When Tieng Vang was six years old, his parents placed him for adoption with a French family. It was the 1970s and his Hmong family had just settled in Paris after emigrating from Laos, leaving behind the Vietnam War.
“They felt like I would learn French faster, and I would adapt to the French lifestyle easier,” Tieng said.
While his retired Hmong parents stayed in Paris with his brother, Tieng lived with a French couple and their son and two daughters, just south of Paris in the small village of La Bruffière. There, for six years, he learned the ways of a new culture. He picked up the French manner of holding a fork in the left hand and a knife in the right; the habit of eating a daily 4 p.m. snack of bread, butter and a chocolate bar. He had to be in bed by 8 p.m. and always gave a kiss to his French mother beforehand.
Nearly every morning around 5 a.m., his French mom sent him about a mile down the street to the local boulangerie. It became a routine: biking down the street, knocking on the baker’s door and getting fresh baguettes before the bakery even opened.
“I’d give him cash and he’d give me a fresh baguette–hot and warm. That’s how my mom used to like to eat it,” Tieng said. “This is how I fell in love with the French baguette.”
Starting this weekend, in the middle of August, he’ll be sharing that love with Minnesotans. Tieng Vang and his son Brandon Vang are opening an authentic French bakery, La Delicious Bread, with imported flours and other ingredients from France. The bakery, open Tuesdays through Sundays, will serve fresh bread, banh mi, pastries and coffee on Rice Street in Maplewood, just a few blocks north of the St. Paul city line.
La Delicious Bread moved into an old Tim Hortons donut shop. Tieng has overhauled the chain-restaurant décor with custom paintings of Parisian streetscapes—most notably the Eiffel Tower. After four years of preparation and training, the father and son team is finally ready to present their distinctive baking to the community—along with the family story behind it.
The menu is filled with French signature items including croissants, brioche, éclairs, macarons and cream puffs. La Delicious Bread will also offer banh mis, a Vietnamese sandwich traditionally stuffed with various meats, pickled vegetables, mayo and pate, folded in a French baguette.
For all these offerings, the father-son duo insist the main course, in a sense, is the fresh bread. Their baguette, prepared in a traditional French style, captures its ideal textures: crispy and crunchy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside.
“We are expecting feedback on one thing and only one thing—our bread,” Tieng said. “Even with fresh banh mi bread sandwich, it’s been dead on.”
The Vangs hope to win customers for the kind of classic baking that’s more common in France—or maybe south Minneapolis. However, Tieng added, if “there’s one thing we can’t screw up, it’s the bread.”
Running a family business: in English, French and Hmong
A week before the public opening, Brandon and Tieng opened the bakery doors for a soft launch: giving new staff a trial run at the cash register, filling the display cases, and making coffee and sandwiches.
Tieng, wearing a white baker’s hat and white double-breasted jacket, rested at one of the tables, visiting with family and friends. At one point, he could be heard conversing in French, welcoming some French men who lived around the neighborhood and had come to check out the new spot.
Brandon, meanwhile, labored in the back, making sure things were running smoothly. He, too, wore a clean white baker’s outfit.
A continuous flow of customers showed up throughout the two-day soft open. Tieng said there wasn’t any promotion, only invites to some friends and family. To his surprise and satisfaction, over 200 guests came through last Saturday, just by word-of-mouth.
Brandon, 27, leads the work in the kitchen starting at 1 a.m. each morning, with help from his mom, Julie. And he described the two-day-long process of creating the bread.
Just preparing the dough takes almost two hours, before he leaves it to rise (and develop flavor) overnight. Once it’s ready, he spends another two-and-a-half hours shaping and cutting the dough and then throwing it in the oven.
During the long waiting period, Brandon works with his mom to prepare pastries. Julie is new to baking, and she’s been helping out in the kitchen until Brandon can train some more bakers.
