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Starbucks + La Boulange [moved from San Francisco board]

I know I'm not supposed to admit to drinking anything but pour-over coffee, but sometimes I can't wait 20 minutes and I need to use my credit card. So can we talk about the new La Boulange offerings at Starbucks? The stuff is even staler than before the merger, and now some poor barista has to take my fossilized cheese danish/croissant/whatever out of a little plastic baggie and try to fluff it up in the oven. Is this really the plan? I thought the whole point was to get fresh, decent baked goods into Starbucks.

Am I crazy? Has anyone else had the same experience? The pink takeaway bag reminds me of La Boulange but the product itself does not.

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  1. Not crazy. I had a croissant from there a couple of weeks ago, and it was dreadful.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Maybe the goal was not actually to improve the food? Maybe it's just cheaper for them or something? But I fell for the marketing blitz so I'm surprised.

      [My croissant never ever looks like this croissant. Which is particularly disappointing because the ones at the actual La Boulange stores do.]

    2. I am rather fond of the chocolate banana swirl (which La Boulange doesn't carry), but consistency has been a problem. It can be really good warmed up and very flakey. About 70% of the time, it's soggy, and once they didn't heat it up at all.

      1. Near the beginning of the combo, I ordered a croissant, and the barista said "that'll be just a minute while we toast it for you" and I said "no, that's okay." And he looked at me grimly and said "We're supposed to heat everything up now."

        1 Reply
        1. re: Katie80

          Yep! That's his job now, and he'll get a corrective action if he asks you whether you want it warmed or not. Do yourself (and him) a favor and just ask for it cold next time.

        2. I'm in agreement. Plus the items seem smaller. I recently got a La Boulange cheese danish at the SBs in Strawberry before a trip to Pacific Grove. In Pacific Grove, I had a non-LB cheese danish at the local SB (guess they haven't all changed over yet), and it was definitely bigger. As the old joke goes: the food is so bad, and the portions are so small!

          1. The real answer is that La Boulange pastries just aren't very good. I've only had a few items in the past from the Palo Alto shop, and that's only because I was forced to by co-workers. I thought everything I've had there sucked, none more so than their leaden baguettes. Now that Paris Baguette has opened up on the same street, I've managed to never go back to LB.

            1 Reply
            1. re: FattyDumplin

              >The real answer is that La Boulange pastries just aren't very good.<

              I definitely agree. They used to be good, but not now. In the past year I had a chocolate croissant and a sandwich (can't remember what kind), on two different visits to La Boulange in Mill Valley (Strawberry). The croissant was terrible and the sandwich was of the where's-the-beef type. They've seen the last of me.

              1. No the Starboulange stuff is terrible. I think it's worse when they heat it up and you don't eat it right away. I know in interviews, the La Boulange owner said they had to heat up the pastries because it's mass produced somewhere and they ship it out but wasn't that the same thing when Starbucks bought it from another vendor? They didn't heat anything up pre LB and the pastries were ok.

                Now it's just awful and small and expensive.

                I guess we're just fortunate that there is a local LB in the Bay Area because we can bypass SB's pastry counter. Oh yeah, the chocolate croissant is never any good (not enough filing). I do like the almond croissant though.

                7 Replies
                1. re: asianstamp

                  >the chocolate croissant is never any good (not enough filing)<

                  The croissant itself was terrible.

                  1. re: asianstamp

                    They mass produce in South San Francisco. A girl who works at the facility told us this... I wanted to ask more questions about the the process (baking, packaging, shipping, etc.) but the context wasn't appropriate and my husband would have killed me. Oh well. At least I DID find out where Boulange makes the 'pastries'!

                    1. re: Shibi

                      I know someone who worked at the SSF location briefly before they were bought by Starbucks -they partnered with another bakery in SF for about a minute before the deal soured.
                      Hearing the stories of mass production and carelessness turned me off enough to make me never want another Boulange pastry again.

