When Clémence Danko moved from Paris to Hoboken, New Jersey, with her husband in 2009, she missed the crusty baguettes and flaky croissants from home. “I grew up eating bread every day, and many pastries,” she says.
Three years later — after leaving a pharmaceutical career to train at The French Culinary Institute and Institute of Culinary Education in New York City — she opened CHOC·O·PAIN, Hoboken’s first French bakery and café. Since then, CHOC·O·PAIN has expanded to four locations in North Jersey, including a commissary kitchen.
Danko’s attention to excellence sets CHOC·O·PAIN apart, from the artisanal breads and pastries themselves to her genuine relationships with staff and guests. Read on to find out how a commitment to quality and community drives her success.
A cut above
Danko may not have started out as a baker, but when it comes to her craft, she’s uncompromising. CHOC·O·PAIN uses only the best, freshest, local-when-possible ingredients to bake products from scratch every day, using just flour, water, salt, and plenty of fermentation time.
CHOC·O·PAIN is known for its breakfast and lunch menu, featuring French classics such as pain au chocolat and quiche Lorraine. Shoppers come by for breads from ciabatta to brioche, plus elegant fruit tarts and delicate madeleines.
“Our pastries are rich and flaky, [and] our breads are crusty and have lots of flavors,” Danko says. “We are obsessed with the quality and authenticity of our products. We don’t cut corners, and we are very attentive to the quality of our ingredients.”
The menu is constantly evolving, too. This year, Danko and her team began expanding pastry selections, introducing new and seasonal items, such as a savory petit kouign amann with apple and brie.
“We had a great response from our guests, so we will continue in that direction,” Danko says. “We are constantly trying to improve.”
The daily bread
When she first opened CHOC·O·PAIN, Danko was inspired by France’s many boulangeries and épiceries, small neighborhood shops that sell specialty foods and gifts. Still today, the local community is central to her business model.
“We are definitely a neighborhood store,” Danko says. “Our guests are very loyal. Some will come every day for coffee, every day for bread — some will come up to three times a day.”
Serving neighbors well requires being attentive to what they want, and when. In addition to the café experience, CHOC·O·PAIN has a robust web store that allows people to shop for now (think breakfast or lunch), for later (holiday desserts, for example), and for weekly bread subscriptions.
“If our guests don’t want to wait in line, they can place their order ahead and pick it up when ready,” Danko says. “Our guests also like to place orders ahead for a dinner party or for an event — for instance, fruit tarts, quiches, breads, pastries.”
Because customers interact with CHOC·O·PAIN in so many different ways, they have multiple touchpoints with the business, resulting in deeper relationships. Today, Danko and her team count many of their customers as neighbors and friends.
Leading the way
In addition to the local New Jersey community, a diverse staff of bakers, chefs, baristas, and customer attendants make CHOC·O·PAIN the warm, welcoming neighborhood cornerstone that it is. And for Danko, the team comes first and foremost.
Staff members are pictured prominently on the website, which credits them for helping the bakery grow and foster. “Without my staff, there is no business,” Danko told NJMOM.com. “I love the idea that CHOC·O·PAIN is truly made from every individual that composes it.”
Danko counts patience, perseverance, and adaptability among the biggest learnings from opening her first bakery. Since then, delegation has been key, including finding the right people to do each job as the business expands.
And for the future of CHOC·O·PAIN? Danko is still as patient, persevering, and adaptable as ever. “There are always projects in the works — some will be executed, some won’t,” she says. “That’s life!”