The French and Spanish Colonial Mark on New Orleans Bread-Making: Cadet’s Bakery

Stop 1 of 6 on the Trail of Crumbs tour

The intersection of St. Peter and Royal Streets is loud and busy with the passing hustle of to-go drinks, music, and tourists, making it hard to notice a faded patch of tile work outside the corner grocery store located at 701 Royal Street. However, this almost hidden marker is a powerful reminder of a long line of baking and confectionary businesses that once occupied the space and built on French and Spanish colonial baking traditions.

Mannessier’s Confectionary was the last of several bakeries to operate out of the location. An 1895 photograph shows the elegant and ornate interior of Mannessier’s, lined with the above-mentioned tilework. (Pictured below) According to owner Adolph LeClerc’s 1912 obituary, “he owned a confectionary at the time of his death, which is noted throughout the city as one of the landmarks of the old French section.” [1] The first recorded bakery to operate out of this location was Cadet’s Bakery (1789 to 1824). Frenchman Jacques Molon (or Moulon) established Cadet’s in a rear structure facing St. Peter Street and operated a mill "in which coarse flour, floated down the Mississippi River on flatboats, was reground to a finer grade – the grade that made the loaves Cadet sold over the counters of his corner store second to none. No other baker made a better brioche." [2]

Bakers and millers were among the first laborers sent by the French government to New Orleans in 1718, bringing the supplies and knowledge necessary to establish strong bread-making and bread-eating traditions. The first recorded commercial bakery in New Orleans was for a baker named Francois Lemelle (or Lemesle), who operated under the alias of “Bellegarde” at the corner of St. Ann and Chartres Streets. [3] These transplanted French bakers relied on standard methods and recipes. The types of bread baked resembled those popular in eighteenth-century France – large dense round loaves of mixed grains, smaller enriched loaves of white flour, and hard, long-lasting biscuits suitable for sea voyages. Bakeries often produced two qualities of bread, one of more refined quality and one of second quality, for those unable to afford the higher-priced loaves. This two-tiered bread system continued into the next century and reinforced bread as a marker of social class. [4] Eventually, the more elite white loaves of bread became the norm, replacing the large whole grain loaves. [5] Today, small artisan bakeries are again reversing the trend, returning to whole grain rustic loaves, but this time at an elevated status/price.

Bakeries in eighteenth-century New Orleans also resembled bakeries of the same time in France -- equipped with one or more wood-burning brick ovens, wooden peels to move the loaves in and out, long wooden dough troughs to mix the dough, and a workbench to weigh and shape loaves. By 1820, approximately sixty French bakers and confectioners operated in New Orleans close to the Mississippi River – a source for the water needed to make bread. Rainwater collected in outdoor cisterns provided an additional source of water. While the bread baked at Cadet’s bakery maintained a French identity, the bakery opened when New Orleans was under Spanish colonial control. The Spanish colonial forces had a lasting impact on bread-making history in New Orleans not through recipes but by implementing ordinances on the price of flour and the size and price of bread due to flour shortages. The Municipal Council of New Orleans also taxed the number of barrels of flour bakers consumed to collect funds for the city's illumination system. This tax replaced a system of taxation based on the number of chimneys on each building, obsolete following a fire in 1784 that destroyed many buildings and chimneys. [6] These government regulations contributed to the standardization of a loaf of bread in the city.

After Cadet’s bakery closed, several other bakers and confectioners operated in that same location (Leblanc, Lefevre, Tambelli, Vincent, Desbonnes and Bonnecayes, Mannessier, and LeClerc). [7] While always evolving and adapting, the bread-making traditions of New Orleans remain firmly established in the familiar identity of the early French bakers.

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701 Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana