There’s no such thing as parental leave when you’re self-employed.
Gâteux Patisserie had been open mere months when co-owner Suendos Beydoun’s son came into the world. Three weeks later, the now 26-year-old was back at the upscale French tea room she started with her younger sister, located at 1004 South Military in West Dearborn. As a mom, Suendos says her day never ends and always starts. As small business owners, there’s something to do for the cafe from the moment she and Suha wake up and well beyond when they fall asleep.
“That’s been crazy to manage,” she told me one recent morning. Gâteux will celebrate its first anniversary May 25th, but the Beydouns aren’t ready for their grand opening just yet. They’re in the soft launch phase and are still tweaking things like the tea and pastry menus to get them as close to perfection as possible before their grand opening.
There aren’t any firm plans for a celebration yet, primarily because it’s a self-financed family business and there are only so many hours in a day.
“The first year is insane,” Suendos admits. “It’s very, very hard to stay optimistic sometimes.”
Photo by Timothy J. Seppala.
Suendos was five months pregnant with her second child when she and her sister signed the lease on their 1,500-square-foot space a stone’s throw from downtown on Michigan Avenue. Even with her dad handling interior design, husband setting up the supply chain, Suha splitting operational duties and her mom taking care of pre-planning and organizational tasks, there was still a lot to do. In September 2017, Suendos miscarried, delaying opening by seven months.
“This took a lot of detail,” she says. “It took so much to come up with every single thing you see, that it stressed me out even more. We just wanted to make sure it was worth it.”
Suendos became pregnant again, and three months after Gâteaux opened her son Noah was born. She initially planned to take seven weeks off, but that didn’t work out. While there’s no standard maternity leave duration in the U.S., most employers allow for 12 weeks. Suendos took a quarter of that.
“I’ll come here with my babies and it’s difficult to get where we want to be as fast as we want to be,” she says. “But we’re getting there.”
The space itself is bright and tidy with huge front windows and lots of natural light. Gold accents abound, from the rose-encrusted chandelier to the trim on the glass pastry case and accents on each sugar bowl lid. Saucers are a dusty pink and lavender chairs are the primary seating option. The walls split between stark white and pale green. The idea was to make a feminine space that felt equal parts classy and whimsical, and stay true to the Beydoun’s vision.
“We wanted to build a space that we wanted to be in,” Suendon says. “What do I enjoy? If I was drinking out of a teacup, I want the cutest teacup. If I want to drink coffee, I want the best coffee.”
But before you can even take in the sights, you’re hit with the aromas coming out of the kitchen. This was intentional. Unlike walking into a donut shop, the scent here is light and airy, not unlike Gâteaux’s rosewater macarons. It’s sweet, but soft, with candles, flowers, and other means complimenting and amplifying the house-made eclairs and tarts. Paired with the French jazz music that plays during the day, it’s hard not to feel your cares subside even a little once you cross the threshold.
It’s something Suendon and Suha have dreamed about for years.
The Beydouns were born a year-and-a-half apart, from Lebanese and Palestinian heritage.
They’ve lived in Dearborn their entire lives and always wanted to start a local business. Growing up, their dad worked in telecoms and would often take his family with him to London and Paris when he traveled for business. Those trips left an impression. Paris was designed to be beautiful down to the last detail. For the sisters, it was a stark contrast to home. Rather than another industrial space with a hodgepodge of quirky decor, they wanted a space that felt like stepping into famed Pierre Hermé’s renowned macaron shop in Paris.
Suendon Beydoun (right) and her sister Suha Beydoun (left), owners of Gateaux Patisserie. Photo by Timothy J. Seppala.
The concept, a female-friendly space exclusively serving what you’d find in a Parisian tea room — macarons, ispahan cakes, croissant bread pudding, to name a few — took root while the pair were teachers. Suendon double-majored in English and history at Wayne State, while Suha studied history and education, earning her bachelors in the former just before Gâteux opened last May. But after a year in in the field, their idealism faded and both became frustrated by the realities of the public school system.
Now they’re teaching folks raised on shawarma, subs and hamburgers about tea culture and delicate French confections. That process has had its own set of frustrations, but even in the short span Gâteux (French for “cakes”) has been open, the Beydouns have seen progress.
“The art of being an educator is you have to find a way to teach students in a way they’ll understand,” Beydoun says.
It could be as simple as teaching customers macarons and macaroons aren’t the same thing, or that you shouldn’t expect Italian specialties like tiramisu and cannoli from a French-style bakery.
“By being true to ourselves and our concept, we were able to thrive because people really began to understand it,” she says.
Photo by Timothy J. Seppala.
Don’t think this means everything is high-brow, though. Suendon is a massive Harry Potter fan and couldn’t pass on the opportunity to bring some magic to the rest of us Muggles. Last fall, Gâteux’s menu included loose leaf teas based on each Hogwarts house. The Slytherin blend is sharp and minty (“a sharp, businessman tea”), while Hufflepuff is the soft and calming contrast to Gryffindor’s spiciness. And, of course, there’s butterbeer — albeit one much less sugary than the libation served at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.
“[Universal’s is] so overpoweringly sweet,” she says. “It was good, but I got diabetes drinking that,” Suendon jokes.
That type of freedom makes all the stress worth it. Ultimately, success for the Beydouns isn’t franchising or its goods showing up in Kroger, it’s doing well enough to establish comfortable lives for themselves, their parents and their children. It’s hearing their patio filled with people of all backgrounds speaking all manner of languages in the summer.
The Beydouns see value in supporting their neighbors. Whether that’s by sourcing ingredients from places like Westborn Market, paying its ten employees fair wages — kitchen staff starts at $15/hour, front house $10/hour and goes up based on qualifications — or patronizing locally-owned and Middle-Eastern-owned small businesses in Dearborn. People like her and her sister, working through some of the worst life can throw at you to make their backyard a better place.
“We want to uplift the community by supporting our own people,” she says.