After 33 years at the La Boulangerie (18 as master baker and owner), Xon Loung is losing his lease on his little corner bakery on 45th Street.
As he tells it, back in July, the building owner, Yasuhiro Narai, visited him in his store and asked him his plans. His plans? Keep working! Loung has operated Boulangerie single-handedly for the last 14 years (after his “woman left him”) and at 65 years old, he felt he still had a few years in him.
Shortly after, he was given notice: his month-to-month lease would end on December 31st.
Loung explained that he wasn’t ready to quit, that he’d prefer another year or two to get the store ready for sale, but the most Narai would agree to was to extend his timeline to January 31, 2014.
Back in 2010, Kendall covered Loung’s story for Wallyhood:
Xon started baking when he was ten years old. He grew up in South Vietnam where his parents ran a French bakery (remember, Vietnam used to be a French colony). His training began in 1958 after his father died; his mother did not know how to bake so his cousin put Xon and his brother to work at the bakery. They used a wood burning, brick oven that had been built by his father and required ten hours to burn enough wood to heat it. The French army provided the ingredients, which were dropped off in truckloads each week. Xon’s family would bake the required quota of bread and use whatever was left over to sell at the market.
Xon did all of this while attending school. He often would get home at 1 am and be out the door for another day by 5:30 am. His sleep was minimal, and his tasks were large, but all the while his love of baking grew. And so it went for years.
In 1967, Xon moved to Saigon for college. His campus was a few blocks from a French bakery, and it didn’t take long for Xon to find work there. They were delighted to employ him; he spoke French and baked French, he was a perfect fit. There, Xon spent many years further developing his skills as a French baker.
In February of 1980, Xon moved to Spokane, Washington as a political refugee after the Vietnam War. He stayed in Spokane with a sponsor until August of the same year, when he moved to Seattle. He found work at La Boulangerie, which at the time had different owners. Xon worked for them as a baker and a deliveryman. He worked seven days a week for most of a decade, sometimes sleeping at the bakery. Finally, in 1995, he took over La Boulangerie and began his stint as the master baker.
It’s sad to see a man’s life work come to an end, and many Wallingford residents have rallied around him. On the counter is posted a petition letter written by one patron and signed by many others pleading with Narai to re-instate Loung’s lease and give him the extra years he’s asked for, and a number of readers have written in: Isabel D’Ambrosia tells me she thinks “the Boulangerie is a HUGE asset to Wallingford and that neighbors should do what we can to support this business…the last place to get a decent croissant in all of Seattle” and Reeve Baily added “Xon has always been kind, there’s a depth and sincerity in his eyes that always coaxed a few dollars out of my pocket because I liked his soul as a person, and I really respect his work-ethic. I didn’t care if the bread I got was, usually, um….dry. ”
And there’s the thing. You don’t have to dig deeply into the Yelp reviews or the Wallyhood comments to get the sense that the glory days of La Boulangerie are past, and that perhaps it’s time to move on: stories of mold, day-old passed off as fresh are repeated.
Regardless, in January it comes to an end: The Seamonster Lounge next door will be knocking down its separating wall, expanding its stage and building a second bar into the new space, expanding one of the few places in Wallingford where live music can be heard.
I spoke to Marc, a bartender there, and he said they hoped to keep the bar open throughout the construction, but he wasn’t sure about the details.
We’ll keep you posted as we learn more.