How Apollonia Poilâne Turned the Family Bakery into a $12 Million Empire

Alessandra Meldolesi
copertina apollonia poilane

The Poilâne family anticipated today's trend for real bread, made from raw flours and sourdough, demonstrating how it is possible to reconcile quantity and quality. After the tragic plane crash in 2002, young Apollonia, a member of the third generation, took over the business.

The story 

In Paris, Poilâne means bread: anyone who has shopped in the City of Light has surely come across those rustic branded loaves that anticipated the current trend for sourdough in Italy by decades. It was even in 1932 when Pierre Poilâne founded his bakery in Paris, as narrated in an article by Harvard Magazine. Initially, the trade was limited to the Left Bank, specifically in the sixth arrondissement of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. And from the beginning, the focus was on natural leavening and stone-ground beige flours, rather than on bland baguettes. A nutritious and fragrant bread that stood the test of time.

Apollonia Poilane Baudouin

However, the leap in quality is credited to Lionel Poilâne: Pierre's son revitalized the company, building a central workshop, the so-called Manufactory, envisioned by his wife Irene, enabling him to ship his bread worldwide. In 1983, during the construction, Apollonia was on the way, and today she represents the third generation at the helm of a French institution.

pilane eane
Apollonia Poilane Master Class

The numbers are significant: Poilâne now produces 3000 loaves a day, baked in 24 wood-fired ovens. There are various varieties: wheat, rye, nuts, milk, and now even a cornbread, introduced by Apollonia herself, without added eggs, sugar, or anything else. Then there's dry pastry: spiced breads, cutlery-shaped cookies with various cereals, from barley to rice, oats to buckwheat. However, the star remains the miche, on which the curvilinear initial of the logo is engraved. Among the ingredients are flour, water, salt, and the family's sourdough, the same as always.

Apollonia Poilane

Apollonia was about to attend the University of Cambridge when her parents died in 2002 following a plane crash, piloted by her maternal grandfather, an experienced pilot. Immediately taking over the reins of the business, she still moved for studies across the Channel, then to Harvard (the maternal branch of the family had emigrated to America), never giving up her CEO role, returning to Paris for a few days every month to fulfill her duties.

poilane pane a fette

Today, alongside her is her sister Athena, an artist and interior designer based in New York, who remains a shareholder and sits on the board of directors. The business is worth $12 million, thanks to 5 bakeries in Paris, one in London, and a distribution line that reaches North America and the Far East. An excellence that Apollonia wanted to document in the pages of the book Poilâne, the Secrets of the World-Famous Bakery.

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