In this feature, we serve to meet some of Denver’s most exciting creatives and learn about their businesses and the passion that fuels them.
Melissa Yanc is a baker and pastry chef at La Fillette, a French-inspired bakery in the Hilltop neighborhood of Denver, CO. La Fillette has been named by 5280 Magazine as Top of the Town, Best Bakery; by Eater as one of Denver’s outstanding bakeries, and as one of Denver’s eleven best bakeries by Denver Westwood.
Give us a little bio on you, including how long you’ve been working at your current business and how long you’ve lived in Denver:
I’ve been in Denver for 6 years, I came from LA to attend pastry school at Johnson & Wales University. I’ve worked at Catering by Design, Row 14, cooked at Vesta Dipping Grill, pastry cook at Zengo, line cook and pastry chef at Uncle and market pastry at Mercantile Dining & Provision.
I’ve had Sugar Vision for 3 years now, mostly supplying The Weathervane Café. As for La Fillette, Keturah and I have had this business for just over a year.
Where does your business’ name come from? Would love to hear how you came up with it:
Tommy Lee, owner of Uncle, is my mentor and close friend, he called me, “Little Girl” at Uncle. Since he was the one employer to really trust me and allow me to have creative freedom with his menu, plus operate my wholesale business out of Uncle, I wanted to name the bakery something that was an ode to him, so since it’s a French bakery, “La Fillette” is French for “Little Girl.”
Any milestones/awards/recognition – brag about it here:
5280 Magazine – Top of The Town Best Bakery Editor’s Choice
Westword – Eleven Best Bakeries in Denver
CBS Denver – Top Macaroons in Denver
5280 Magazine – The Great Croissant Crawl
When did you first have a flash of passion to start this business?
My first feeling was when I finished my internship at Vesta Dipping Grill in 2012, but my parents made me realize I had so much more to learn.
Who are the core 2 or 3 people who have supported you, or that you feel you couldn’t make this happen without:
My parents, Tommy Lee and Keturah Fleming, who’s now my business partner.
What’s one (or 2 or 3) thing(s) you’d want someone to know about the importance of shopping local:
Sustainability, shorter or fewer transports for product help the environment! Also, we should enjoy the beautiful product our unique climate gives us. That’s why we use local SEASONAL produce for our products. Our farmers work hard, they are our first choice for giving them our business. Lastly, artisanal handmade products are hard to come by, factory based products are pumped with preservatives, ones you can’t even pronounce. On the other hand, our baguettes are simply made with a balanced ratio of flour, water, yeast and salt.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your business:
That we would need more starting capital!! And sleep.
What is one piece of advice you’d give someone starting their own business:
Get an accountant, right off the bat. They have great advice and guidance.
Favorite thing about owning your own business:
Educating the customers on the science of baking, as well as what seasonal produce is available in Colorado.
Tell us what it felt like, the first day your first customer came through the door:
Honestly, like our hearts filled up, and like we were being held up in support – we were running on 30 hours of no sleep.. A few of our friends showed up right when we flipped on the lights.
How do you balance the “maker” part of you with the part of you that has to run a business?
Keturah and I always have each other’s backs. She went to business school so she coaches me a lot on functionality of the business. I’m more on the creative side, I like hiding in the back working on projects!
Favorite item in your shop & why:
I love cake. The different textures between buttercream, cake and garnish get me every time. Plus it usually has different fresh fruits from the current season in it.
Most underrated item in your shop (and why):
The Challah! I think it’s our best bread, from French toast to sandwich bread, sometimes it’s only appreciated for the way we braid it, but not many customers actually purchase it or try a sample.
If you’ve had a moment since you started your business that you just knew, “I really made the right decision,” tell it here:
It happens every day, the fact that we have regulars blows us away. The fact that we make something that people consistently come back for is so humbling.
On my day off you can find me:
On my bike! Or usually hanging out with cooks and chefs I’ve cooked with, I miss restaurant life.
You win $25,000, what would you use it for (it doesn’t have to be for your business!):
Travel! There are so many other things I need to learn, especially about food and culture. Books only get me so far, but I would also buy more books, haha!
What are two or three things that you are working towards, business-wise, in the next five years:
Organization and expanding. We want to bring our philosophy on food and pastry to every neighborhood – mostly through other businesses like coffee shops & restaurants – so that everyone has access to our goods. We are also working on ourselves as bakers, connecting with the baking community and volunteering in other bakeries/kitchens to further ourselves in technique.
Song That Most Describes My Hustle:
“Work It” – Missy Elliott
Song I put on to pump me up before work:
“Triumph” – Screaming Females
La Fillette is located at 4416 East 8th Avenue. You can find their store hours, here.