In the dead of night, when all of Lake County is fast asleep, Pascal Hue De Laroque is already hard at work. In the long, dark hours before sunrise, he’s busy baking up some of Lake County’s best pastries and breads. But right now it’s twelve hours later, and Pascal sits at an outdoor table, shaded from the afternoon sun. He leans back and crosses his legs, talking with his hands as much as words. Tattoos peek out from under his “Marcel’s Bakery and Café” t-shirt. His dark hair and dark beard match the black Converse on his feet. Everything about him is easygoing, positive, and upbeat.
“When my dad told me we were going to start a French Bakery, I wanted nothing to do with it,” Pascal says. “I told him, ‘You’re crazy. We’re in Lake County. Who’s going to go to a French Bakery?’”
He pops out of his chair and greets a man walking towards the store. “You heading in?” Pascal asks.
“Yup,” the man replies. “You have any French bread left?”
“We’ve got two,” Pascal replies, putting his mask on as he heads in the door. “I’ve been saving them for you.”
“It’s that psychic connection,” the man replies. “You just knew.”
“It’s what we do,” Pascal smiles, “being French.”
A few minutes later, the man heads out the door with a bag of bread in his hand. Pascal sends him off with a grin on his face. “Call me in advance, and I’ll make sure to set it aside for you,” he says. “Or I can make sure it’s at the drive-thru.” He sits back down, ready to chat again.
“Where was I?” he asks. “Oh yeah. I thought it was a terrible idea to open a bakery here, but then we started to see good numbers, and then numbers you wouldn’t believe. We opened up another store in Lakeport in 2018, and in January, we opened the Drive-Thru about a mile and half down the road.” He leans forward and takes a sip of seltzer water. “I was worried, but we couldn’t have timed it better. The Drive-Thru has been busy since COVID.”
He pops out of his chair again as another man walks up. “How ya doin’?” Pascal cheerily greets him, then heads into the store. A minute later, the man heads toward his car carrying a bag of frozen pastries to bake at home. “Take a look at this,” he happily booms, showing us the bag. ”I’ve got it good!”
“We’re legal drug dealers of pastries and sugar,” Pascal laughs and sits back down to chat with us, smoothing his shredded black jeans. “It takes nothing to be nice,” he adds. “If you just smile, it makes a big difference. It takes more energy to frown.” He laughs again. “We’re in a small community, so to put it bluntly, why be an ass? We go at the motto of helping people.”
Pascal leans back in the chair once more and thinks for a second. “COVID has opened doors that I would never have thought of. Like the bake at home croissants. My initial response was ‘never,’ but it works! We make up the dough and roll it like a croissant, then freeze the dough individually. Then people take it home, put it in the oven, and they have fresh bakery croissants.
“And now we do free delivery anywhere in the county for any order over $35,” he adds.
Another customer comes by, and Pascal pops up once more. His commitment to his customers is profound. Each person that came in during our visit was treated kindly. It’s the lifestyle that Pascal lives, where every person is a friend, and all his employees are family. “I have no enemies,” he says. “I’m at peace with everyone.” It’s part of the culture he works to create in his business. “I treat them like my family,” he said. Even though he’s at work by three every morning, he still has his employees come over for barbecues on weekends. “I tell them, ‘We spend all week together, so we’re all exposed to each other. Why not come over on Saturday and hang out at my pool?’ The positive energy he puts into his employees shows; they are positive, conscientious and thoughtful.
These are lessons he learned from his father Roger, an entrepreneur whose vision built Marcel’s Bakery and Cafe. Three years ago, Roger was diagnosed with ALS, also knows as Lou Gerhig’s disease, and was unable to continue running the bakeries. At the age of twenty, Pascal stepped up and took over the business, not just managing it, but growing it to become one of the best bakeries in the county.
“My dad put others first,” Pascal says. “He never wanted anything. For years he always wanted a sports car but didn’t get one until three months before he was diagnosed. You’ve got to live life like you’re dying. That’s why I got that.” He points out into the parking lot, where a bright red Subaru WRX STI sits. Broad white racing stripes swoop across the hood and roof, ending on the massive fin attached to the trunk.
“It’s an Ali Afshar,” he says. “There are only sixty of them in the world, and this is the only one in North America.” He opens the door, sits in the driver’s seat, and turns the ignition: the car hums, its five hundred horsepower engine at a calm idle.
“I bought it because of my dad,” Pascal continues, as the engine purrs. I brought it home and showed it to him; when I turned on the engine he smiled so big, I almost cried. “’When can I follow you?’ he typed on the keyboard, because he can’t speak. He wants to hear the sound of it as it drives.
“’You can’t live the life you want, Dad,’ I told him. ‘So live through me.’ I’m living my life through his eyes.”
After chatting for a while, Pascal picks out some pastries for us to try. Marcel’s Bakery and Café does it right. They get their flour and butter from France, which means fewer chemicals and gluten. That, along with considerable skill in baking, makes pastries that are light, flaky, and created with attention to detail. Take the apricot croissant, for example. Marcel’s uses whole apricots that give it a tangy tartness, which combined with the creamy custard and flaky, creates a croissant that’s memorable, and impossible to put down.
Speaking of impossible to put down, the éclair causes its own dilemmas. “You’ll want to eat the éclair now,” Pascal told us. Sizably portioned and drizzled in chocolate with a refreshingly cool custard, it disappeared immediately. The same goes for the chocolate twist, a sweet, but not overly sweet, creamy chocolately twist that leaves one with a satisfied, happy feeling.
Of course, Marcel’s Bakery and Café has many other options, from baguette to panini. The Lakeport store has a full deli, and our children love Marcel’s macaroons, delicately flavored cookies that dissolve in the mouth.
“You need to try our mocha,” Pascal says. “I have to drive all the way past Sacramento to get the secret ingredient for it.” He starts poking at the espresso machine. “When I first started, our mochas were. . .” he shrugs his shoulders, “ehh. Now I think we have one of the best ones in the county.” He puts it on ice and hands it to us.
We finally say our goodbyes, sipping on a mocha that would give an iced mocha anywhere a run for its money, and thinking of the couple hours we spent with Pascal. It’s not just the food that makes Marcel’s Bakery and Café special; It’s Pascal’s commitment to kindness, positivity, and furthering his father’s legacy.
Marcels’ Bakery and Café has three locations:
Clearlake Oaks: 13300 East Hwy 20, Clearlake Oaks, CA 95423 – (707)-245-2917
Lakeport: 105 N Main St, Lakeport, CA 95453 – (707)-510-7737
Marcel’s Drive-Thru in Clearlake Oaks: 12609 State Hwy 20, Clearlake Oaks, CA 95423 – (707)-837-3190
They also sell incredible olive oils and aged vinegars. Check out their website for more information.