David Holder, owner of Ladurée, on making dreams a reality

David Holder. Photography by James Bort

Dream Leader, Reality Maker and avid Innovator, David Holder, owner of luxury pastry Ladurée has made his dreams a reality. Today most of us are too afraid to dream and use our imagination to create the life we aspire to. Our expectations are so high that no matter the outcome we are bound to be disappointed – therefore why even bother?

Meeting with David was exactly what I was hoping for and more. I had heard through the grapevine that he is a man with strong spiritual values and lifestyle. He’s into yoga, spiritual retreats and loud dancing music! To most people these attributes are not congruent with professional and financial success.

Hopefully after this read, you will too be filled with energy, drive and ideas to conquer. Don’t let people’s judgements or pre-conceived ideas of you or life deter you from reaching for the stars.

Are you expanding this concept all over the world?

We are opening all over the world but not duplicating the exact concept. I never have two of the same boutiques! The spirit will be the same but the execution a little different. What I did in Geneva is a twist of the original house. We always stay true to our traditional side (the store and the restaurant) but add a new twist – in this case Happy Hour with fun music. That part I want to develop all over the world because I love music, the gate opener to joy and kinship.

What do you mean by no two boutiques will be the same?

The goal is to have a local contemporary interior designer give his personal stamp to each boutique. For instance, the boutique in Copenhagen will be in the spirit of the Scandinavian style which I love, while staying true to the DNA of the brand, like India Mahdavi did so beautifully for our new Geneva location.

David Holder
David Holder

I’ve only had praises since our opening – “ This is Ladurée! It’s cozy, scrumptious, makes me want to lick the walls… but it’s also modern”. That is the exact reaction I wanted to incite in our guests.  India was able to something extraordinary by adding just the right amount of twist to the original concept.

Where are you going next?

Our next opening will be in Los Angeles on December 15th where we will open two boutiques – one very classic Ladurée style (The Grove shopping center) and one in the spirit of the Geneva boutique (Beverly Drive). I love Los Angeles! I could totally see myself live there. 

And in the next couple of weeks I’m going to Jordania and Iran to discuss new boutiques.

Really? Will you open a boutique in Tehran?

Yes! I have an amazing girl there who’s helping out. Her family has been in the culinary business for years and she’s just really into this project. I have the feeling that Ladurée stands to be a huge success in Teheran if we can get passed some logistic issues. 

Right after Iran I will fly to London where I’m also opening a boutique. So needless to say, these days I’m flying between Tehran and London a lot!

One feels really nice here. Even when the weather is bad, the interiors bring the sun in!

Definitely! It’s really pleasant.

You took over Ladurée at the age of 25. Is it something you wanted to do or was it imposed on you? 

It was my baby!! You can’t impose a baby like that! I was a client since 1985! I loved this house and having the opportunity to purchase it was a dream come true and a magical opportunity. I’m very esoteric in life and believe in signs from the sky. To me this was like a comet which arrived at the perfect time. I was working for five years for our family business Paul which I developed but I couldn’t find my place in it. When Ladurée came along I though this is my family emblem and I fully invested myself in it. 

You were so young!

Yes I was young but I started working when I was 14 while going to school. Plus age means nothing. You can be 50 and have no soul and 20 and just know. 

How was it to work with people who were much older and experienced than you?

Extremely difficult! Very hard. They called me “Jeune homme aux culottes courtes” which means little man with short shorts. It really was difficult. The only legitimacy that one can have is through hard work. I knew my job very well – I mean if you get involved in such venture at the age of 25 but have no clue about it then you’re out in a minute! Just like that!

Since I was a true professional and a true innovator, every time a problem arose I would take part and try to find a solution. For example I often put my baking gloves on and started baking. I also served clients in the lounge when I had to. I knew how to do everything and wasn’t scared of anything at all. I never complained. I just did.

How long did it take to gain their respect?

Two years!

Two years? And did you ever feel like letting go?

Never!

Did you keep the same crew?

All the way! I even accompanied some to their retirement!

All the girls who are retired today from La Rue Royale, visit every Christmas to say hi and give me a kiss.

What kind of boss are you?

Very humane. At our Geneva opening for instance, I went to bed so grateful and happy about everything that had happened. I had a crew of 40 people at the Geneva opening  and some came from France to help out. It could have been one of those “People” parties with high rollers everywhere (which is what I wanted) with whom I would finish the night. We actually had a reservation for fourteen of my friends at the Four Seasons. I completely abandoned them and stayed with my crew. We danced til 1am, on tables, chairs, you name it! That was my biggest success because that’s what I love – the family feeling – there’s nothing like it.

