Only during bewildering, baffling times like the present could a French-inspired bake shop called Le Petit Cafe owe its growing fan base to empanadas, pesto panini, bacon-arugula-tomato sandwiches, fresh-squeezed juices and — what was that other thing? Oh, right. Their rainbow cookie doughnuts are really popular.
No, really popular.
“I know, I’m so sorry,” said Erin Russo to the woman calling from Syosset. “But I still have seven. You want all seven?”
Owing perhaps to a miscommunication earlier in the day between Russo, the front-of-house manager, and Tina Grimes, the shop’s owner and head baker, there was a palpable tension in the air. Russo had taken reservations for 45 rainbow cookie doughnuts, but there were only 43 left.
“I said to Tina, ‘I have to have two doughnuts, I have to honor that reservation,’” Russo said after she’d hung up with Syosset. “You want a doughnut?” Nod. “You can’t have any, ’cause I just sold the last seven.”
“This is what amazes me,” Grimes told me over coffee at a back table inside the year-and-change Farmingdale establishment she’d originally named Thyme on Your Side. “We’re not a doughnut shop. I just started making these a month ago.”
Russo appeared again. “Here, take a picture. I have to pack them up.”
Thus ends another feel-good Feed Me story for our times, a —
“I can’t find anybody that knows how to make an egg,” Grimes said, interrupting the above reverie. “You’d be surprised how difficult that is.” In the absence of a breakfast cook — she needs a dishwasher too — “it’s so insanely busy I can’t keep up. I’ve forgotten what my husband looks like.”
Grimes’ family network is already tapped out (“thank goodness my daughter is home from college right now, but she’s a musical theater major, and she’s going back to school in August”) and so is her manager’s. Russo’s daughter works there, her son’s a busser. Indeed, until last fall, Russo herself had been content to be a loyal customer. Then she started pitching in one day a week. The pair soon bonded, and Russo went full-time in March. These days, Russo thinks of Grimes as the culinary genius sister she never had.
“We can’t hold on to the empanadas,” Russo contended, “and everything with her pesto on it is amazing. The grilled-veggie-with-goat-cheese panini is life-changing.”
“We tell people that we’re French-inspired but I’d say we are continental fusion,” said Grimes.
“We really are continental fusion,” Russo agreed.
“Just give him one of these doughnuts,” said the baker, noticing my continued stare at the photo-op doughnut. “Tell them it fell on the floor or something.”
A moment of silence. Russo just looked at her, then moved on. “Tina can taste anything and then recreate it. That’s her superpower.”
“Well, I am a genius.”
“And she’s very humble. Make sure you put that in the article.”
Le Petit Cafe is at 314 Main St. in Farmingdale, 516-465-9660, lepetitcafeli.com. Opening hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.