Palo Alto's Baumé offers fine dining meals that run hundreds of dollars, but as of Monday, Nov. 8, you can order a sandwich for lunch priced at $14.98 — to go.
B Deux Go is a new grab-and-go concept from the restaurateurs behind the Michelin-lauded Baumé as they pivot their business model in response to COVID-19, and plan for the future.
"I foresee Baumé being something else," said chef and owner Bruno Chemel earlier in the fall. "My new concept won't fit in the (Michelin) book with two stars."
The Baumé team, which is currently composed of married couple Bruno and Christie Chemel, maintained two Michelin stars between 2011 and 2019, but requested that Michelin omit the restaurant from its guide. Now, Baumé is no longer listed.
In a previous interview, Chemel said that he cared about the Michelin stars. "But I reach a stage of my life, a stage of my business, when I need to evolve the business ... I need to pay the bills, I need to have my life, because owning a two-Michelin star restaurant in COVID in Palo Alto is not easy."
Going forward, Baumé will continue to serve dinner. But now diners can preorder online through B Deux Go and pick up their sandwiches from Baumé's kitchen door on Park Boulevard.
The to-go model and drastically lower price point offers a chance to reach new customers, and also gives loyal Baumé followers something new to try.
"It's like a (car) dealership: You have Ferrari, and then you have used Toyota, so we try the extremes ... you can have both," Chemel said in an interview last Thursday. "It's an opportunity to try more affordable food to try to feed people who don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on dinner. It's an opportunity to please new clientele ... The concept is honest sandwiches for honest people. There's nothing fancy."
Christie Chemel had long observed a need for quick lunches as she worked in offices. There, someone was tasked with ordering team lunches from a restaurant to take back to the office for a 30-minute lunch break, so she saw that grab-and-go options had business potential.
Bruno Chemel said that he had the idea for a sandwich concept as far back as a decade, when their son was in grade school.
"When my son was small I'd always make him a croque monsieur," Chemel recalled. "Because the cafeteria was so bad, he didn't want to eat the food."
Chemel would make the French-style sandwich and wrap it in foil, and his son would take it on his way. Sometimes, Chemel would make croque monsieurs for his son's friends — and they enjoyed them too, as did members of Baumé's staff.
"They're not French. They're from different origins. And they like it," Chemel said. "I think maybe that could be a potential business."
But the Chemels had started the fine-dining Baumé just a couple of years prior. At that time, it didn't seem savvy to operate a casual eatery out of the same space, and it was hard to find another one. Having some people pay $1,000 for a multicourse dinner next to people paying $15 for a sandwich in the dining room?
"It makes no sense," Chemel said.
Since then, the Chemels have been considering how to best evolve their business.
Sit-down dining at their restaurant was already limited since they let go of employees to run the restaurant by themselves, and seating has continued to be limited during the pandemic: Baumé is about 2,000 square feet, and has been serving up to six people a night. Despite the ample space between diners in the indoor dining hall, "people are scared, they don't want to come indoors," Chemel said.
Chemel counts himself among those individuals. "Even me, on my days off (when I want a) fast lunch, I don't want to go somewhere and sit at a table and order and wait 20 minutes in COVID."
In past months, Chemel observed what other restaurants were doing to adjust.
"Everybody started to-go. I was like, 'I don't want to do that (for Baumé),'" Chemel said. "If you asked me that four or five years ago, I'd tell you I'd never do that. But people change."
It turned out, much to his surprise, that he liked the to-go model.
"When we opened the dining hall, we kept to-go," Chemel said. "I kind of enjoy doing that, and it could be part of the next evolution."
And so it is. Unlike Baumé, B Deux Go doesn't have a flurry of courses. The menu is pared down for launch, featuring two sandwich types, each served with more than 11 ounces of country-style buttermilk bread, baked to a crispy crunch.
The croque jambon has Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese and béchamel sauce. Croque poivrons features colorful bell peppers, Swiss cheese and curry béchamel sauce.
Chemel is careful not to call these sandwiches "croque monsieur," though he has fond memories of that particular sandwich type: "When I used to work in Paris in those restaurants, at 11 or midnight, your shift ends, and you meet your friends, have a beer and order a croque monsieur. There, it's fork and knife, here you grab it and bite into it."
Chemel has built on the idea of a croque monsieur sandwich, modifying it so it can be eaten by hand. Instead of putting béchamel and cheese on top of the sandwich, there's no oil or butter on the outside. It's baked "so it's crispy and your fingers are not greasy."
While B Deux Go's prices are exponentially lower than Baumé's, the care is not. "I try to analyze every detail as a customer," Chemel said.
The sandwiches feature Chemel's béchamel recipe, using cornstarch instead of flour for a light consistency, and just the right blend of butter, milk, salt and nutmeg.
"It should be warm," Chemel said. "It shouldn't be piping hot," lest the cheese and béchamel slide all over the place.
Each sandwich is packed into just the right bag, just the right way with a napkin neatly folded into the top, so the sandwich can be conveniently eaten on the street.
"Down the road I have plenty of crazy ideas I don't want to say now, in case I don't do them," Chemel said.
In the days to come, another change may include having former employees return to work part time, or even friends of his son, now a teenager.
These changes seem to coincide with an evolving relationship with precision, perfection and practicality. Precise work is something that Chemel continues to value, but he sees perfection as relative. Chemel said he remembers people telling him in the restaurant industry, "Nobody's perfect. Perfection doesn't exist."
"Now I kind of do understand. What's perfect for me might not be perfect for you. What's perfect for you might not be perfect for me," Chemel said, adding, "But we definitely try to make it nice."
Maybe a critic will see the two concepts sharing a single space and it will work for them, maybe it won't. Maybe one day the Chemels will transition to a food truck, or another brick-and-mortar location, or maybe they won't, Chemel said.
So the Chemels will see if the B Deux Go concept works, Chemel said. "If you don't try, you don't know."
B Deux Go, 201 California Ave., Palo Alto (pick up from kitchen door on Park Boulevard); 408-900-8000, bdeuxgo.com.
Baumé, 201 California Ave., Palo Alto; 650-328-8899 (text only), maisonbaume.com.
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