Leif Bjelland sketches Le Petit Outre’s future against a drab brick wall on Third Street, two blocks west of Reserve Street, with his fingertips. He draws high-set windows, big glass doors. Clearly he has grand plans for his new bakery. And clearly those plans are far from completion.
Bjelland and Big Dipper co-owner Charlie Beaton first discussed a new joint retail location three years ago, and excitement in the Orchard Homes neighborhood buzzed. Plans included outdoor seating, a walk-up window and a “fish-tank” view of the kitchen.
The plans remain the same, but the retail front currently looks like a post-5 p.m. Habitat for Humanity project. There are gaping holes and exposed woodwork. Bjelland says employees from Bayern Brewing, which used to call the building home, hardly recognize the place.
Bjelland moved Le Petit’s baking operations to the new location last September. He’s currently focusing on streamlining his wholesale business, including ramping up production of Mexitana tortillas by mid-summer. Le Petit purchased the popular local tortilla brand last year.
Bjelland hopes to use profits from his wholesale upgrades to float construction on the spacious retail spot. That means new packaging, new distribution routes and taking advantage of the untapped Flathead market.
“We’re anxious, but as of now it sounds like he has so many irons in the fire that the retail spot is still a little ways out,” says Charlie Beaton, co-owner of Big Dipper.
Retail is simmering on the backburner mostly due to engineering setbacks. The scale of work needed to renovate the new building surprised both businesses, and Bjelland says he’s already spent $400,000 moving the baking operation. He also hit an economic snag last year when flour prices tripled. “It kicked our ass,” Bjelland says.
Although he declines to estimate when the new retail spot will open, Bjelland remains optimistic about eventually cutting the ribbon with Beaton.
“It’s good synergy,” Bjelland says. “It’s Gestalt theory…the whole is better than the sum of its parts.”