COVID-19 not stopping N.H. Le Macaron owners

  • ABOVE: Le Macaron franchise owner Andrea Török poses at the shop’s entry in Windham. RIGHT: A dessert tower of macarons and a raspberry-filled macaron. Photos courtesy of Andrea Torok

  • Custom variety of macarons on display with a raspberry fruit filling. —Courtesy of Andrea Torok

  • A cake decorating class being led at Le Macaron. —Courtesy of Andrea Torok

  • A class participant perfects her cake design with floral patterns and a macaron topper inside the store. —Courtesy of Andrea Torok

  • A variety of macarons on display in the form of confectionary towers. —Courtesy of Andrea Torok

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 11/13/2020 5:09:45 PM

In 2019, Hungarian-born Andrea Török and Lászlo Pap decided to pursue their passion and open a local franchise of Le Macaron: a French-themed bake shop and café that is popular in the American south. When Török and Pap chose to enter the franchise business, their Windham Le Macaron location, which opened in 2019, became the first in New England. While the owners were ready to introduce the chain to a new region, they had no idea they’d be doing so during a global pandemic.

Prior to the married couple’s opening of Le Macaron in June of 2019, Török and Pap had a life in Hungary and made the decision to relocate to the United States when Pap was offered a job transfer in 2010. Pap came first, and then Török and their children followed in July 2010.

Török knew that she wanted to become a business owner once they were settled in America.

“When we had the offer (to relocate) voiced, Andrea wanted a job here – where she can set her own timeline. She wanted to start a business. First, we started to look at the indoor playground business but that fell apart because we recognized it wasn’t for us. She kept looking through sites where you can either take over or start new business opportunities, and then she found the option for Le Macaron,” said Pap.

It seemed a perfect way to integrate the couple’s heritage.

“I wanted something European, fancy, chic, modern – I was sick and tired of the Starbucks’ and the Dunkin Donuts,’” Török said.

Török graduated in Europe as an economist and attributes her love of all things French, and proficiency in the French language, to a time in her life when she lived in Belgium. Török describes her life at home with her children for the past 16 years and initial challenges with learning English as she became a store owner for the first time. Prior to the family’s arrival in the U.S., Török says that she had no English language skills whatsoever.

“For the first nine years I didn’t speak English and we spoke Hungarian at home. So I’ve been learning every day. I have still been learning because when I opened my shop last year, sometimes I couldn’t understand my customers and they couldn’t stand me either,” Török said.

Sometimes, she relied on French – more familiar to customers than Hungarian – to get by.

“I taught French here in Windham, because my French was better than my English,” Török said with a laugh.

Finding a suitable location selection was the first difficulty in launching a business. The couple wanted the shop to be near their Windham home, but there was almost nothing available.

“The places, which were in good locations were either fully rented out or not suitable for a coffee shop,” Pap said.

After experiencing difficulties that Pap “did not imagine existed even here in the U.S.,” including site selection and commercial property availability, the couple purchased a plot at 55 Range Road in Windham and began the build. Pap describes the construction process as having been incredibly slow even after the purchase.

When Le Macaron initially launched in June of 2019, Pap and Török saw a steadily growing customer base that flocked to the colorful and varietal flavors of the traditional French macaron that the store is focused on. Török describes their success with catering and birthday parties for children who eagerly enter the bright pink shop with its images of Parisian décor and sweets behind the counter.

But things quickly turned sour when COVID-19 bit into the customer base for small businesses like Le Macaron. Requests for parties and catering diminished as social distancing became the norm.

Despite challenges from the pandemic, the couple remain optimistic for the store’s future.

“Yes, it definitely caused additional challenges, but on the other hand it’s also opened up our eyes. So we started to do certain things more economically after it started,” Pap said. The store adapted with reduced hours and purchasing changes.

Building a customer base is challenging for any new business, and COVID made that especially difficult for Le Macaron, Pap said.

“I am just watching the numbers (of COVID cases). I am a numbers guy. I am doing the same for my company and here as well,” Pap said.

The store closed temporarily between the middle of March until mid-May, when the governor’s stay-at-home order was strictest. With a soft re-opening, Török opted for caution, deciding to only open Fridays and Saturdays at the beginning of summer. Török found herself alone on initial weekends of re-launch, with a struggling customer base – an experience she describes as having been very depressing. But once summer came, Török saw a gradual return of people and ultimately regular hours again, which gave the owners a much-needed revitalization.

“I was able to hire a local baker. She is Italian and seems to know everyone in the area! She has really helped me to bring a lot of customers in the area and we were able to do some parties. But still, we are seeing less people who want to continue to sign up for parties with us due to COVID. It can be hard to tell sometimes if we are in a good or not good time (for business),” Török said.

Török wants the public to know that catering and party options are always available for those customers who may be interested. Birthdays, wedding events, baby showers, etc. have all been carried out through Le Macaron in Windham.

Pap said that the business did not receive state or federal grant funding or loans. He believes Le Macaron would not qualify.

Török and Pap continue to follow the state of New Hampshire’s guidelines on safely running their business with social distancing, use of masks, and sanitation standards. For a time, the business also closed the dining area inside where customers could previously sit at tables. Today, customers can again dine inside Le Macaron to which their table will be thoroughly cleaned before and after use. Török and Pap continue to comply with New Hampshire’s recent contact tracing requirement.

Looking to the future vision of their store and the franchise as a whole, Pap discusses the couple’s plan to hopefully expand Le Macaron into more populous places in New England, in addition to the Windham location.

“I definitely would like to open a couple more stores in the area because this franchise is not known in New England. It’s a good opportunity to open more shops in places like Boston, Newburyport, Portsmouth, maybe even Portland.”

While Le Macaron is a franchise, the Török and Pap feel that their pastries are unique and bring something new to the table for those who are unfamiliar with the French confection. They emphasize a “buyer-beware” message that people who have tried macarons and have disliked them in the past should consider quality as a factor. Macarons that are sold at other locations for as little as $1 will likely not contain the authentic quality that places like their store can boast, they said.

“Our macarons are originated by a French chef. They were learning their trade back in France for two or three years so these are authentic resale recipes. The franchise is very keen on their product,” Pap explained.

Being able to offer a bright environment that mimics a European restaurant that is clean, charming, and will make people happy is their continued vision for its existence and future expansion. At the end of the day, both Pap and Török continue to monitor the state of the pandemic across the nation while eagerly awaiting their business complex’s completion to bring more foot traffic to their store.

“I think it just requires time, so we need to survive,” said Pap. “And I believe we will reach that customer base that we are hoping for.”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.




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