Entrepreuneur Spotlight: Clémence Danko, of Choc·O·Pain French Bakery and Café

Choc·O·Pain, Jersey Bites, Veronique Deblois
Clémence Danko. Photo credit: LN Photographie by Helene McGuire

Born and raised in France, Clémence Danko cannot go a single day without bread. Typical of most French people, she eats it with every meal, and going to her neighborhood bakery to buy bread and pastries every morning has always been part of her daily ritual. When she moved with her husband to Hoboken, NJ, from Paris in 2009, and was hard pressed to find a fresh baguette or croissant, her inevitable fate was to bring a French boulangerie to her new neighborhood. She left her career in pharmaceuticals, and set off on a path to bring a little bite of Paris to Hoboken.

Danko began by getting a degree in culinary management from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. Upon graduation, she went on to take an intensive bread baking course at the International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute), which has the only accredited professional bread baking program in the U.S. Clémence worked at Le Pain Quotidien in New York City to gain hands-on experience working with customers, making coffee and learning about superb service.

It was on the last day of bread class that Danko found out that she was expecting her first child. Two years and one child later, in January 2012, Choc·O·Pain Hoboken was born and Danko had two “babies” to nurture. In March 2013, she opened a second location in downtown Jersey City, and was again, expecting a baby.

Danko is guided by her passion for simple traditional French food, in combination with her strong belief that cooking should be based on using only the highest quality and freshest local-when-possible ingredients. As the proprietor of three Choc·O·Pain locations, including a newly opened production facility, and soon a fourth location, Danko takes seriously her role as an environmentally-responsible business owner. She loves the neighborhood(s), the sense of community, and the role she now plays in bringing the French lifestyle experience west of the Hudson River.

In April 2015, she was honored to receive ICC’s Outstanding Alumni Award for Excellence in Bread Baking.

Choc·O·Pain, Jersey Bites, Veronique Deblois
Petit Kouign

Early Days

JERSEY BITES: What is your earliest food memory?

CLÉMENCE DANKO: An ice cream instead of a cake for my third birthday, in a ski resort, it was whatever we could find because of where we where but I was actually super excited about that non-conform birthday cake and I have a great memory of that day!

When did you know you wanted to open a professional bakery—any “aha” moments? 

I always knew I would be working around food, in the hospitality world, as it was a passion from my childhood on. When I moved to the U.S. from France, we could not find a good French bakery in the Hoboken area where we lived. This was my “Aha” moment that inspired me to change my career path (out of the pharmaceutical industry) and pursue further education to open my own French Bakery and Café and offer the fresh baked, delicious French products I grew up with.

You’ve been expanding. What’s your business going to look like in five years?

That I don’t know yet, but it looks like we are going to expand a little bit more in this area, opening another few locations, providing our amazing products to a few more neighborhoods. We also want to expand our catering business and wholesale business as well, while growing as a responsible and respectful company—employees, environment, communities, and more.

What People Want

What are some of the most popular items sold or requested at the stores?

Chocopains—chocolate croissants or “pain au chocolat” as we call them in France—are our most popular items, closely followed by croissants and petit kouigns which became one of our specialties. As for savory, our sandwiches are a big hit, starting with the spicy tuna, my own recipe which makes me very proud. Bread wise, it’s the baguette but also the five-grain sourdough, Pain aux Cereales.

Choc·O·Pain, Jersey Bites, Veronique Deblois
Five-grain bread

What is the greatest opportunity that has come from owning the bakeries?

I’ve had some wonderful and rewarding moments from being an entrepreneur, a food business owner. Bringing pure and simple joy to our guests through food is one of them. For example, when people don’t know what to expect and bite into one of our products and I see their faces light up, I see it in their smiles, in their eyes—this keeps me going.

Danko’s Personal Side

Describe the most memorable meal you’ve had.

I have several outstanding-meal memories, but the one standing out must be a Saint Pierre dish, that I had in the restaurant Le Divellec in Paris, fifteen years ago with my parents, truly the best fish I ever had, so delicate, perfectly cooked and with such well-balanced flavors.

It’s your last day on earth, what would your final meal be?

My mom’s pot au feu is one of the best things in the world. It’s such a complex and time-consuming meal to prepare. She does it for me every time I go home to France, with the dilemma of cooking the meat in the broth where the vegetables cooked to get their flavor, or cooking the vegetables in the broth where the meat cooked to get its flavor. The broth, the bone marrow, the oxtail, the very strong mustard, the coarse salt, the cornichons—she puts so much love into it, its one of a kind of life-food experience.

What’s the best advice you have to share with young people interested in becoming bakers?

First, I would say is that being a baker and being an entrepreneur-manager of a business are two very different things, keep your focus on what you are good at, find other people who can do what you can not do so well.

Secondly, I would say, stay simple, true to yourself, to your concept but stay curious and open to new things, new ways of doing [things], new flavor combinations, always coming back to your concept and what makes it yours.

Lastly, I would say, don’t cut corners. Use quality ingredients as if you were feeding your family.

Where do you enjoy dining in New Jersey?

There are too many to name, most are in Hoboken and Jersey City—more in Jersey City actually, but I had one of the most pleasant culinary experiences in New Jersey at the Kitchen at Grove station, in Jersey City when it was still open, a few years ago. They had a really delicious menu, original, and very well executed.

Looking Ahead

Are you working on any upcoming projects our readers would be interested in learning about?

Yes, we are excited to share that we are about to add a fourth location in uptown Hoboken (in the Tea Building) by the end of the year. In addition, we have just added new baking classes in our original downtown Hoboken location. And, in that same downtown Hoboken location, we have added made-to-order sandwiches and salad to provide customers with more flexible lunch options. We have also added delivery service through Postmates.


Locations in Hoboken and Jersey City