Written by Pierce Lydon • October 13, 2022
At Chef Laurent Dupal’s Ceci Cela, that old adage may just be true. A tradition of family and community has taken hold in New York City’s Lower East Side and it is those values that are baked into their success over the last 30 years. We spoke to Ceci Cela co-owner Sandra DuPal about how they’ve maintained through the thick and thin.
Started in 1992 by Chef Laurent Dupal, the goal for Ceci Cela was always simple: bring high quality, classic French cooking to the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. He runs his business side by side with his wife, Sandra, and their children as well as an ever-growing staff. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the changing landscape of the city, they never had to close their doors.
“We were lucky that we had a family business. There are very few family businesses in New York City now. We are becoming like a rare bird in the zoo,” said Sandra. “We used to know so many more family-owned businesses but now a lot of corporations are taking over.”
Sandra is right. In July 2022, New York’s small business closure rate was 28% - 8 points higher than the national average of 20%.
“I’m really lucky to have my restaurant staff. We’re a family and that makes it different,” she said.
Today, Ceci Cela also includes a wholesale operation that serves over 300 people in the tri-state area in addition to their day-to-day business.
But the star of Ceci Cela? The croissant.
Croissants may have originated in France. However, many people don't know that they actually have their roots in Austria. Kipfels, a Viennese pastry, are thought to be their predecessor. Both pastries are crescent-shaped, but they differ in texture and flavor. Croissants are much lighter and flakier than kipfels. While kipfels date back to medieval times, croissants became popular in France during the late 17th century.
“We can generally agree that the croissant is what will make or break a French patisserie shop,” said Chef Dupal. “To be sure, it takes two days to produce a croissant, and I spent years perfecting our dough before opening Ceci-Cela Patisserie in New York City.”
That time paid off. Ceci Cela’s croissants are award-winning - frequently finding themselves on “Best of” lists with the likes of Dominique Ansel and Epicerie Boulud.
Chef Dupal’s insistence on high quality ingredients and traditional techniques has made Ceci Cela a hit. Just ask New York Magazine: “Even if you’ve never traveled abroad, Ceci-Cela evokes nostalgia for the crowded patisseries of Paris. Perhaps it’s the charmingly claustrophobic environs; more likely, it’s the impossibly delicious pastries baked by chef Laurent Dupal. Trained at the prestigious Compagnons du Devoir du Tour de France, Dupal’s motto is simplicity and freshness, and his beliefs are especially evident in the uncomplicated pear William cake, which combines heavenly mousseline custard crème, fresh pears and a delicate vanilla cake. Also try the raspberry-filled Napoleons or the uncharacteristically fancy opera cake, filled with espresso and chocolate crèmes and topped with edible gold.”
But it’s Chef Laurent’s presence that makes that possible as well. He and his family oversee the entire operation - inspecting ingredients, making sure their employees are fairly compensated and their purveyors are paid in full. Their approach lends a sense of humanity and stability to a world that is becoming increasingly digital and constantly changing.
“New York is very transitory - it’s always changing and if you don’t learn to change with the times, you can’t stay in business,” said Sandra. “But New York is also really alive and the food doesn’t need to change because it is what it is and people enjoy that. Many of our original customers have left the city but they come back just to pick up our food.”
Sandra attributes some of Ceci Cela’s success to a lesson that her husband learned early on in his culinary career.
“He had been told that you never burn bridges, you try to stay true to yourself and if you do that you won’t get into any trouble,” said Sandra. “You always pay people and you always do the right thing. If you do the right thing, you’re going to be rewarded.”
To date, those lessons have guided the Ceci Cela family to continued success despite a harsh environment for restaurants everywhere. Their dedication to first-rate, traditional French fare has garnered them accolades despite an ever-changing world. Sandra, at least hopes that old adage stays true.
“People appreciate good food and they appreciate quality,” she said. “I’m hoping that stays the same and that we continue for many more years to come.”
So do we, Sandra. :)
You can check out and order all of Ceci Cela's offerings on CaterCow here.