Sylvain Nykiel grew up listening to the sounds of the world famous “24 Hour of Le Mans”. His hometown would come alive each year with the world’s oldest active sports car endurance race. He remembers the sounds at night keeping locals up with excitement as well as- yes- annoyance.
When he was sixteen, Sylvain underwent two years of training to become a waiter (a strange concept in America but commonplace in Europe). He was immensely interested in cuisine and the culinary arts. Sylvain had been interested in cooking since he was six or seven years old, which he says is typical in his home country of France. “That’s in the French blood,” Sylvain explains, “You cook at home. You make mistakes but you don’t care.” He worked for many years in the restaurant business before venturing out on his own.
La Boulangerie Co-Owner Sylvain Nykiel shares his love for culinary arts with guests. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
His business acumen resulted in he and his wife, Sylvie, operating a full-service company that catered to high profile jetsetters. It was in this business that they made the connections and friendships which brought them to San Antonio. The quirks of urban living, which he experienced in Le Mans and Paris, inform his current convictions. He explains that all cities need disruptive variety to thrive. He and Sylvie brought some of that variety when they opened their bakery “La Boulangerie” eight years ago in the heart of San Antonio.
Instead of catering to a wealthy clientele, the couple felt a responsibility to serve the general public. Sylvain is passionate about public health. All his offerings are made from scratch, without the excessive use of butter, sugars, and processed ingredients typical of supermarket items. Many of his ingredients are imported from France and Sylvain maintains that if he cannot make something the right way, he will not make it. “It’s not a job,” he observes, “it’s a pleasure.”
La Boulangerie Front of House Manager Axelle Mabille assists customers with bakery decisions. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Beyond culinary offerings, Sylvain points out that a healthy urban environment offers opportunities for physical exercise and walkability. As a tenant along the Broadway Cultural Corridor, he is positioned in a major transportation artery. He loves when his clients have the chance to walk around downtown from spot to spot. He jokes, “Go ahead and park a few blocks away, it will be cheaper for you.”
In terms of growing the culinary scene in San Antonio, Sylvain says the next steps would be to bring in more international practitioners trained in a variety of cultural cuisines. From there, an educational ecosystem could be built to support more and more experimental restaurant concepts. This is what excites him about the potential of the city.
“You’ve got new young people now and they want to try new stuff,” he says of the city’s booming and diversifying population. The new creatives in San Antonio offer the chance for food and art to collide. Next month, for example, local artist Stephanie Niembro is partnering with Centro San Antonio to bring a massive, French-inspired wheat paste mural to the side of the building which houses La Boulangerie.
Local Artist Stephanie Niembro is partnering with Centro San Antonio to bring a massive, French-inspired wheat paste mural to the side of the 207 Broadway Building in November 2019. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
“I think that it’s a really great idea,” says Sylvain. “It’s very exciting to have that on a wall in San Antonio. The artist found exactly that French flare. I couldn’t ask for better, it’s going to ‘open up’ the feeling of France.”
And it’s not just good for San Antonio according to Sylvain. “I think it’s going to bring us a lot of customers, so we have to be ready,” he laughs.
In conjunction with the mural installation, there will be a grand unveiling in November in the form of a pop-up activation. Follow @downtownsatx on social media for announcements and updates.