Like any mom-and-pop business, the well-known deli, bakery and catering business did not launch amid great fanfare. With humble beginnings, François and Diana gradually built the business up brick by brick to become the beloved community staple it is today.
Twenty-five years ago on Aug. 1, Francois purchased the former butcher shop at 7837 Girard Ave. — which he dubbed a “Cadillac without a battery” — and converted it into a space where he could channel his culinary creativity.
Not only did he get the motor cranking in that Cadillac, he has it revved up to 100 miles per hour.
The success of Girard Gourmet could be attributed to any number of reasons. Maybe it is the quality of the locally sourced dishes and freshly baked items. Maybe it is the dedication of its owners and the commitment of its loyal staff. Maybe it is the community-minded spirit behind the whole operation. Whatever it is, François and Diana got it right.
When François first opened Girard Gourmet, he had no employees, no steady stream of customers flowing through his doors and he never knew whether he would be able to make the next month’s rent.
“When I started out, I took in $100. Then the next day I had $101, then the next day $102. It seems like it grew a dollar a day,” he recalled. “Around Christmas, I thought I was going to run out of money. Then there was a Super Bowl. I made these Super Bowl football player [cookies], and I sold lots of them. So the next month’s rent was paid, and in the meantime, it grew a little bit at a time.”
Over the years, he and Diana have seen many neighboring businesses come and go. Only a few of the 25-year veterans of Girard Avenue remain.
“We’ve seen everybody come in and try a business and close. People think it’s easy,” said François. “I learned that in the food business, you have to evolve because things have changed over 25 years and more. Now, you can find a lot more ingredients that you couldn’t find then, and people are more aware of different foods and healthy foods.”
He didn’t let the sight of shuttering businesses around him stop his vision of making a living out of his passion, however. He continued to steadily carve out a place for his business on Girard and roll with the changing times. It wasn’t until he married Diana a few years later that his business really flourished, he said.
“I think it took off when I married Diana,” he said.
In January 1991, just after their honeymoon, Diana went right to work. And she and François have been working hard ever since.
Although both cited that the hardest part of their business is never having a day off, the duo would have it no other way.
“I’m never sick. Diana isn’t either. It’s good being busy,” said François. “I like it. I like the relationship you have with the community and teaching people how to do things.”
In addition to his passion for educating his customers about food and the myriad ways in which it can be consumed, François also enjoys getting his hands dirty harvesting his own produce from a one-acre organic farm in Pine Hills, which the Goedhuys have owned for the last 10 years.
“Right now, I’m bringing back mulberries, which are very nice. I have a lot of apricots and white peaches right now. Then the nectarines come after that with the apples and pome-granates. I have one of everything, it seems,” he said.
Twice a week, François visits his farm to harvest produce for the shop. When he returns with the seasonal crops, he gets started on the creation process.
“It’s like that [Food Network] ‘Chopped’ program. I come back and say, ‘What do I have here?’ and I make a dish out of it,” he said.
In season — and in store now — include peach pies, stuffed zucchini, purslane and goat cheese salad and lots of vegetables in the soups, all locally sourced from the Goedguys’ farm and other local farms and ranches in the area.
“Everything I bring back gets used up or finds its way into the menu,” he said.
While François works his talents in the kitchen, Diana sees to the customer service in the front of the house.
“I just love being part of the community. The various groups, like the Athenaeum and the La Jolla Historical Society, the churches, the schools, watching the kids grow up,” said Diana. “This is a special community, and it’s really wonderful to be a part of it.”
The duo likened their bakery and catering business to a “mom-and-pop shop with 24 elves.”
“There’s a lot of competition out there from big corporations that wasn’t there 25 years ago,” said François. “I find it spectacular that for 25 years, people still trust us to provide them with food. I’m very honored in that.”
Two of those trusting customers, Jim and Diane Owens, first came to Girard Gourmet when François opened the bakery in 1986. Now, 25 years later, the Owens continue to return to Girard Gourmet on a near-daily basis.
“When we first started going, we’d always order a turkey, cheese and avocado sandwich and split it. Then we’d go down to the ocean to the park and have that, look at the ocean and walk down there, and we’d usually end up walking back to order something else to eat or freeze,” said Jim.
Although the couple’s routine may have shifted a bit over the years, the visit to their favorite go-to bakery and deli continues to be part of their daily grind.
“We always get soups and put them in the freezer or we’ll get a meal — something easy to grab and put it in the microwave,” he said. “The food there is always so good no matter what you get, and they’re such sweet people. They have a staff of 25 people and they’re always so nice. When we go in, it just feels like family. It’s just so comforting to go there. That’s why we keep going back.”
The Goedhuys intend to keep their longstanding relationship with the community going for many years to come.
“I haven’t painted anything different on the canvas of my future,” said François. “To me, it has a life of its own, so I have to make sure I do my part.”
Girard Gourmet has added convenient new amenities, like a pick-up service for customers on the go and accessible restroom facilities. In celebration of the milestone anniversary, Girard Gourmet shared birthday cake and lemonade at their store on Aug. 1.
More than any celebration could show, however, the Goedhuys’ success is one that can be attested to by virtue of their 25-year stand on Girard, serving satisfied customers and providing the community with a personal vibe that often seems missing in other neighborhoods.
“We love our employees. We love our customers. We love what we do,” said François. “We’re never going to be doing anything else. I don’t know anything else.”
For more information about Girard Gourmet, visit www.girardgourmet.com or call (858) 454-3321.