L’Annexe de Mamie Colette:  A Recipe for Success

by Sue Fajgier

Although it has a certain charm, the Delaware-Raritan Canal in Titusville, New Jersey, is a far cry from the banks of the Seine in France; and yet, if you are lucky enough to be sitting in L’Annexe de Mamie Colette eating a baked from scratch croissant, you just might be convinced otherwise. This second location for the popular Newton, Pennsylvania, bakery Mamie Colette opened in April 2024.

Chef Magali and Isabelle are partners in business and partners for life. Magali, born in France, was working in Sales at a job she didn’t find inspiring when she met Isabelle, a corporate CEO involved with business transformations in 2006. The relationship evolved and over time Chef Magali was able to shift focus and spend time pursuing her passion – baking.

Isabelle in the bread lab | photo by Sue Fajgier

A Baker and a Builder

Mag is definitely the baker here; you just have to taste one of the delicious viennoiseries in the pastry case to appreciate the time and care that went into this treat. These fine baked goods are the bridge between bread and pastries and a category of food that is especially French to me.

Isabelle is the builder – and she’s the one managing the vision behind L’Annexe de Mamie Colette. The concept here is different from the Newtown location. Isabelle is a proud Bretonne who loves sharing her culture. The artwork they created for L’Annexe de Mamie Colette is a composite of Mag and Isabelle, a Superwoman Bretonne Lady and it really does fit! Isabelle offers us a taste of her home with the sweet and savory crepes, baked-fresh-daily viennoiserie and now freshly baked bread. They bring some of the viennoiserie over from the Newton shop and are now taking bread back to Newton so both bakeries share in the abundance of daily fresh-baked goods.

Ready for business | photo by Sue Fajgier

Managing to Succeed

Isabelle is a strategist. It was her role in corporate life for many years, and these skills still serve her well in the hospitality industry. Fundamentally, Isabelle cares about people and that’s why she was successful then and continues to enjoy prosperity while building a new business from scratch. When talking about the bakery, it was inevitable we would end up speaking about the management of people, and it’s here where Isabelle’s eyes start to sparkle a little.

I asked Isabelle what she was most proud of in her life so far. She did not hesitate in responding – it’s her professional life. She has made a career of helping people reach their maximum potential and realize skills they didn’t know they had. “It’s really rewarding to help them find their best roles. I still have colleagues that text me with messages like, I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t met you,” says Isabelle. It’s obvious the pride Isabelle takes in her former corporate life and the relationships she made. “I feel like they’re my children, in a good way” she says when speaking of those she mentored at past jobs.

Delicious treats made fresh daily at L’annexe de Mamie Colette | photo by Sue Fajgier

Isabelle and Chef Magali are a perfect set – her yin to her yang. Mag is more cautious and risk averse. Isabelle is not reckless, but she doesn’t fear risk – she embraces challenges. She quoted me a favorite business maximum and it’s so appropriate. “If you don’t try something because you’re afraid to take risks, you are 100% guaranteed to fail.”

Descendant of Adventurers

Maybe taking risks is just in her blood? When I asked who her heroes or role models were – again there was no hesitation. Isabelle’s grandfather was an adventurer, a builder and one of her heroes. In 1946 construction began on a dam project in Brazil. Her grandfather fudged his resume by exaggerating his ship design experience, and packed up his wife and son and moved to the wilds of Brazil to be first in command of a multi-lingual crew, while speaking only French. The journey to the job site alone took 6 months. Isabelle’s grandmother lasted two years in Brazil by reading books but when his job was completed and Grandfather went to build more projects in Africa, her grandmother and father went back to France and a more genteel life.

Eric making crepes | photo by Sue Fajgier

The First Shop

With that DNA it isn’t surprising that when they had difficulty securing funds to open the Newtown bakery, that they would dip into the retirement savings because failure isn’t an option for Isabelle. Isabelle can deal with a reduced standard of living for a while, because she always has a plan.

Fortunately, the Newtown bakery, which opened in November of 2002, was successful almost from the start. There was the expected learning curve; trying to educate customers to the scratch baking versus frozen industrial croissants most of us are so used to unfortunately. You only need to eat a couple at Mamie Colette to be “ruined” for other bakeries – I can attest to that. Once the public understood that the viennoiseries are baked fresh every day, and the taste difference is obvious, it was logical that customers began requesting freshly baked bread.

Expansion Becomes Necessary

This is where New Jersey got very lucky. They didn’t have room on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware to expand with a bread baking lab so they began looking for locations. An old tractor dealer place was torn down and a forward-thinking investor renovated the location which is now called “The Titusville Marketplace” right along the banks of the D&R Canal. The location was ideal because it offered three buildings and could be retrofitted for their specific needs.

The Titusville Marketplace is now home to not just L’Annexe de Mamie Colette, but also their free-standing bread lab (and to a board game store). The bread lab is a beautiful industrial looking space and has a huge four deck oven. Isabelle has plans to maximize the capabilities here as well. The vision for the future includes; community and corporate team building, bread making classes, selling bread out of Newtown location and also selling daily fresh bread to local health food stores.

Mixing it up in the bread lab | photo by Sue Fajgier

Sharing Success

When asked about what she enjoys in her free time it isn’t surprising to hear that traveling to discover new foods and learn about new cultures is her passion. One of the subtle, beautiful little notes I took from this exchange is that prior to meeting Isabelle, Mag had never been on a plane – now she is a world-traveler.

Isabelle is full of surprises. Her answer to my query about what she would do with unlimited funds was also very quick, yet well thought out. “I would help to build schools, lots of schools. Education is key to solving so many of our problems like violence and intolerance.” So, it’s not surprising that during the time I was visiting they were also participating in a week-long fundraiser for “A Love for Life”, against pancreatic cancer and a benefit for Penn Medicine. For one week, 20 percent of profits went towards this worthy cause. For Isabelle, “life may be short, but it’s about people.”

L’annexe de Mamie Colette | photo by Sue Fajgier

The universe is a random place. Once upon a time, a French woman, descendant of a grandmother from the French Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe living in Chartres, met a French-American expatriate who was working for a multinational corporation who was supposed to be living in Italy but wound-up living in France instead – and we all get to benefit from an amazing assortment of baked goods.

The rest is herstory!

About the Author/s

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Sue graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in English back when you could still get a degree for reading great literature. She spent nearly 40 years working in the Sales & Marketing field with companies ranging from non-profits to small businesses to Fortune 100 Corporations. Most recently retired after nearly 20 years with S & P Global, she is now free to pursue her true passions for hiking, writing and photography. Sue was born and raised in New York State. As a New Jersey transplant, her passion for the special blend of culture and nature that is uniquely Jersey is what Sue loves to share with the world. She has one grown son that she is insanely proud of. Her husband of many decades is an amazing partner both in life and hiking. When not out exploring, Sue is most likely at home reading a novel with her dog.

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