Le Fournil. That’s French for bakehouse or bakery.
In Billings, it’s a charming bakery tucked in between downtown shops on First Avenue North, next to Rocket Burrito. Started less than two years ago by Francois Morin, the shop is fast becoming a favorite among Billings food-lovers for its outstanding bread, made daily by Morin, who is passionate about bread.
Being a baker is a second life for Morin, very much as is being a Montanan.
As an IT specialist, Morin has spent most of his life working for petroleum companies around the world— from Johannesburg in South Africa, to Pakistan, to India, and Singapore, where Morin honed his baking skills as an apprentice to an accomplished baker.
Morin was born in Orleans, south of Paris, and grew up in Burgundy. He studied agronomy in college in Paris, where he met an American woman – Marmee Connell, who happens to be from Billings, Montana. The couple were married in 1995 and lived in Paris for a while, where all three of their children, two boys and a girl, were born.
Coming to Billings was a very deliberate decision in seeking a change of pace and lifestyle. It was a chance to be closer to family, but also to live in a less populated area that was closer to the out- of –doors, and for Morin, who wanted to do something “with his hands,” and to pursue an interest about which he had become quite enamored: making the finest, high quality bread in the French tradition, with which he grew up.
Billings had no French bakery and prospects appeared good. And, so it has turned out to be. Morin acquired a space and equipment and refurbished the shop from top to bottom, and installed Italian ovens. Since opening in December 2017, business has steadily grown and the feedback from patrons – from across Montana and Wyoming — has been good, as their numbers have grown. People who have been to Europe and who have experienced the real thing, are especially appreciative of le Fournil bread.
Some restaurants in Billings have placed le Fournil bread on their menus, including special le Fournil buns for the Burger Dive – a trend that Morin hopes to see continue.
The move to Billings has been a great move. “We love the change in activity,” said Morin.
Morin is up in the wee hours each morning making bread. He especially enjoys the time, “baking in the early morning, alone.” He adheres to the traditional ways of French bread making. Each day, by hand he makes baguettes, country loaves, of whole wheat, oats, spelt, rye, and sourdough breads, using a starter of his own, which he brought from Singapore. The secret of developing the taste and flavor of wonderful bread is in a long fermentation process. It takes more than 24 hours.
And, Morin is emphatic — he does not use chemicals or preservatives! He will not compromise with quality, and says Morin, he does not try to compete with local bakeries.
Purchasing fresh bread is a daily routine in France, or anywhere that the bread is made without preservatives. You can’t keep a loaf of le Fournil bread around for days on end, because without preservatives, it won’t keep that long, warns Morin, quite proudly. But then who would want to keep it around for days or weeks? It’s easy to devour a loaf in a day.
le Fournil is a true family business. Marmee, who teaches French at Senior High School, helps out when need be, as does their youngest son who is still at home as a senior in high school.
Located at 2805 1st Ave N, le Fournil opens at 11 am and closes at 6 pm Tuesday thru Friday, and 9 am until sold out on Saturday. Gauging the amount of bread needed each day has been a challenge, but it’s one for which Morin says he is getting better. One of the best days is Saturdays, especially during the summer when the Farmers Market is held downtown.
Reservations of bread or special orders are welcomed.