilian, may be found behind the counter in case someone needs a little comforting, or lunch. Running a family business comes with equal helpings of love and chaos, and Britt and Shane wouldn’t have it any other way.
Shane gave us a little insight into why things work for the couple, and why Coquette Patisserie is considered one of the most romantic spots in town, on Valentine’s Day and the other 364 days of the year.
You and Britt just reached a three-year milestone with Coquette. How has working together as a couple changed you?
Ha! I’d like to give you the expected and cliché answer that it has been a dream and has brought us closer and made our relationship stronger, but any of our friends who read this will laugh me out of town. The reality is this: the restaurant industry is brutal. There is very little money to be made, the hours are inhumane, and the exhaustion that results from performing physically demanding tasks while on your feet all day makes the strongest people unstable. I don’t think this is a secret, so knowing that reality and deciding to open an establishment anyway, basically makes you an insane person to begin with. Now, when you put two insane people who suffer from all of the aforementioned emotional and physical abuses together in the same house … well, what could go wrong?!
Both Britt and I are intensely passionate, creative, and strong willed. I think those are our best attributes – and I think that’s what has also made Coquette the success that it is. But, behind closed doors, those same characteristics occasionally lead to battles that would make Genghis Kahn uncomfortable.
With two young children and a growing, demanding business, how do you both stay connected with each other? What kinds of things do you like to do in your downtime as a couple?
This is something that we are just now beginning to consciously work on. Finnian will be 4 in June so he was in utero for all of the work leading up to opening Coquette and was about 6 months old when we actually opened our doors. Our daughter, Lilian, arrived shortly after Coquette’s first birthday. We’re incredibly fortunate to have an amazingly talented staff that can execute our vision with minimal influence from Britt or me.
When we are able to take advantage of time away we like to take the kids to The (Cleveland) Botanical Garden or to Edgewater Park or go hiking in the MetroParks.
On the much more rare occasion that Britt and I get time away from both Coquette and the kiddos, we almost always go out to eat at a Cleveland restaurant we haven’t yet been to, and then try to catch up with friends over a couple bottles of wine. Another one of our favorite spots is Thaxton’s Organic Garlic Farm. We’re incredibly fortunate to call Fred and Chris dear friends and their 10-acre farm in Hudson is a sanctuary for us. The Thaxtons and their farm have an amazing way of centering us when things get a little out of calibration.
What is it about Coquette Patisserie, “French” things, desserts and Champagne that speaks to people looking for something romantic?
For me, romance is all about sharing things that are unique, thoughtful, and contain an element of surprise. While I don’t think that Britt or I intended to create a “romantic” spot, I do believe that visibly beautiful and delicious food with a thoughtfully curated and crafted drink list in an intimate environment certainly has all the makings for a romantic night out.
On that note, Coquette has the largest selection of Grower Champagne in Ohio. I’d argue that there isn’t a beverage anywhere more special than Grower Champagne. Grower Champagnes are sparkling wines from the Champagne region that are made from estate-grown grapes. The grapes are grown, the juice is extracted, and the fermentation process is all done without anything ever leaving the vineyard. These are often very small yield and earn a “Grand Cru” or “Premier Cru” distinction for the quality of the land/grapes/wine. Some of the wines that we get at Coquette are produced in quantities fewer than 300 cases. That’s fewer than 3,600 bottles in the entire world.
What’s sexier than sharing a bottle of bubbles that [relatively] few other people in the world get to experience? Besides being delicious, Grower Champagnes are interesting and challenging. They motivate the drinker to ask questions and engage with us. They represent the small-batch attention to detail and personal approach that we put into everything here at Coquette.
Has there been any memorable “wow” kind of experience someone set up for their love at Coquette Patisserie?
There are so many, but the one that stands out was from last spring.
A gentleman called us a couple weeks before his girlfriend’s birthday and asked if we could recreate a cake that they shared while traveling in France the year prior – a cake that she was obsessed with but couldn’t find in the States. It was a delightful entremet composed of layers of cassis mousse, macaronade, and cherry compote. He asked with he could reserve our two-top furthest away from the door and if we could have a vase of pink gerbera daisies on the table, and a bottle of Chartogne Taillet Rosé waiting.
The only other information that we received was that they had 7:00 dinner reservations at L’Albatros and anticipated arriving at Coquette around 9:00. He wanted us to have their table set with cake and flowers waiting. We would pour the Champagne upon their arrival.
