An early riser

Soft music, like the aromas of the ovens, wafted through the tiny space that makes up the La Petite French Bakery at 919 16th St. in downtown Greeley. It was 2 p.m. on Friday, June 16, but Fahd Chana, the owner, baker, front counter clerk, cashier, order taker, and French-speaking Moroccan had been working since 2 a.m.

Such is the life of a baker.

Chana’s music was his way of kicking back. Sort of.

The phone rang and a customer wanted to order a cake. 

While Chana’s day began nearly eight hours earlier, the bakery opened at 9:30 a.m. A French-speaking customer — from South Dakota — chatted with the baker shortly after opening.

“There are more people here who speak French than anywhere else,” Chana said.

He consented to an interview with BizWest but asked to reschedule until after 2 p.m. He was too busy in the morning to think clearly about the questions, he said.

Chef Chana, as customers call him, has been in his spot along 16th Street for seven years. He saw the growth happening in Greeley and Northern Colorado and knew it would be a good place to practice his craft.

A Paris-trained baker, his origins were in Morocco where his grandmother nurtured his passion. “I was born to do this job,” he said. “I may only get an hour of sleep sometimes. … I would rather be in the bakery than on the beach.” 

He professes to have no favorite confection but said he does like baking bread. The size of his shop makes bread baking more of a challenge because it requires more space. “I would love to have a wood oven and make old fashioned bread. The next level for downtown Greeley would be to have a wood oven,” he said.

Bread requires more precision, he said. With pastries, “I don’t have to use a scale but I have to be disciplined so I use it.” Bread requires precise measurements.

“I love to make bread when there’s moisture in the air,” he said, referencing the several days of rainfall that had soaked Northern Colorado. Baking in a dry climate is more difficult. He said some recipes that might perform well in New York do less well in Colorado. “That’s why New York bagels are famous. They can’t be made here,” he said.

He also finds baking at altitude to be a challenge — one that he has mastered. Baking times are longer at altitude, he said.

He bakes “because people want something good. It makes me happy.” While acknowledging mistakes, disappointments are rare. 

Chana will spend the rest of the afternoon taking special orders, cleaning the kitchen and preparing for the next day. His bakery is closed Mondays and Tuesdays — “That helps me with balance,” he said. He also said that on holidays and special days such as Father’s Day, his inventory will sell out early, and he’ll lock up early.

Of course, there’s always that cake order to get underway.

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