Thuy Mai Pham grew up in Vietnam but went to France in 1976 after the fall of Saigon
Au Coeur de Paris
WESTMINSTER – The smell of flaky croissants mixes with the melodies of 1960s French pop music as elderly Vietnamese men smoke cigarettes at petite tables, reminiscing about je ne sais quoi.
The tables and chairs sit outside Au Coeur de Paris, a bread and pastry shop located not in the heart of Paris, as the name implies, but rather in Westminster, at Bushard Street and Edinger Avenue.
Au Coeur de Paris
Address: 9441 Edinger Ave., Westminster
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Specialties: Pâté chaud, which is charcuterie wrapped in a puff pastry; macaroons, which are gourmet French Oreos; and Vietnamese iced coffee.
More: A second location is scheduled to open on Euclid Street and Hazard Avenue later this fall.
“It’s my dream come true,” said owner Thuy Mai Pham of her French-style bakery.
Pham grew up in Vietnam but went to France in 1976 after the fall of Saigon. Fourteen years later, she came to the United States with three kids and a dream of opening a pastry shop in Orange County that would not have French people turning up their noses.
It took nearly two decades, but what was once a dream is now a fait accompli.
Au Coeur de Paris opened in 2008 and now attracts Vietnamese and French customers from across Orange County and even San Diego, Pham said.
To accommodate her international clientele, Pham hires only workers who speak both Vietnamese and French,languages that can be heard in the shop every day.
Business is so good that Pham is opening a second location in Garden Grove, hopefully before Thanksgiving. The shop’s lease is signed, and the new chef, Pham’s French son-in-law, arrives from Paris at the end of the month.
The second Au Coeur de Paris will focus on bread, her son-in-law’s specialty, while the original shop will continue to focus on pastries.
For anyone who has had the pleasure of dunking a warm pain au chocolat into a tiny cup of espresso in Paris, Au Coeur de Paris will not disappoint.
The chef, Pham’s son Jimmy Huynh, has some hard-hitting French bona fides. In 2010, he moved to Paris to intern at La Fougasse, a celebrated bakery in the Marais district.
For two years, Huynh worked from 1 a.m. to 3 p.m. six days a week, learning as much as he could about pastry-making from his French employers.
“It’s in their blood. They bleed it, they smell it, they embrace it every day,” he said.
“The owner could walk by my table, and he could just touch the dough and know if it was ready or not,” he added. “It’s just second nature to them.”
Pham changed the name of her shop from Le Versailles to Au Coeur de Paris (which means “in the heart of Paris”) while her son was abroad because “my heart was always in Paris,” she said.
Huynh returned in December with some of his boss’ sweet know-how that has given Au Coeur a taste and feel that is uniquely French.
“When we come here, we find the taste that we had a long time ago,” said regular Phi-Long Mai, who grew up in Vietnam and visits friends in France every year.
“It still carries the French soul, with a little bit of Vietnamese ingredients in there.”
Au Coeur offers all the pastries you would expect to find in any high-end patisserie in France:croissants, pains au chocolat, pains aux raisins and even macarons, the French dessert par excellence. They also bake baguettes and bread rolls twice a day.
Vietnamese twists include pâté chaud, or spiced pork wrapped in a crispy puff pastry, and Viet-namese coffee, sweet espresso and milk over ice.
Iced coffee may be taboo in France, but so would peanut butter-flavored macarons, Au Coeur’s decidedly American twist on a French classic.
Au Coeur already supplies four local restaurants with commercial bread orders, and Pham hopes her new bakery will allow her to increase that number.
She said she was excited for her son-in-law to arrive, as she hasn’t visited France since opening the pastry shop.
She just wishes her other family in France would consider moving over.
“They don’t want to come,” she said with a laugh, “because the United States doesn’t have good baguettes!”