At the beginning of the 1980s, Poilane had two Parisian shops. However, this was not enough to respond to the growing demand. Lionel Poilâne and his wife – an architect and designer – conceived a manufactory. The challenge consisted in creating the same bread in larger proportions. The facility the bakery owner and his wife designed has 24 wood-fire ovens where each baker works as if he were in one of the shops. (Apollonia, center, at Bièvre Factory with her delivery team.)
In 1932, a young baker from Normandy came to Paris to open his first shop. The bakery was located on 8 rue du cherche-midi in the artsy Saint- Germain des Prés district. Despite the fierce competition, he was determined to bake the traditional French sourdough loaves which were not as popular as baguettes. At the time, there were 5 bakeries on rue du cherche-midi. Today, there is only 1.
Lionel Poilâne took over the family business in the early 1970s. He had started his apprenticeship as a baker at the age of 14 and was an avid learner. He learned about different bread making techniques, machines, and wheat and flour production. For Lionel Poilâne, quality was more important than quantity. He conducted experiments to produce bread that would combine the best of old techniques while incorporating the best of new techniques. This is what he called “retro-innovation.”
Starting in the 1960s, Lionel Poilâne collected texts and illustrations about bread. Today, the library has over 2,500 pieces in several languages : rare editions, bakery records, modern recipe books... The documents trace the relationship between man and bread across time and civilisations.