L’Etoile Patisserie—the pastries, the people and the purpose

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L’Etoile’s owners Kevin and Kristen Zurmuehlen. (Sarah Gronberg / Hville Blast)

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of stepping inside L’Etoile Patisserie, you know why we’re putting our focus on them for our Small Business Spotlight. This Huntsville gem is one with delicious pastries and a Parisian atmosphere that you can’t find anywhere else in Huntsville.

But, behind all of that is a story. We interviewed Chef Kevin Zurmuehlen, owner and pastry chef at L’Etoile, to find out how the patisserie came to be—and learned some French vocabulary along the way.

How it started

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The Meridian Street location opened July 6, 2021. (Sarah Gronberg / Hville Blast)

Take yourself back to March of 2020. Not the right time to open a business, right? Well, for the Zurmuehlens, it was. But let’s back up a bit.

Kevin was watching the British Baking Show and told his wife, Kristen, that he’d like to learn to do what they did. So, he started experimenting in the kitchen, learning off the internet and posting his creations to Instagram.

He also trained with the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts online. That organization recognized his talent and asked if he’d like to be a pastry chef—and he said no. Why?

Because he was in the Army and had been for over 30 years. He spent time at West Point and was a Senior Leader for 10 years. But—spoiler alert—he became a pastry chef anyway.

The days before the Meridian Street location

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The inspiration? Paris. (Sarah Gronberg / Hville Blast)

In March of 2020, right before Alabama shut down due to the pandemic, the Zurmuehlens started up L’Etoile with a website and their Huntsville home. By July, Kevin had left the Army.

People thought he was crazy, for sure. But, between the beginning and July of 2021 (the pre-Meridian Street days), they sold over 6,000 baked goods to over 4,200 customers. And that was without advertisement—just word of mouth and social media.

It was a time that a lot of people don’t know about, but Zurmuehlen cherished because of the relationships that sprung out of it.

What that time allowed me to do is build relationships with thousands of people and know them by their first names.

-Chef Kevin

As he left the Army and business ramped up, another step of the journey was perfectly laid out. The Army had a program which gave Zurmuehlen payment as he left his position there. And guess what? It was the amount to the dollar needed for the Zurmuehlens to open up a physical location.

Moving to Meridian

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The exposed-brick wall adds to the charm of the space. (Sarah Gronberg / Hville Blast)

This is where the Parisian atmosphere comes in. Chef Kevin approached Jason Butler of Preservation Company on Meridian Street—right next door to L’Etoile’s current location. He didn’t really know Jason, but he knew that the Lincoln Mill building was perfect for his Parisian bakery vision. Plus, his son, Kyle Zurmuehlen, had worked at Holtz Leather Co.—L’Etoile’s other next-door neighbor.

So, he asked Butler about opening a French bakery in the vacant space. Jason said he and his wife, Christa, had been praying for something just like this. Butler pulled out architectural plans for a bakery.

They were just what Chef Kevin was describing—he pulled out his own napkin drawing that almost exactly matched Jason’s plans. A bit over a year later, L’Etoile opened its doors on July 6, 2021.

L’Etoile’s mission + future

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L’Etoile translates to “The Star” in French. (Sarah Gronberg / Hville Blast)

An amazing story, right? Chef Kevin attributes it all to God.

God fostered the idea for this effort and He has made it possible for it to be a reality. We want to glorify Him through service to our community and through providing excellent pastries and breads. 

Chef Kevin

Kevin loves getting to tell this story to cusomters, and glorifying God is the first of L’Etoile’s three goals.

Second, I want it to be an experience; I want customers to feel like they’re in Paris. Third is to make artisan-quality breads and pastries.

Chef Kevin

When asked what the future holds, Chef Kevin said, “I want to stay intimate and small.” His favorite part of L’Etoile is the people, and he wants to continue to build relationships at the Meridian Street location. But, that doesn’t mean that they don’t keep things exciting at the patisserie.

They change up their menu every week—of course keeping some staples like croissants and pain au chocolats on the menu year-round. Check their website and social media pages for updates! And, be on the lookout for new menu items! Every week or two, they’re trying something new in the L’Etoile kitchen.

The pastries

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Freshly baked croissants—does it get much better?

So, what should you get at L’Etoile? You really can’t go wrong.

The most popular pastry, though, is the pain au chocolate—croissant dough wrapped around four dark chocolate batons. I got this one for the first time today and, wow. There’s a reason L’Etoile has sold 27,746 of them since their doors opened.

Chef Kevin’s favorite, though, is the kouign amann from the region of Brittany in France. It translates to “butter cake”—but it’s more than just a butter cake. It’s 136 layers of pastry separated by butter and sugar.

It takes two days to make and eight hours of hands-on time. It bakes for fifteen minutes. Customers consume it in approximately 45 seconds.

Chef Kevin

So, are you hungry yet? Here’s where you can find L’Etoile.

Want a small business featured? Let us know! Tag us on Instagram with @hvillblast or use the hashtag #hvilleblast. We’d love to hear from you!

Sarah Gronberg
Sarah Gronberg
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