Benjamin Massaoui and his bakery in Durham
by Breanna Kendall and Allie Tallering
Benjamin Massaoui is a Frenchman who currently lives and works in Durham, North Carolina. He is originally from Paris, France and now is the owner and head chef of a bakery called French Corner Bakery. We were lucky enough to be able to interview Benjamin on his life and time as a French-speaking native living in Durham. See below for the English translation or click here to view the original interview in French. We would like to thank Benjamin and his children for their time and for the delicious croissants ! Everyone should go and visit his shop in Durham to talk to him (in French or in English !) and to try for themselves his very special treats !
Find the French Corner Bakery here and on 2500 N. Pointe Drive.
Question 1: Where did you grow up and how did you find yourself here in Durham?
Benjamin: I was born and raised in Paris in the 13th arrondissement and lived my whole life in Paris. I traveled a lot around the world. I first came to the United States in 1998 to see if I liked it. I worked in New York for one year and I liked it a lot. I came back to France to get some of my things together and to get my visa. In 1999, I came here for good. One thing that is really funny is that everyday that I worked in Paris, I drove by the Eiffel Tower. The last day I was in Paris, when I was on my way to get on the plane, I drove by one last time and realized I had never been in the Eiffel Tower. I realized that I was about to immigrate to the United States without ever going in the Eiffel Tower. So I stopped by car and went inside! I grew up in Paris without ever being in yet. But I’m sure that it is a similar situation for people who live next to Niagara Falls. They wake up every morning and go about their business. They don’t open the window every day and say “Wow it’s so gorgeous!”
Question 2: Paris vous manque?
No, not really. I lived there my whole life. I know the city. When I miss something, food especially, I can just make it!
Question 3: What do you do as work and how did you get interested in this work?
As you can see, we make bread and pastries. I began when I was 15, now I’m 50. That’s 35 years that I have made bread. I had an uncle who was a baker. It was the good way to always have fresh bread. I did an apprentice and I became a baker. It took me 7 or 8 years to become a professional baker. Then I traveled a lot. One day in 1994, I was in Africa and I heard something very interesting from a man in the Congo. When an old man dies, it’s like a library burning. All the knowledge flies away. If I want to become good at what I do, I want to learn. I want to teach others. So for that reason, I began teaching classes on baking and making pastries. As you can see, this is my son. He is in the process of making cinnamon buns. And my daughter is over there too.
Question 4: Vos enfants, parlent-ils français?
No, they know “non” but not much else!
Question 5: What do you think of the French community here in Durham? Do you like Durham?
Yes, I love Durham. I have lived here 8 years now. I don’t really know the French community here. But ever since opening this bakery, I have gotten to know it better as they have started to come. Before that, I didn’t really communicate with them. Two weeks ago, the French commissioner from Raleigh called me to congratulate me on the newspaper articles in the News & Observer and the Durham Sun. He invited me to a gala and I said no thanks. I have been here 12 years and just because my name is now in the newspaper, he invited me. I am just a baker. I think there are people who are more deserving of this invitation. I just bake bread. There are teachers, nurses, and doctors who deserve more attention from the media than me.
Question 6: How long have you had this bakery?
We have been here since December 2014 and it has been a great experience. We have been very well received. We have 5 stars on Yelp, 5 stars on Facebook. I saw someone put on Facebook, “Even the pictures smell good!” I am lucky that God has given me two good hands and it is a benediction and it is a benediction for others. On a lighter note, when I realized I could not loose weight, I try to loose weight and I can’t, I decided to put people around me that are a little bit more “fluffy.”
Question 7: Des derniers mots? Mange beaucoup? Mange bien?
Bon appétit! You must come visit me at my bakery and try my bread! You can have French reunions here. We have coffee and free wifi – we have everything! Every time I can speak French, it is like I have a piece of candy in my mouth. Because I don’t speak it a lot. My kids spoke French just up until the day they went to school. And after they were exposed to English all the time, they began to respond to me in English and then little by little they lost it. It’s sad, but I’m sure they understand more than they tell me. I think it is selective! We need more people that speak French!