                      1. re: Shibi

                        My question is that before Starbucks switched vendors, their pastries were fairly fresh - at least they didn't nuke it for you. So why can the old vendor provide fresh goods and La Boulange can't? I fail to see the need to freeze dry pastries in SF when we are very close to SSF.

                        Whoever thought of that business model should be fired. Who wants to eat stale goods? It's also strange that they don't have to nuke their pastries at the La Boulange stores.

                        1. re: asianstamp

                          I believe the Boulange stores still get their stuff fresh.

                          Starbucks used to contract with various local bakeries. The plan is to eventually replace them all with Boulange.

                          "We chose the frozen platform to scale. That’s how you capture the essence of the product right after it’s baked."


                          1. re: asianstamp

                            The little plastic baggies the stuff comes in are kind of a bummer, too. They pile up by the ovens, overflow the little staff trash can, and make me feel like I am buying a danish from the gas station.

                            1. re: asianstamp

                              Yes. The old pastries were always fresh and didn't require heating to appear that way!

                        2. They just rolled out the La Boulanger pastries in SoCal this week. C'est le crap! I wasn't going to eat my butternut squash pastries thingie right away and so I asked them nicely not to heat it up and it FREAKED the entire staff out. The cashier, the barista and the manager all argued with me and I hate to say it I caused a scene and my 12 year old son isn't talking to me right now. But it was very satisfying that they admitted that the filling would be FROZEN. Hmmm frozen pastries. The whole place heard. Heehee. I heated it up at home later and it wasn't that bad. But I don't like to be forced to eat warmed up pastries. Even the cookies are soft and gooey. I prefer cold and crunchy any day.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: evalunta

                            The cash registers are probably programmed to charge tax on anything that is supposed to be heated, and it may be a violation of the law to charge you tax on something that hasn't been heated. For all I know, that is why the robotrons have been programmed not to deviate from the script.

                            1. re: evalunta

                              Just to restore the clarification to evalunta that got swept up when the thread split:

                              Le Boulanger and Le Boulange are different firms, prominent in different parts of the Bay Area. Le Boulanger here is a modest, venerable bakery chain, around for decades, in Peninsula and South Bay.

                              1. re: evalunta

                                I agree. I don't necessarily want a warmed pastry and they didn't like my request not to heat it. I also don't like the sticky/gooey texture of the new stuff so these days I pass and just buy coffee.

                              2. La Boulange still makes some great items, but it's not in the way of the croissants or anything they're offering at Starbucks.

                                Starbucks pastries have been so bad that a toasted day old Boulange one is a minor improvement. The pretzels look interesting. I won't be ordering another warmed chocolate croissant from them however.

                                1. The Starbucks here in CHICAGO are now advertising La Boulange stuff. So it won't just be crappy and frozen, it'll be crappy, frozen, old, and shipped from 2,000 miles away.


                                  1. Folks, we split off some discussion of independent coffeehouses to a new thread. You can find it here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/916444

                                    1. I was behind a young woman at Starbucks yesterday who appeared to be fresh in from France, wearing shorts, didn't know the ordering system at Starbucks, etc., and deep French/broken English. She got a yogurt then ordered a croissant and I almost shouted Noooooooo.

                                      2 Replies
                                        1. re: sunnyside

                                          Oh, dear. Poor girl didn't know what hit her.

                                        2. Was in San Francisco recently from New York where they have not changed over yet. I was not aware of the merger between Starbucks and La Boulange and asked for a blueberry muffin (had not even bothered to look inside the case) as I knew I wanted a blueberry MUFFIN. As I sat down and ready to have my coffee and MUFFIN I opened the bag and pulled out a blueberry cake. Pissed I got the wrong item went back only to be even more pissed they didn't have a muffin..sat back down and attempted to eat my cake and it was horrible. Next day drove a little farther to another SB in hopes of getting a Blueberry MUFFIN and finally realized the horrible cakes were everywhere..Back in NY saw La Boulange pamphlets...I don't eat the food at SB often cause they're so high in calories but am going to miss it.

