The bakery is named for their beloved parents, immigrants from Laos. The croissants are painstakingly handcrafted, evoking memories of their jaunts to Paris. Fluffy buttermilk biscuits studded with cheese, jalapeños and ham nod to their upbringing in Texas.
Sisters Khamla Vorasane and Chan Graham have found a way to meld their cultural background, their love of French pastries and their Southern roots into a slice of Paris in greater Hartford. Vorasane, a former insurance executive, and Graham, a classically trained chef, opened BouNom Bakery in Avon in February 2020. It’s a loving tribute to their late parents, father Bounlieng (“Bou”) and their mother, Nom.
In the early 1990s, Graham won a cooking contest in which she incorporated soy sauce into a crème brûlée, Vorasane says, and the innovative recipe caught the attention of Johnson & Wales University’s culinary program. They offered her a scholarship, and she trained in French cuisine — but not as a pastry chef. “Her background is literally French savory culinary, not this pastry stuff at all,” Vorasane says. “It’s the fact that she can do both, and do it so well, that’s amazing.”
Vorasane’s job in the insurance industry, in which she specialized in kidnap and ransom coverage, brought her to London. When Graham visited, the two would take the train to France and spend several days eating their way through Paris — baguettes, pâtés, cheese, croissants.
As another career move took Vorasane from New York to Travelers in Hartford, she missed being able to readily find high-quality French pastries in central Connecticut. So she turned to her sister, asking if she’d translate her love of French cuisine into a local bakery. “I said ‘Chan, I’m telling you right now, if you do it, people will come,” she says. “If you’re good and people like it, they’ll tell their friends about it.”
They faced some doubt, as people thought their location in the Riverdale Farms development wasn’t visible enough. But Vorasane stuck to what she calls her “New York” mentality, that people would travel 45 minutes on the subway for the best pasta, or wait in line for two hours for an incredible pastry. “I told her people would find it, and they would come,” she says. “And they did.”
Less than a month after opening BouNom, they faced tumult as Gov. Ned Lamont ordered restaurants closed due to COVID. Without an online ordering system in place at first, they worked their social media accounts, sharing photos and inventory of daily offerings and having customers text orders to Vorasane’s cellphone. The outreach worked, and word of the bakery and its decadent treats spread quickly through community Facebook pages.
The list of goodies is a treasure trove of carbs. Croissants, handmade daily with French butter, are best-sellers in sweet and savory flavors: almond, chocolate, pistachio, ham and Gruyere and “everything bagel” spiced, among many others. Vorasane estimates they sell about 4,000 a month.
Other classic French delights include madeleines, canelé, financiers and palmiers. BouNom also offers a wide variety of muffins (including a unique and decadent banana custard option) and Graham recently added Japanese milk bread to the menu, a soft and slightly sweet loaf served plain or with rotating fillings like chocolate or vanilla coconut custard.
Sandwiches, on baguettes or croissants, feature the Seine-et-Marne (Brie and ham with apples) and others with smoked turkey and bacon — the “Nom” gets kick and crunch from jalapeños, cabbage, cilantro and wasabi aioli — and the “summer sandwich,” served cold, gets a spread of sweet, fruity lingonberry aioli with turkey, beefsteak tomato and baby spinach.
In a nod to their Texas roots, the sisters also offer “Southern decadence” items: Southern pecan sticky buns, assorted cookies and fluffy biscuits: cheddar chive, cilantro jalapeño, broccoli cheddar, and wildflower honey buttermilk. Vorasane believes BouNom has “pioneered” cheddar chive biscuits in the area, as she’s seen them show up on other local menus since they opened.
“Couture” special occasion cakes with intricate designs are entirely customized, and often book up months in advance, Vorasane says. BouNom also features a full coffee program with espresso-based beverages, flavored lemonades, matcha drinks and boba tea.
BouNom closed the bakery to the public even after COVID shutdowns were lifted, instead encouraging customers to call or order online for curbside pickup. But that hasn’t dampened any enthusiasm for the baked goods, as visitors eagerly turn out for treats daily. Vorasane and Graham plan to open the bakery’s sunny cafe area in early summer; it’s a bright and cheery space with citrus-printed wallpaper, floral-upholstered armchairs and fresh flowers.
Inspired by their parents, Vorasane and Graham regularly give back to the community, donating baked goods to local organizations. On Mother’s Day last year, they packed 86 boxes of pastries for CRT Generations in Hartford, where grandparents care for their grandchildren; Coventry Place in Bloomfield, for seniors on fixed income; and parents living at CRT’s East Hartford Family Shelter.
In March, the sisters hosted a fundraiser at the bakery, donating 100 percent of proceeds from a day’s sale to three organizations working toward ending violence and discrimination against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. They ultimately raised more than $4,000.
The sisters have been watching anti-Asian sentiments and violent incidents escalate over the past year during the pandemic, Vorasane says. “We felt it was so important to raise awareness of what’s going on in the Asian community,” Vorasane says. “Sometimes you can be in a bubble, in Avon and Simsbury, because you don’t see that. You don’t see the increased Asian hate crimes that you do in New York or San Francisco. And we just wanted to kind of highlight and raise awareness about what’s going on in the rest of the country.”
136 Simsbury Road (No. 15) in Avon’s Riverdale Farms complex
Hours: Wed.-Sat. 9 a.m.–3 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–1 p.m.