all photos: Franz Mahr
Laduree’s first-ever-D.C.-location in Georgetown announces itself several blocks before you arrive to 3060 M Street NW. It is not that there are signs or anything, the announcement comes in the form of women, seemingly everywhere, toting the signature pistacchio green bags, and, more often than not, eating their treats straight out of them. After all, who can actually wait to get home to enjoy their freshly acquired macarons?
Once, in, the store and restaurant seemingly GLOW. “The natural light today, but it really is beautiful” – says Elisabeth Holder Raberin, the owner and CEO of Laduree who is in town for opening day. Though, lets face it, it is more than just the natural light. The storefront is filled with the kind of color that seems to advertise the lightness of flavor packed within. The yellows, the greens, the crystal blue walls, the new cherry blossom gift box pinks – the store is designed to make a customer want it all.
And, 103 stores later, what does make Laduree’s brand maintain its specialness? “Well, we are French, so we are not rushed” – smiles Holder – “We take our time with each location. It has to feel just right. The location, the decor, the little special things on the menu, it all has to work”. I mention all the women and their Laduree boxes on our way here and she nods: “Everyone loves the boxes. That is why they make such good presents. Not just because the macarons are so beautiful and light but because the box feels like a gift too. I see them everywhere: people use them in bathrooms, in bedrooms, children collect them…”
What is inside the box is a delight, obviously and begins with Pierre Desfontaines, second cousin of the Louis Ernest Laduree, the original owner of Laduree Paris, who was the first person to come up with the “two macaron shells with something delicious in between” concept. The airy yet crunchy, creamy yet delicate treat is a combination of almond powder, eggs, sugar and always a little something special that adds that je ne sais quoi to the final product.
Holder’s Father, who is also the man behind the PAUL bakeries, was a great fan of the original Parisian store. “We used to go there for lunch every Sunday”, Holder remembers. So when this “sleeping beauty”, as she refers to the first location went for sale, Holders jumped at the chance. “It was truly meant to be. A love story, you know”, she says.
That was twenty five years a go, with only four flavors and a tiny footprint, and now with over a hundred new delicious options and a full menu and a beauty line, the Holders still run it like a family business. Elisabeth herself started her career at Hermes, where she met her husband, who is now her co-CEO and her brother David is the Chairman. But, according to her, the family logic transcends just the blood ties. Everyone in the Georgetown store came from somewhere else in the Laduree circle: whether Dubai or New York, the team in D.C. has years of experience in what makes the brand special.
As we sit, the macarons keep coming out. D.C. is the location to premiere the cherry blossom macaron and religieuse, and we have to ask: With the ever changing menu, are there any that are ALWAYS there?
And the answer is: Yes. There is certain flavors that are always there: pistacchio, vanilla, orange blossom, salted caramel, raspberry, rose, lemon.
And Holder’s favorite? “Rose”, she doesn’t hesitate. “I love the floral ones. We just premiered lavander also, which is very lovely”
For those NOT into a diet strictly of macarons, the tea room offers a full menu of classic french breakfast, lunch, brunch, tea and aperitif which was designed so that “No matter what your diet is, there is something wonderful for you here”, says Holder. Some of the classics include “Vol Au Vent” chicken with wild mushrooms (“People get very upset when it is off the menu”), mini Lobster Rolls which Holder was enjoying that day herself and a great selection of salads and seafood.
And for those in a rush – once the second D.C. location at Union Station opens, there will be a to-go counter, so your future Amtrak trips just got a little more delicious too.
And what is next for Laduree: “Well, we will keep growing, but not too quickly” – says Holder.
As I leave, with my very own little green bag, the smiles and nods I get from all the other people in Georgetown toting that same bag tell me that the wait was worth it.
Laduree Georgetown is open at 3060 M Street NW, Monday – Sunday, 8AM-7AM daily, with the Union Station (the brand’s first train station outpost) coming soon.