                                          2 Replies
                                            1. re: Jessie1980s

                                              Blueberry muffins, cakes, breads, all typically use the same batter, so it's just the shape that's changed. You can form it into a donut, and it's still the same thing. If it's horrible, that's another story.

                                            2. i haven't tried it yet, but the items look much smaller and more dense in calories than the stuff they had before.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: 1foodie1

                                                CBS Morning News did a piece on this today. While it kind of makes you want to "run out and try the pastries," I've been seeing them in the case for months at this point, and they look "from hunger."

                                              2. I'm glad I'm not the only one who isn't happy about the switch to La Boulange. The old Lemon Pound Cake with icing was a weekend favorite. The Banana Bread was terrific too. The current line is no where near the quality and it costs more. These days I'm sticking to coffee which means I'm spending less and have less calories to burn. LOL.

                                                I wouldn't expect Starbucks to carry the same supermarket-quality muffins I could pick up anywhere. When I go to SB, I expect a pastry to be a pastry...a step above. THAT I will pay for but the current line isn't worth it.

                                                I wish they would bring the old pastries back!!

                                                1. i must be the only one that likes em

                                                  the new coffee cake is far superior to the old one. yes, i know it's smaller and I don't care.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: ns1

                                                    Some items are vastly superior, even while still mediocre. Aside from the biscotti, and maybe a pumpkin muffin or bread type item, I can't think of anything to really miss from the old Starbucks pastries.

                                                  2. I've just seen the new La Boulange pastries in Los Angeles. They look just as bad or worse than the former Starbucks desserts. They seem so mass-produced and anything but fresh and tempting. Very dissapointing.

                                                    7 Replies
                                                    1. re: Kate is always hungry

                                                      "Mass produced" is exactly right. That's the look and texture they have. I so miss the pumpkin bread, banana bread and lemon pound cake. It was what I would expect of a pastry at SB. These days I don't see much of their pastries selling out the way they used to. Hopefully money will talk!

                                                      1. re: Melissa101

                                                        It's not like their previous bakery and food acquisitions were considered a success. Starbucks spent a considerable amount buying Boulange.

                                                        Knowing the bakeries history, I do expect they'll rethink some of the integration, and improve the product before the owner hands full control over, and I also wouldn't be shocked if many of the stores do carry some holdover popular items too. In SF, the shops are still carrying the iced lemon pound cake, and the cake pops, with Boulange items (like the pretzel) limited/unavailable some days.

                                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                                          I'm jealous. :) That iced lemon pound cake was my absolute favorite. It was always moist and it was like real pound cake. The replacement is like a cheap muffin I'd rather pass on. And I do.

                                                          The other day, I asked a SB Barista for the name of the former pastry supplier as I expressed my disappointment with La Boulange. He smiled and said, "I don't know what happened and I don't know the name of the old supplier, but yeah, a lot of the old stuff was better." If he went so far as to say it, then surely this must be the opinion of a good number of their customers. If the line was a hit, I doubt he would have said that. It did make me smile as I walked out with a lonely cup of coffee. :)

                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                            >Knowing the bakeries history, I do expect they'll rethink some of the integration, and improve the product before the owner hands full control over<

                                                            The product has been so bad since (or soon after) the acquisition, including in La Boulange shops (which is the only place I've tried the new versions), that I don't have much hope for that.

                                                            1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                                              The La Boulange shops have been left relatively the same, aside from the coffee. I can't think of a criticism of the chain that doesn't go back a number of years now, and pre-date the sale, including the many factories.

                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                I live near the one in Mill Valley (Strawberry shopping center) and used to like it; not great but pretty good. A year ago I went twice and never again. Terrible croissant one day and a where's-the-beef type sandwich the other. I had had both items previously and they were fine. I don't think it had been several years since I had been previously.

                                                                1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                                                  Don't doubt it was lousy, but I don't think you can credit the announcement of the sale. The changes in Boulange's production and management were long in place.

                                                                  I've given up on their croissants, and the generic items there. I do like a few pastries, and will visit maybe once a month for them. The quality isn't consistent, but it does return to form, and some locations get better quality deliveries. How and why that's possible, who knows.

