A Taste of France in Jackson Heights

By Lucy Jaffee and Anastasia Van Batenburg

How Jackson Heights’s diversity has impacted the new French eatery, Farine Baking Company.

Farine customers are greeted by mouth-watering croissants and muffins.

JACKSON HEIGHTS — Amid the countless Halal restaurants and Sari shops in this culturally enriched Queens neighborhood stands Farine Baking Company, a new French eatery, at the corner of 75th Street and 37th Avenue. Upon entering, customers are greeted by the bakery’s diverse staff and enjoy an array of house-made delicacies.

Michael Mignano, 44, decided to open the restaurant in March. This stemmed from his hope to introduce French culture to this community and create a casual dining experience that offers both savory and sweet flavors. Farine serves everything from the classic French croissant to ribs. As a first-time buisness owner, Mr. Mignano has learned to adhere to the likes and needs of his clients.

An array of house-made delicacies line the bar.

Mr. Mignano grew up nearby in Astoria. He went to high school in Jackson Heights before beginning his chef career at 19 at the David Bouley Restaurant, a French and Asian eatery in Manhattan. He has worked in many different culinary environments, including winning “Iron Chef” on the Food Network and being the executive pastry chef at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City. Recently, he decided to return to his roots and spread his love of food to Jackson Heights. “The area has a good blend culturally,” he said.

People of many ethnicities and backgrounds dine at Farine. Mr. Mignano strives to cater to what appeals to them. He makes his menu items by blending the French culture with what he believes he and his customers will like. For example, he added a fried chicken sandwich to the menu because it’s one of his favorite foods. Established food blog Chopstick and Marrow calls it the “best fried chicken between bread in Queens.” Often, his customers prefer foods he may be unfamilar with, like meats prepared Halal style, something he now offers. “You need to move with the waves,” he said, acknowledging the challenges that come with cooking outside his comfort zone.

Farine serves everything from the classic French crossaint to ribs to, of course, coffee.

With a large Muslim population in Jackson Heights, one “wave” Mignano has dealt with is the eating schedule associated with the annual Muslim holiday, Ramadan. This year, Muslims celebrated Ramadan from May 5 to June 3. Although the bakery was not scheduled to be open for dinner, Mr. Mignano noticed a decrease in business due to the large portion of Muslim clientele unable to eat during the company’s hours. This prompted him to host Iftar dinner, the meal that occurs after sunset around 8:30 p.m. each day. After Ramadan ended, around 50 customers showed up one night at Farine for dinner, unaware that dinner hours were only for Iftar. From that night on, Mr. Mignano decided to serve dinner every day.

The staff have been able to use their unique backgrounds at work. Mr. Mignano noted that his employees speak English, Spanish, Bengali and Croatian. Although many of his customers don’t speak English, a language barrier hasn’t been an issue. “Everybody speaks a common language: food,” he said. That creates a community inside the kitchen. He introduced his head chef, Danny Ventura, as not only the head of the food program, but also a close friend. The staff enjoy experimenting with food and bouncing ideas off of one another.

Mr. Mignano says the success he’s found with Farine has inspired him to expand to other neighborhoods, and even other buroughs. But he wants to stay away from the crowds of Manhattan and give customers a dining experience in their quieter locales. “It’s like being in the city, but not in the city,” he said.

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Students with The School of the New York Times report on New York’s rich diversity and impactful events in words, pictures and sounds. Follow our work on Instagram: @writingbigcity

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