At the same time, by design, running this bakery is a full family affair. Brandon, the head baker, draws knowledge from his parents’ experience and expertise with French foodways. Mom and dad provide business guidance and help in the kitchen. Meanwhile, Brandon’s 25-year-old brother, Tommy, works in the front, training and leading the new staff. And Tommy’s wife, Virginia, helps get the coffee ready. The youngest sibling in the family, 12-year-old Maneera, tags along and helps where she can.
Julie and Tieng, both from Paris, met and married in France. Brandon was born there, too, before his parents moved to Eagan, Minnesota, in 1994 to be closer to family. Tieng said lots of his Hmong relatives were separated during the war, and came back together in Minnesota.
“The land of opportunity—that’s how I see America when I first wanted to come here. A country where dreams can come true,” Tieng said. “I’m living the dream right now, that’s for sure.”
Tieng remains connected to his French roots and visits his two brothers and French family often. Three languages flood the walls of Tieng and Julie’s home in Eagan. They speak French with each other, English with the children, and Hmong with family members.
One American habit the Vangs picked up? Trying out a move to Florida and bouncing around a bit. Brandon and his two siblings grew up around restaurants. Tieng has spent some 10 years in the food industry, starting as a fast-food cook trainer. He owned Ho Ho Choy, a Chinese/Cantonese-style restaurant in Tampa, Florida, for six years in the early 2000s.
Tieng left the exhausting restaurant industry eight years ago and now runs an electric-soldering training program in St. Paul, which offers career training to inexperienced workers in the community.
Not much of a desk person
That leaves Brandon to lead day-to-day operations at the bakery.
After graduating from Eagan’s Eastview High School in 2011, Brandon got an IT degree. It didn’t take long, Brandon said, to realize he’s not much of a desk person. So he hopped around where he felt comfortable: restaurants. Starting as a young dishwasher, he made stops in a bunch of different kitchens, before ultimately establishing himself as a sushi chef.
Some four years into that work, his father asked him to partner up.
“I asked him if he would like to own his own business,” Tieng recalled. “He had some interest into it, and I said, What about becoming a baker? Because that has also been my dream.”
Tieng continued, “He accepted. He wanted to give it a try and see how it would turn out.”
Brandon liked the idea of tapping into his father’s knowledge. Plus, he added, “I felt like there was too much competition when it came to making sushi compared to having a French bakery,” Brandon said. “A French bakery is very specialized, because you do have to get certified.”
While many careers require a professional certification, baking may not seem like one of them. But Brandon went through a four-year journey to become a professional baker. He spent two years in Seattle learning the basics from his dad’s friend, the French baker Patrick Morin, at the top-rated La Parisienne French Bakery.
Then, in fall 2019, Brandon traveled to Paris for three months to receive certification from an international baking school, École Boulangerie de Paris. There he wanted to learn the traditional style directly from French bakers and business owners. He also immersed himself in French culture—without knowing how to speak French. Since leaving as an infant, he’d visited Paris only once, for his grandfather’s funeral.
Back in France as an adult, he visited his French uncles, aunts and cousins, some of whom he hadn’t seen since he was 12 years old. Communication presented less of a barrier here, since he could speak Hmong with most of them.
“I had a chance to see where I could’ve grew up, how life there is,” Brandon said.
After returning from Paris, he headed straight to a Las Vegas bakery to continue learning and training. As the winter rolled around, Tieng and Brandon started looking for a location to transform into La Delicious Bread.
The bakery was supposed to open in May, but plans fluctuated due to the pandemic. Now after months of waiting, the bakery will open to the public on Saturday. COVID-19 safety measures will be the rule: social distancing and masks.
Minnesota will get a fresh, authentic taste of Paris, presented by the Hmong-French-American Vang family. Meanwhile for Tieng, La Delicious Bread will serve as a reminder of his childhood: those warm and fresh baguettes.
“All you want is to make a place that can remind you of home,” Tieng said. “And I would say this is as close as you can be.”
La Delicious Bread opens this Saturday, August 8, with walk-in, takeout and drive-through service. Regular hours: 6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. 2158 Rice Street, Maplewood, Minnesota. (651) 797-4620; www.ladeliciousbread.com