In the Maison Dandoy workshop...
At Maison Dandoy, we've been eager to share more with you. From what's going on in our workshop and our offices to how our new cookies are being created (not by themselves, we can tell you that already). We want to talk about what we would like to do, do better and not do anymore.
So we’ve decided to start a Diary where we keep you in the loop with everything. When I say "we", I actually mean "I". I'm Clara,the person who writes and edits all the written content for Maison Dandoy. I've been behind the "we" of Maison Dandoy for years now and it was about time I introduced myself. For the very first article of this new Diary, I'm taking you to the Dandoy workshop to meet three employees who spend most of their time making your favorite cookies.
It's Monday morning at Maison Dandoy and despite it being so early, everyone seems wide awake. Upbeat music is blasting through the production room. "It helps get everyone in the mood," explains Guillaume, the production manager as he greets me.
Carole, production assistant
With a coffee in hand, I sit down in front of Carole, production assistant, for her to tell me everything about her eleven years with Maison Dandoy. Well, maybe not every single thing, as I can only steal fifteen minutes of her time. Did she know Maison Dandoy before she started working there? "I’d never even heard of it," she laughs. "I showed up on my first day a little stressed.” Once the initial stress had passed, Carole integrated easily and quickly got used to the smell of cinnamon that came home with her every night...
Carole later became the manager of sourcing the raw materials and checking the quality of the products. I take the opportunity to ask her if she is still in charge of quality control, a not so subtle way to enquire if she still eats Dandoy biscuits regularly, even after eleven years. “Yes,” she replies, smiling, “I still eat them often, but luckily I don’t give into my cravings as much as I used to”. Dandoy cookies are like a love story, I note, that initial burning passion that slowly fades but remains unforgettable.
I ask Carole the moment she knew she wanted to pursue a career at Maison Dandoy. She pauses for a moment before answering, "Probably after I survived my first St. Nicholas!"
I then notice a photo of Carole on her wall smiling next to a colleague. "That's Aurélie," she tells me, “she was my partner in crime here”. Carole and Aurelie worked side-by-side for seven years. Carole was a stresser, Aurelie a mess maker. Aurelie always found the words to calm Carole down and without thought Carole would tidy up after Aurelie. The chocolate chips to her cookie, Carole and Aurelie complemented each other without even trying. I don’t think Carole clocks her unintentional baking reference when she tells me, “everything between us was creamy.”
When Dieu joins me, he looks under the weather but he tells me it's nothing to do with the fact that it's Monday morning. Friday evening, he watched the Euros and he is still disappointed that Belgium lost. I switch to a lighter topic, and we talk about his arrival in Brussels, three years ago, when he was reunited with his mother and sisters. He looked for work, applied everywhere he could, and as fate would have it, he ended up here, in the workshop of Maison Dandoy. What struck him the most when he started was the atmosphere. He quickly felt at ease and was delighted to work somewhere where everyone personally knew the boss. "It's never happened to me before," he smiles.
"Mr. Bernard (Helson, the previous director of Maison Dandoy) comes down to the workshop often. He asks us how we are doing and listens to our requests."
With his colleagues, Dieu doesn't just make cookies. On weekends, they sometimes get together to play soccer. They’re close enough now that they can tease him about his name. Yes, Dieu literally means ‘God’ in french.
What strikes me most about Dieu is his willingness and hunger for learning. He started at Dandoy as a dishwasher and quickly rose through the ranks into production. “I really want to evolve and have a hand in everything,” he says. I jump at the chance to ask him if he has his hands in the cookie jar too. “I just ate a plain shortbread," he replies, laughing. "It's my favorite," he adds with the air of a child caught in the act. His best memory at Maison Dandoy? The day he signed his permanent contract. All the employees of the workshop came to congratulate him, obviously delighted to have “God” amongst them for the foreseeable future.
Guillaume, production Manager
The interviews are coming to an end and it's time for me to talk to the man responsible for the volume of the music, amongst other things. "That woke everyone up pretty good," smiles Guillaume as he sits down opposite me. He joined Maison Dandoy as a pastry assistant at the end of 2012 and was immediately suited to the work, which showed in the energy he displayed. He joined at the same time as Ilias, and they would compete to work faster than the music. They would challenge themselves to finish producing two fresh batches of biscuits before the original batch had even come out of the oven. “We would laugh at the fact that the machines were sweating more than us," he recalls.
Before Dandoy, Guillaume worked in a kitchen restaurant despite his dream of becoming a pastry chef. That dream became real, here at the Maison Dandoy. His know-how is a melting pot of the skills he learned from colleagues and himself. Resourceful and full of initiative, he was named production manager in 2019. Since then, in addition to overseeing the production of all the sweets that come out of the workshop, he keeps the atmosphere light and makes everyone feel at ease.
Speaking with Guillaume about the work in the workshop, I quickly realize that he's not any old manager. He knows the making of each cookie inside out and values group spirit and socialising. If blindfolded next to any employee at work, he could guess what they were making within seconds. He explains, for example, that Pain à la Grecque is done in small groups of three to four and is a lot less physical than the big speculoos. So while the hands are working, tongues are wagging and the employees get to know each other better.
In my opinion, if Guillaume is such a good manager, it's because he understands that the best way to lead is to create the right atmosphere for good understanding, mutual aid and trust.