November 7, 2021
(EUGENE, Ore.) — Upon entering the Noisette Pastry Kitchen from the clammy downtown streets, visitors are hit with the aroma of fresh-baked bread, decadent pastries, and espresso. Pastel-colored macaroons and chocolate croissants entice onlookers from behind sheet glass as workers knead, mix, and decorate more delicacies behind the register.
With this activity, it’s easy to forget that businesses like Noisette are grappling with the pandemic economy. Nearly two dozen Eugene eateries shuttered permanently in 2020, according to the Eugene Register-Guard.Owners Michael Landsberg and Tobi Sovak tell The Click that the City of Eugene lured them to the downtown, with a low-interest loan of $50,000 back in 2012.
“We made it work,” laughs Sovak, recounting how they started off short-staffed. And like those early times, the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to work with less through 2020.
“We laid off about 8 to 10 people, out of around 20,” recalls Sovak.
Most have since been hired back, but there are other challenges. The dining area—once bustling with chattering patrons and wait staff—is now a storage area. Supply chain issues have led to scaled-down menus and no catering.
But the couple had the foresight to establish third-party delivery, like UberEats, GrubHub, and DoorDash, almost a year ahead of COVID’s arrival.
“So when the pandemic hit, when everyone else was scrambling and trying to get their online systems up and running, we were on it,” says Landberg.
The two have also been married for 23 years. Landsberg studied at the Culinary Institute of America in NYC and has worked in kitchens across Europe and the West Coast. Sovak has a Master’s in Fine Arts from Louisiana State University and 23 years of experience as a pastry chef. The two have dined and researched recipes worldwide to inspire their creations and train their chefs.
Slovak and Landsberg wouldn’t divulge operating costs and revenues but did say they’re more than ready to restore in-house dining for customers.
“Of course, those like Noisette, who double as a cafe with in-house dining, are anxious to be able to reopen,” says Brittany Quick-Warner, CEO of the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce. “Many smaller bakeries have a harder time spacing out tables and accommodating COVID rules.”
Bakeries, in general, had a headstart on the pandemic with takeout services already in place, Quick-Warner adds. She also says as a Black-owned business (Landsberg is half-Black, half-Vietnamese), Noisette “has been very generous with their time and expertise as many people have leaned on them to help learn how we can support minority business owners in town.”
Initially, Landsberg says he didn’t give the designation much thought, as he considers himself a chef first and foremost.
“That’s what I’ve done these past 35 years,” he says. “But in these times when Black Lives Matter, to highlight that…yes, I’m a Black business partner. It has more meaning now.”
A “BLACK LIVES MATTER” sign greets customers at Noisette’s entrance, and Slovak says eateries like theirs have a voice when it comes to community conversations about race and equality.
“We’re all responsible to use our platform, however big or small, to do the right thing.”
The patisserie doesn’t appeal just on its social justice stance, of course; regulars praise Noisette’s versatile menu.“Noisette is great because one can get a cup of coffee, a bakery snack, or an entire meal,” says Eugene resident Joshua Burstein. “And it’s top-notch, high-quality food. I hope it will continue to be part of the revitalization of Downtown Eugene as we move into the ‘new normal.’”
John Stark, another fan, is a former Noisette neighbor. While hooked on the Caprese sandwiches and meringues, his wife “believes Noisette’s smoked trout salad might be the most indescribably delicious salad ever concocted.”
Stark moved to Tucson in 2018 and pines for the pastry kitchen.
“Noisette reminds me of a Greenwich Village bakery in the 1950s that serves healthy guilty pleasures and attracts a hipster clientele. I half expect to run into Ginsberg and Joan Baez there.
“I search Tucson in vain for a comparable bakery,” he says.