by Steve Groughceres
If you’ve never sunk your teeth into a sweet, puffy-while-crispy, flaky beignet, you’ve missed out on the perfect gourmet donut. These aren’t pre-made, iced and sprinkled rings that you bribe your coworkers with when you show up 20 minutes late. No, this is hand-cut, made-to-order, puffed art, topped with powdered sugar, and exploding with sweet air.
But the Sugar Land uninitiated are in luck: In what sounds like a reality TV food show, the best local version of this French/American pastry can be found at a café that’s just as famous for its French and Vietnamese music (seriously!), no-nonsense German owner (described sometimes as “cranky”), and his young, hotshot Vietnamese partner—who’s as much a daughter to him as operational manager. We know what you’re thinking: Yep, only in Sugar Land.
A classically trained German chef, Joachim Jantzen knew beignets were hot—literally and figuratively. In 1999, once he ensured the world-famous Café du Monde in New Orleans – which made beignets famous in the America – wasn’t venturing to Houston, he opened Chez Beignets, first in inner-loop Houston, then a Hong Kong Market location in Bellaire. Lovingly dubbed quán ông già (Vietnamese slang for “the old guy”) by his young Vietnamese patrons, Jantzen has now brought his perfect pastries to Sugar Land. Breezy French tunes pump from the speakers, lush plants and stained glass lamps hover around the tables, and pictures of the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower adorn the walls. It’s a French café perfect for breakfast, an afternoon snack, or light evening dessert.
“People tell us all the time that our flavor is way better than Café du Monde,” says Lynn Quan, who is Jantzen’s young, hotshot Vietnamese manager. “They love that ours are dense, and that we can fill ours with chocolate, raspberry or vanilla cream. And they appreciate that it’s made right in front of them.”
And it’s more than just puffy beignets. Donuts come in “fingers” and “pillows,” and there’s chicory coffee, gourmet teas, ice cream, milk shakes, Vietnamese drinks, and bubble tea and tapioca drinks. It’s all part of Jantzen and Quan’s plan to make Chez Beignets a place for everyone of every age and every scene.
Quan, whom Jantzen hired when she was 21, says she’s literally “grown up in this place.” Jantzen was so impressed with her work ethic, he recently made the now 27-year-old a partner in his entire Chez Beignets operation. “I have a lot of plans,” says Quan. “I want us to be all over Houston. And Austin. Everywhere, really. I want to franchise—I want an empire. I want everyone to know about us.” Jantzen, who hears this speech daily, rolls his eyes and offers a proud, “that’s my girl” grin.
After all, his young partner/unofficial daughter has the recipe for sweet success. With Chez Beignets’s ambience, loyal customers, oh-so-perfect beignets — and with Lynn leading the way while Joachim rolls his eyes — it seems just a matter of time before everyone knows all about those amazing puffy donuts.
You know, the ones at that “old guy’s place.”
Chez Beignets III
3701 Hwy 6, Ste B, Sugar Land, TX 77478
• New summer hours • Mon-Thurs: 7 a.m. to Noon—reopens 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri-Sat: 7 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.; Sun: 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.