There’s not much that smells as good as fresh bread baking. In the small town of Jeanerette, one bakery has been filling Main Street with that wonderful aroma for more than a century. Dave McNamara takes us to family-owned bakery that still makes French bread the old fashioned way in tonight’s Heart of Louisiana.
The dough is mixed, run through a roller, cut into pieces and hand-rolled into bread-sized portions. It’s not until daybreak that the first trays of French bread are loaded into the oven. This morning ritual dates to 1884, when the Lejeune family opened the bakery.
“The first generation it went to a nephew, the second generation went to a nephew, the third generation went to a son, the fourth generation was a son and I’m a son, so I’m the fifth generation to run it,” said Matt Lejeune.
Matt says he started working here at age 7.
“I used to push the pedal on the dough break years ago,” he said.
The business was originally called Old Reliable Bakery. It had the first motorized vehicle in Jeanerette in 1901, the same year the local priest dedicated the bakery’s oven. That was 12 years before they paved Main Street, and except for a motorized mixer, very little has changed in the past 130 years.
“There’s an easier way to do it,” Matt said. “You can machine it, but to machine it the dough’s not the same. It comes out different. Our process is the same, our ingredients are the same. We figure if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
They’ll start fixing dough as early as 1 a.m., and on a typical day they’ll bake as many as 2,000 loaves of French bread and other types of buns. The
bookkeeping is handled by Matt’s mother, Loretta Lejeune, who finally had to
get a computer for invoicing and online orders.
“We had to have one,” Loretta said. “We had to have it to survive. I mean, everything is done today on computer.”
The rest of the office looks like an antique flea market.
“In the beginning, they used to deliver bread by horse and buggy, and they would go from house to house,” Matt said. “And the story goes that the horse knew the route so well, he knew what homes to stop at.”
When large supermarkets came to town decades ago, the Lejeunes made a decision not to modernize. They took a cut in sales and stuck with their
“We like our bread the way it is, so we continue,” Matt said. “It’s labor intense, but it’s the best French bread around.”
The Lejeunes are hopeful that there will be a sixth generation to carry on this tasty family tradition.
In addition to the hand-rolled French bread, Lejeune’s Bakery is also known for its gingerbread planks that are baked