Features, Podcasts

Engineer pursues passion with authentic French bakery

Nagree meets with a fellow chef to offer her advice.

Nagree meets with a fellow chef to offer her advice.

View more photos here and listen to the audio interview here.

A small, white house in the Bouldin Creek area is home to La Patisserie, a traditional French bakery. Instead of cakes and cupcakes, La Patisserie churns out delicate macarons and financiers. The rooms are bright and the entire house smells of sugar and coffee. At least a dozen press clips line the wall to the left of the front door.

The mastermind behind La Patisserie is Soraiya Nagree, 31. La Patisserie is one of three businesses that Nagree owns, the other two being The Kitchen Space, a large industrial kitchen for rent in East Austin, and Luxe Sweets, her wholesaling brand. But Nagree’s story is an unusual one because, before becoming a pastry chef, she was an engineer.

Nagree left Trinity University with a chemical engineering degree and soon started working as a urethane engineer for a bowling ball company, according to La Patisserie’s website. She worked there for about three years.

“I knew I didn’t want to be an engineer forever because I just knew that in an engineering environment I was going to work for someone, unless I did consulting, and I wasn’t good enough to do consulting, and so that was kind of the driving factor,” Nagree said.

After getting married and relocating to Austin, Nagree decided to go to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu-Texas Culinary Academy. Halfway through, she began baking out of her home and wholesaling to a handful of people.

“It started going well, so we built a kitchen …and continued the wholesaling end of things. Then, three years ago, we found this house and knew that this was where La Patisserie needed to be. This is my little dream, I like the wholesale end, it’s good, it pays the bills… but this, I could be here every day. I love this place,” Nagree said.

The three businesses are all interconnected. Luxe Sweets sells pastries to shops all around Austin and La Patisserie is basically the retail space for that brand. All the pastries are baked in a kitchen they have reserved at The Kitchen Space.

Nagree believes the hardest part of running a business is knowing that it is not going to be an overnight success.

“You see all these people get successful…people are fascinated with the overnight success, that’s not how it happens for hardly anyone. You have to be your own accountant, janitor, marketing person, sales person, everything. You are everything, until you get to a point where you can finally hire people,” Nagree said.

Nagree currently has 15 employees including delivery drivers. One of them is Jacqueline Ha. She is a manager at La Patisserie.

“I’ve worked here about a year and a half, almost two years. I love it,” Ha said.

Nagree has two sons, ages 4 and nine months. She compares owning a business to having a child and says that the analogy is accurate because “they keep you up at night, you worry about it 24/7, you want to be with it 24/7.”

“I have poured everything into my businesses. I have slept in my car from being so exhausted but knowing that I need to continue baking, but I don’t have the energy to bake anymore… But at the end of the day, it’s mine. It’s my baby. And I couldn’t be prouder of it,” Nagree said.