9:00 came and went, then 9:30, and at 9:45 we began to worry that we had been stood up. Then, a little before 10:00, a white horse with a white carriage slowly pulls into our parking lot. It pulls up as close as it can to our front door, and a the driver helps a dapper man in a European suit and a beautiful woman in a black cocktail dress off the carriage, and they walk hand-in-hand under our patio lights through our door. I greet them and show them to their table.
I gave them a few minutes to get settled, and I walked over to present the Champagne and describe the cake.
As I described the cake, tears began to well up in her eyes. I knew that she was the happiest person on the planet that night. As I began to back away from the table, the boyfriend stopped my and apologized for being late. He explained that when they left L’Albatross the carriage was waiting for them (a surprise for her), and he asked the driver to take them around Wade Oval … where they had just gotten engaged.
What made you realize you wanted to be a couple and eventually marry?
I distinctly remember the first time that I saw Britt. It was like something out of a Wes Anderson or Tim Burton movie. Suddenly the world was saturated in color and time seemed to stand still – as perfectly illustrated in the movie Big Fish. We were both living in Manhattan at the time, I lived downtown, she was a pastry chef at a patisserie there, we both frequented the same Irish Pub, and ended up running around in the same group of friends. So, we saw each other fairly frequently, though were involved with other people.
When my relationship dissolved and I caught wind that hers had, too, I reached out to her to have dinner. Now, asking a chef that you really don’t know all that well to have dinner with you – at a place of your choosing – is a pretty intimidating thing: If the meal sucks, it’s obviously because you have a bad palate or have terrible judgment. So, I took her to a tiny little Italian place on Avenue B called Max. I’d heard great things, it was unsuspecting, inconspicuous, and nearly impossible to get a table at. So, it had all the makings for an impressive first date.
Britt is obviously strikingly beautiful, so the attraction element was well established. Over that meal, though, I learned that she was the most dynamic, interesting, and humble person I had ever met. She was a chef, her mother was Swedish (she speaks Swedish fluently) she has lived in and traveled across the world (literally), and she couldn’t have been less interested in the ostentatiousness of New York City. I was captivated and promised myself that night that I would never let her go. I wanted to forever hear her stories, learn from her, and be challenged by her.
What is the essence of Coquette Patisserie? What is it you were trying to create in this unique place?
The essence of Coquette Patisserie is fun. We have dozens of customers each day that are like, “Wait. I can get French pastries and Champagne and cheese and oysters all in one place?!” And I always tell them that Coquette represents our favorite things all wrapped up in one.
When we travel we keep notes on our favorite experiences. No matter which city we were in – our highlights always ended up being the same things: pastries, cocktails, oysters, and unique and thoughtful spaces.
A few years ago in San Francisco, we had an entire day with no agenda, so I suggested that we go to a cocktail bar that I’d been wanting to try called Comstock Saloon. Britt ordered a Pimm’s Cup and I had a Sazerac. Britt declared that it was the best Pimm’s Cup she’d ever had and complimented the bartender on his artistry. To our surprise, he deflected and said “You haven’t had a Pimm’s Cup until you get one from Slanted Door.” So, off to Slanted Door we went.
We sat at the bar at Slanted Door, drank Pimm’s Cups, ate Washington oysters and California Yellowtail (one of the best bites of food I’ve ever had), and asked the bartender what restaurant was the most exciting one in SF at that time. Without hesitation he said, “Outerlands.” So, we settled up and hopped on the train to Outerlands – a tiny spot that featured dishes comprised of ingredients that were purchased at area farmers markets that day. We proceeded to have one of the best meals of our lives there. We asked for a staff recommendation for our next stop. They sent us to b. patisserie, a sexy little French Pastry shop that looked like it had been plucked out of France. It was the most appropriate end to a perfect day.
Upon returning to our hotel, I suggested to Britt: “What if everything we had today existed under one roof. What if we could get cocktails and oysters and seasonal small plates and French macarons without ever having to get up from our barstool? Would that be crazy?”
“Yes. And we should do it,” she replied.
Coquette Patisserie is located at 11607 Euclid Avenue in the Uptown district, across from Cleveland Institute of Art. They are hosting a few special events this month, including their annual Mini-Peti celebration (a Champagne and small bites pairing) on Feb. 14.