The pandemic introduced new phrases into our vernacular: indoor dining, social distancing, hygiene theater. But one old word — “pivot” — became so pervasive, it began to inspire eye rolls and heavy sighs. And yet it’s exactly what most businesses did, including South Philly’s Machine Shop Boulangerie.
In the before times, if you wanted to get your hands on pastry chef Emily Riddell’s impossibly flaky croissants, you had to snag one at a pop-up bake sale or market, or at wholesale coffee-shop clients, like ReAnimator, Elixr, and Rival Bros.
Then came coronavirus, and Riddell and former co-owner Katie Lynch’s wholesale business collapsed practically overnight. Almost immediately they started selling their wares — caramelized kouign-amann, pristinely coiffed fruit tarts, custardy canelés — direct to customers via delivery, and then preordered pickups at the Bok Building. (Lynch, a fellow Le Bec-Fin alum, separated from the business in March.)
Response was so strong, they extended sales from one day a week to two, and now Riddell is moving Machine Shop to a permanent retail bakery on the first floor of the Bok, next to Two Persons Coffee. Work is underway for a fall 2021 opening, hopefully by the end of September. Machine Shop devotees will have to bide their time until then — no summer pop-ups are in the works.
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Riddell, an Olney native and Central High School alum who also studied at Le Cordon Bleu, is excited to make the transition from wholesale to retail permanent. It was a goal from the time when she and Lynch converted the Bok’s fourth-floor machine-shop classroom into a bakery in 2017.
“Wholesale, you know exactly what you’re making … There are no question marks, like ‘am I gonna sell this product today or not?’” she said. “But on the other hand, you wake up really early in the morning, bake everything off, drop it off before the city even wakes up, and then you never see anybody. I really put a ton of love and effort and thought into the product, and I want to be able to see the faces who are eating it.”
Customers can expect a similar lineup to Machine Shop’s pop-up offerings, which included baguettes and bâtards, cookies and coffee cake, plus their signature sweet and savory viennoiseries. But the five-day-a-week presence will also give Riddell latitude for experimentation.
“It would be an opportunity for me to play around and do all of those things that I love to do: making chocolates and caramels and cakes and more tarts and pâte à choux-based things like Paris–Brest,” she said. “My vision is to have very classic French pastries executed really, really nicely. Not anything crazy or extra-fancy, just very solid classics.”