                                                      2. Does anyone know the name of Starbuck's pastry supplier just prior to La Boulange? Fingers crossed that someone does... Thank you...

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: Melissa101

                                                          It was my understanding that Starbucks partnered with a number of regional commercial bakeries to produce items based on Starbucks' recipes. I dont think there was a sole supplier, but a consortium of them under contract.

                                                          I am curious if they will hold over the Cranberry Bliss Bars. Tooth-achingly sweet, but they've become a bit of a holiday tradition at our house.

                                                          1. re: Melissa101

                                                            Starbucks had a partnership with Top Pot to contract factories and supposedly produce their recipes.

                                                            This discussion inspired me to look at their website, and it sure looks like they're keeping holdover items, especially seasonal pastries.

                                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                                              If that included the Iced Lemon Pound Cake or the Banana Bread, I'd be a happy lady. LOL.

                                                            2. re: Melissa101

                                                              Yes, on east coast at least they purchased almost all pastries from a mass producer of high quality customized products (for each contract) called "Sweet Street" Most of their specs for SB were quite good. The pumpkin loaf, lemon glazed pound cake, oatmeal raisin cookies, vanilla bean scones, and the very very famous Carnberry Bliss Bars for Holiday season and pumpkin scones for fall were all produced by Sweet Street, In fact Starbacks still purchases from this producer for the Bliss Bars, Pumpkin Scones and pound cakes because customers demand it.

                                                              1. re: MarkStClair

                                                                I like Sweet Street products. I had no idea Starbucks purchased from them. I know that our local Barnes & Noble cafe (which features Starbucks coffee) has Sweet Street, but the food there is definitely different than that at my local Starbucks.

                                                            3. Today at Starbucks (Long Island, NY) I was told that they are bringing back some of the old pastries (to include the lemon loaf with icing and banana bread). Others too, but I was too excited about the first two to hear the rest! LOL.

                                                              Apparently money does talk because only a couple of weeks ago they were offering their "new" La Boulange pastries for a dollar. My answer was...no thank you...I'd rather pay full price for the OLD ones.

                                                              1. Having eaten the old pastries and the new, the La Boulange pastries are a huge step up in quality and freshness. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten stale slices of their 'loaf' breads -- but the Boulange pastries have never been stale. They've been a big hit, so no, they aren't a failure for them.

                                                                1. I agree with all the postings about the new LB pastries being bad. I did like the older ones though!
                                                                  My solution here in So Cal is to visit any number of local supermarkets that have a Starbucks counter in them. Order the latte and then go to the market's bakery area for a pastry that will be rung up when paying for the latte.

                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                  1. re: subal

                                                                    I did likewise; I stopped buying their pastries when they introduced the LB line. Recently, I walked into SB and they were offering the pastries for *one dollar*. Since when does SB offer anything for a dollar? I said no thank you I'd rather have the old ones for full price. And now it looks like it will happen! :)

                                                                    1. re: Melissa101

                                                                      I live in San Diego County and La Boulange has not been placed in the Starbucks stores here (LB is in Orange, Riverside and LA Counties, just North of us).

                                                                      The '$1 for any pastry after 2 p.m. if you made a purchase in the morning' promotion went on here also. I figured it was one of those 'the hell with your New Year Resolution" sales.

                                                                      1. re: Cathy

                                                                        Now that makes more sense that it was a promotion....They did similar with the old pastries too.

                                                                        I have to say, the Boulange pastries sold on the East Coast at least look nothing like what you get in the Bay Area where the flagships are.

                                                                      2. re: Melissa101

                                                                        SB has always had occasional pastry promotions, either for free pastries, $1 pastries, or combos with drinks. This is nothing new.

                                                                    2. For anyone interested, I saw a flyer for La Boulange pastries arriving in Baltimore soon.

                                                                      1. The La Boulange offerings have made it to Loudoun County VA. This past weekend I tried a La Boulange blueberry scone. It was stale and just not good.

