Doctor opens French bakery in North Kalispell

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  • Bakers prepare “pain au chocolat” traditional croissant rolls with two bars of 44 percent cacao bars of chocolate in advance of opening day at Bonjour Bakery and Bistro in Kalispell. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Dr. Gina Nelson chats with her staff about final preparations for their opening day at Bonjour Bakery and Bistro in Kalispell.

  • 2

    Savannah Fraleigh making vegetable stock in preparation for the opening day.

  • 3

    A tray full of goodies is the prep station for the gelato being made at Bonjour Bakery and Bistro in Kalispell. Opening day is slated for Wednesday, August 8.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 4

    Tiffany van Duyn, making cupcakes on Monday, August 6, at Bonjour Bakery and Bistro in Kalispell. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Bakers prepare “pain au chocolat” traditional croissant rolls with two bars of 44 percent cacao bars of chocolate in advance of opening day at Bonjour Bakery and Bistro in Kalispell. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Dr. Gina Nelson chats with her staff about final preparations for their opening day at Bonjour Bakery and Bistro in Kalispell.

  • 2

    Savannah Fraleigh making vegetable stock in preparation for the opening day.

  • 3

    A tray full of goodies is the prep station for the gelato being made at Bonjour Bakery and Bistro in Kalispell. Opening day is slated for Wednesday, August 8.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 4

    Tiffany van Duyn, making cupcakes on Monday, August 6, at Bonjour Bakery and Bistro in Kalispell. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

A longtime Kalispell physician has opened a new French-inspired bakery and restaurant in North Kalispell.

Bonjour Bakery & Bistro features an array of handcrafted foods, including gelato made in-house and French pastries such as macaroons, pain au chocolate and tarts. Eventually, there will be wedding cakes to go along with sandwiches and soups made fresh daily.

Gynecologist to restaurateur may not seem like the most logical of transitions, but Dr. Gina Nelson of Kalispell Regional Healthcare said she has been fascinated with French culture and cuisine since the influence of a standout French teacher at her high school in Los Angeles.

“It’s just kind of a dream,” Nelson said. “I’m a real Francophile.”

That interest manifested in the idea to start a French bakery in Kalispell about a year ago, when Nelson said a colleague of hers at the clinic was having a rough day. When Nelson learned that it was her birthday, she went out to get cupcakes to bring back to the office for a celebration and pick-me-up.

But she realized there was no place nearby to buy quality cupcakes, a fact that struck her as outlandish.

“I sort of blew a gasket and said ‘I’m starting a bakery,’” Nelson said.

It took several months to figure out the best way to turn the idea into reality, time that Nelson used to solidify financing for the project and look for a suitable space.

When the former Great Harvest Bread Company abruptly went out of business, it provided a perfect opportunity for Nelson to start moving into a place just blocks from her office at the clinic. She is an old friend of the person who owned the building, which helped the transition go smoothly.

In a role fit to her commanding personality and attention to detail, Nelson served as her own general contractor during the significant remodeling process that started in May and just recently concluded.

“We had to gut the place after Great Harvest was here,” she said. “We completely retooled it for our purposes.”

Nelson remodeled while holding down her full-time job at the clinic by using technology to communicate between her and her contractors. She said she had group chats with her plumber and electrician to work out kinks remotely and quickly without having to convene together to solve routine issues.

She is happy with the result, a sparsely furnished space that offers customers an easy view of the area where pastries are prepared and baked.

“To me, it’s very visually interesting,” Nelson said.

Despite looking for employees in the middle of the busy summer season, she said she had no trouble finding qualified applicants. She credited the culinary program at nearby Flathead Valley Community College for preparing people with exactly the skills she was looking for. She has six employees now, and is looking to hire more in the near future.

Nelson plans to keep practicing as a gynecologist full time, because she said she loves the work. The bakery is a passion project, and she trusts the staff to run it when she is busy up the road.

Bonjour Bakery & Bistro is located at 45 Heritage Way in Kalispell in the space that used to house Great Harvest Bread Company. It will be open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

More information can be found on the company’s website at www.bonjourbakeryandbistro.com.

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com.

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