Not being a student of apiology, I didn't know there was a difference between a French bee and a honeybee that buzzes around Lenexa (and maybe there isn't). But Tracy Torres, the proprietor of the three-week-old French Bee Bakery, at 404 East Street in downtown Parkville, says France's emperor Napoleon had a bee - a Gallic one, presumably - embroidered on his clothing. "It was a symbol of rejuvenation," says Torres, who has taken several career paths in her life but feels that her new business is the culmination of a dream.
She started the French Bee as a catering operation, making and delivering box lunches for corporate clients. When the gray building at 404 East Street - a former hair salon - became available for rent, Torres leased the little house, creating a cozy space for drinking coffee (her own Roasterie blend) and eating freshly baked scones or having a light lunch. There are only a few tables in the buttermilk-colored dining room, and the venue fills up pretty quickly on Saturday mornings. The second front room is reserved for her glass pastry case, featuring scones (pear pecan, ham and cheese, maple bacon date, chocolate raspberry), fluffy squares of old-fashioned cinnamon-yogurt coffee cake, flaky cinnamon swirls, cookies, and three kinds of delicious quiche (yesterday's selection included a first-rate artichoke and sun-dried tomato) in a buttery crust - no lard ever used.
Torres, the divorced mother of four, has three of her children working with her at the little bakery and cafe.
"I have triplets, and each of them works one day a week. One on Friday, one on Sunday and one on Sunday," says Torres, who is in the shop almost all the time.
Torres credits fellow Parkville businesswoman Irene Sparks, the owner of the Hawthorne House catering facility, with giving her the confidence to launch her own business.
"I worked for Irene as a chef for two years. It was a great learning experience, and she's been a wonderful mentor," Torres says.
Torres makes only custom cakes (but no wedding cakes) for patrons, petite cakes that serve eight to 10 people. "My customers have let me be very creative," she says. "I recently created a birthday cake for a lady who couldn't have chocolate. I made a vanilla bean cake with a fresh lavender-infused frosting.
The French Bee is open Tuesday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. She will stay open later for groups that wish to rent the dining room for meetings, card parties or book club gatherings.