Last month, as the spring flowers were reaching peak bloom in the Tuileries, Paris’s grandest hotel—the Hôtel de Crillon—unveiled the Butterfly Pâtisserie. Through a dedicated entrance on the side of the hotel, guests arrived in what could easily be mistaken for a jewelry store. Before them, on a marble countertop, was an exquisite selection of seasonal tartes, mille-feuilles, breakfast pastries, madeleines, and mini-cookies made by pastry chef Matthieu Carlin, each priced between 12 and 20 euros.
“This is the first [hotel pâtisserie] that combines a tearoom with a boutique,” says Frank Adrian Barron, the author of Sweet Paris: Seasonal Recipes from an American Baker in France, who regularly leads pastry tours across Paris. “It’s an elegant extension of the hotel, with pastries served on porcelain dishware, which elevates the work even further.”
The Hôtel de Crillon is not alone. At the moment it seems like every grand hotel in Paris has its own unique pastry shop. This is largely due to the influence of one chef.
In 2016, a 30-year-old Cédric Grolet greeted journalists in a grand banquet room at Le Meurice. The room had been booked for the day to present a series of new pastries to the press as if they were part of a seasonal fashion collection. The baking wunderkind was all smiles, mingling among a gaggle of industry fans and fielding an endless stream of questions about the trompe l’oeil fruit pastries he had become famous for since becoming the hotel’s pastry chef in 2012.
There was an accessibility and innocence to Grolet then. “I knew I wanted to make cake and pastry from the time I was a kid because I’ve always loved sugar,” he confessed sheepishly during our first encounter. “I used to eat it by the spoonful.” Since then, he’s gone on to do more than make pastry—he’s transformed the métier and helped confer an air of celebrity on pastry chefs themselves.
Named the best pastry chef in the world in 2018 by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Grolet has traveled to more than 30 countries to lead master classes for pastry students and moneyed pastry fanatics. He’s repped streetwear brands such as Adidas and has seven million followers on Instagram and nearly five million on TikTok. Everything from his relationship status to his ever growing collection of tattoos—life is short, start with dessert is written on his right thigh—generates buzz.
But it was the 2018 opening of La Pâtisserie du Meurice par Cédric Grolet, an elegant sliver of a pastry shop on the Rue de Castiglione, just around the corner from Le Meurice’s main entrance, that marked a turning point. Parisian “Palace” hotels—a distinction bestowed by the French Ministry of Tourism on just over 30 hotels in France—have long relied on the aura of their interiors and their fine-dining restaurants to attract visitors. Grolet showed there was another way for these hotels to draw in foot traffic.
From the pâtisserie’s opening day, lines snaked around the block. Wait times typically exceeded one hour, but if customers were lucky, they’d see Grolet himself working behind the counter. If not, they could at least take home one of his signature concoctions—the trompe l’oeil sculpted fruits or hazelnuts, the Rubik’s cake, or the haute couture twists on the classic Saint Honoré cake—for a fraction of what it would cost to partake in the hotel’s full teatime menu.
“When he first told me about the project of opening a pastry shop in the hotel to have outside guests benefit from his sweet delights, I was quite skeptical and hesitant,” explained Franka Holtmann, general manager of Le Meurice. “He proved to be extremely persuasive. What can I say? The place is packed every single day.” Holtmann recently renewed his contract for another five years.
The trompe l’oeil sculpted fruits or hazelnuts, the Rubik’s cake, the haute couture twists on the classic Saint Honoré cake.
Grolet’s star seems unfalteringly bright. He also runs namesake pastry shops located less than a 10-minute walk from Le Meurice and within the Berkeley hotel in London. But while the pastry shop at Le Meurice initiated a whole new format, it wasn’t the first of its kind.
Shortly after the Mandarin Oriental opened in Paris in 2011, it revealed its own pâtisserie, Cake Shop. Overseen by Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx, Cake Shop was a to-go counter located at the entrance to Marx’s Camélia restaurant within the hotel. However, it never generated enough attention and closed in 2020 (it recently reopened again).
The Hôtel de Crillon tried a similar pastry-shop concept when it reopened after renovations in 2017. “It was short-lived, which was a shame, because the pastries were excellent,” explained François Blanc, a food writer and the author of the forthcoming Sweet France: The 100 Best Recipes from the Greatest French Pastry Chefs. “I think one issue was location. Like Cake Shop, it was a counter set up between two rooms and required entering the hotel through the main entrance, which can feel intimidating, particularly for people who don’t regularly frequent luxury properties.”
Beyond the placement of the pastry shops, the current success of Grolet’s ventures may also be a question of timing. The importance of pastry in the overall dining and tourism landscape of Paris has grown in lockstep with the prominence of pastry chefs on social media and on such popular television baking shows as Qui Sera le Prochain Grand Pâtissier? “Gastronomy has always been fundamental to Parisian identity and tourism. What’s different now is the role it plays,” says Blanc. “The city’s best pastries are as sought after as its best monuments and best views.”
If designer scents and handbags are the everyman’s way into owning a piece of splendor, pastry is the palace hotel’s equivalent. Un petit luxe—“a little luxury”—is how all the pastry chefs I’ve spoken to describe their work and its value in everyday life. It reveals both a fundamentally French idea of what it means to live well—no one should be excluded from a well-made sweet—and the business reality that when times are tough, and people feel stretched too thin to spend 200 euros on a tasting menu, an exceptional confection priced between 10 and 30 euros remains within the realm of possibility. Not only that, but those customers are likely to return again and again before eventually upgrading to the hotel’s other experiences and services.
The greatest hotels in Paris have understood this and have expanded beyond afternoon tea to capitalize on pastry tourism. After hosting pastry pop-ups in makeshift chalets or gussied-up trolleys in the Place Vendôme, the Ritz Paris made a foray into brick-and-mortar pastry retail in 2021. Ritz Paris Le Comptoir is an elegant, peach-hued fast-casual boutique. It’s kitted out with a leather banquette and Bohemian-crystal light fixtures meant to recall chef François Perret’s signature madeleines. There is an elongated counter displaying his twists on classic pastries—including the glazed madeleines available only here—in addition to his “cake shakes,” drinkable versions of his three best-selling pastries.
For the moment, the winning formula seems tied to the star power of the chef, the desirability of the hotel, and a good central location. And while none of the hotels will disclose sales figures for their pastry operations, their future as an integral part of Parisian tourism is, well, sweet.
Lindsey Tramuta is a Paris-based culture-and-travel journalist. She is the author of two books, The New Paris: The People, Places & Ideas Fueling a Movement and The New Parisienne: The Women & Ideas Shaping Paris