                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Bob W

                                                                          Yep, I've had 3 LB items so far and I'm done. They're flavorless and dry. Hopefully, the old items will return.

                                                                          1. re: Hobbert

                                                                            My second try was a "savory wheat spinach square." It was cold in the middle. Feh.

                                                                            1. re: Bob W

                                                                              Have tried two more LB items:

                                                                              Michigan Cherry Oat Bar: Pretty good, on the smallish side.
                                                                              Butter Croissant: Pretty good, on the smallish side.

                                                                        2. The caramel pecan sticky bun is tasty. That's about it.

                                                                          1. We were in Santa Fe last week and went to the Starbucks by the Plaza. My husband was very happy to see that they had the old type of pumpkin bread there. My cheese Danish was the usual LB stale-tasting.

                                                                            1. Oh no, Mr. Bill! I think this thread has just ruined my day...or month...or year. For the last few yrs., we have
                                                                              missed our annual trip to San Fran/Carmel/Napa/ Elk, but La Boulange on Pine at Filmore- has always been
                                                                              a highlight of our trip. Here in Boston we have no wonderful bakeries like LB. And now youall are saying that LB has been bought? or is it just partnering with Starbucks? Is the original place still wonderful? (oh pleeeeeze say yes to the latter) Thx.

                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                                The original Pine St. location is relatively the same. You wouldn't know the chain was bought, aside from some minor changes, like swapping out Equator Coffee. Most of the items are the same or close to it with a few avoidable items. You'll also find the Bay Area has new places to pick up the slack if La Boulange isn't as good as you remembered it.

                                                                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                                  Starbucks purchased the LB chain, but the individual LB stores are still baking in-house and serving the same pastries.

                                                                                  The new pastries in Starbucks stores are La Boulange branded and are a definite step up from the old Starbucks pastries, but they're a far cry from an actual scratch-baked pastry.

                                                                                  1. re: Boston_Otter

                                                                                    thx otter. does the original LB French owner oversee the SB production or is he totally absent and that's why the SB baked goods are relatively (to Pine St. that is) crummy?
                                                                                    does anyone know- is it just 'not possible' to produce PineSt LB quality at a SB scale? i actually am interested in the details here, because i don't get it. there are stock go-to answers re staffing quality but what about ingredients quality and machinery? unless SB is trying to cut ingredient costs even though the per item costs would decrease with that huge increase in scale? alot of you have talked about staleness of product, so maybe that's in-store staff training, or delivery/transportation issues? Maybe those problems will go away with time as with many complex new systems?

                                                                                    I'm curious what youall think.because it makes me really sad, in fact. I have always held up/ CH- mentioned LB Pine St. in reverential tones, sighing that they are the pinnacle.(So of course i don't want that owner involved with a non-quality operation, because that would severely tarnish the star i have assigned him.) Hey, we all need heroes.

                                                                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                                      It's impossible to supply the world's biggest coffeehouse chain with fresh-baked scratch-cooked baked goods without each location having things like actual ovens. As it is, they receive par-baked and chilled pastries that they proof and then heat to order. If individual locations are leaving them out too long, sure, they might get stale -- goodness knows their old pastries were past their sale date half the time I ordered them too.

                                                                                      The ingredients in the new LB-branded pastries are very high quality, it's just a matter of a quality difference between freshly baked that day and mass-produced, par-baked and reheated. There's bound to be a loss of quality vs. the original LB location.

                                                                                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                                                        Rigo still runs La Boulange. They've had trouble scaling up, something that's also been an issue before Starbucks was involved. Some of it was fairly innovative.The Pine St. location is the best, and does some baking on site still.
                                                                                        La Boulange isn't set up with the same structure of factories across the country (yet?), so it's no shock they can't deliver nationwide yet, but the sad thing is if you visit a Starbucks in downtown SF, around the corner from a La Boulange, the basic items look nothing alike. They were also a little ambitious in thinking they could serve warm croissants at SB, which isn't something LB offers.