How do you react to mistakes? Are you strict?

Of course! You have to be strict. But that’s the beauty of my management style. First of all, I am extremely Zen. I don’t need to get mad to relay my message. They know right away when there’s a problem. It’s important to understand boundaries. Just because we party or sky together doesn’t mean that there are no rules. When at work we are at work. The respect comes naturally because I truly despise negativity and a feared-based management. I fired my Managing Director last year because instead of commanding respect he demanded it with terror. The energy was horrible and everyone seemed terrified.  

We make more mistakes in fear.

Not only we make more mistakes but we stop investing our energy –  we look down all day long and everything gets affected by it, including the service – clients feel it when the energy is negative. 

This past week was a difficult one for the staff because we had to train them and teach them everything they don’t know. We have very specific codes of conduct which have to be understood. But when the opening night came along, we told them to put on their smile and be the best they could be and have a good time. That evening was about celebrating. 

The world today is ruled by fear

Absolutely! But not at Ladurée where it’s all about sweetness, well-being, and dream. 

So your life and work philosophy are one.

Totally.

Have you always been that calm or was it a learned behaviour?

Always!

And your dad?

Complete opposite! He’s fantastic but very old-school in his management style. His employees say YES before he even opens his mouth because he’s the boss. No room for discussions. But that’s his generation so it’s understandable. 

Are your employees free to disagree with you?

At the end of the day this is my business. I just let go someone a month ago because we weren’t on the same page anymore. Our philosophy completely diverged, so it was time to part ways. I’m open for discussions as long as they’re productive. I dislike those who constantly complain with nothing to back it up. It creates negativity which is felt amongst the team. We all have to be team players and play the same game with the same goal.

Today it seems like Team Spirit has gotten majorly lost and it scares me

It’s awful but it’s human. I try my best to create a good atmosphere but naturally there are times of conflict. 

Ladurée is known to have been an innovator and trend-setter.(1871: the very first Tea House in Paris where ladies could meet for the first time and 1930: first double-decker macaron with creamy filling – signature product). Do you feel like you have to innovate constantly or is the brand such legacy that it should stay the way it is?

Everything we have done and do is about Innovation. The tea house was created in 1862 and in 1890 they created the very first tea house for ladies. It was the first time when ladies could gather freely without being mistaken for prostitutes. 

When we took over, the idea of making a very Parisian product international was very new at the time. We took a classic and revamped it. We invented the ‘pastry of the future’ – we re-interpreted all the big classics of french pastry, which no one had ever done before. We created the first “Collections” in pastry. No-one had ever worked with the seasons in fashion – each collection comes out during fashion week. 

For example, back then when I asked my Chef to make a lemon flavoured Macaron for the summer or a Religieuse with Rose filling he said no because they’re not your classic flavours. And of course, I didn’t listen to him and kindly asked him to trust my intuition.

I believe that today luxury is all about the experience and Ladurée is not just about pastry, it is an “Art de vivre”. The experience I am referring to is accomplished through excellence, great service, practice, decor, and of course the product. My goal is to add a little twist (i.e Happy Hour) because our world is so complex that we need a little hideaway to escape – could be while enjoying a cup of tea or dancing to tunes in the evening.

This idea could also be attractive to men. I must admit that I’m surprised to see so many men in a Tea House where generally the ladies go!

It usually is a house for ladies but the mornings attract more men who meet for business. Lunch time is generally for the ladies and Happy Hour for both. 

Do you have a Mentor?

No I don’t.

Are you a mentor?

I aspire to inspire a lot of people. Every day when I send emails, I include spiritual quotes. My signature for instance doesn’t say President but “Dream Leader”.

It’s incredible how these quotes seem to affect people’s days – it’s all about sending positive vibes and energy. I’m not a Mentor but it’s important to me to spread positivity to everyone around me (from people walking by to my staff, to my family).

Do  you have bad days some time? Are you never in a bad mood?

Not rosy everyday but I always see the blue sky! Even on those horrible days I find a way to see the positive. Nothing makes me angry. I have no expectations therefore I can’t get disappointed. 

Talking about expectations, there are studies showing that millennials are the most unhappy generation to date because of the high expectation they have of themselves mainly because of Social Media. They think that they can become famous and successful by just imagining it. 

It’s a catastrophe! 

Do you have kids?

Yes, a 17-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son. Full on millennials! I’m fully in it. I have both extremes. My daughter is very balanced although she’s always on her phone texting multiple people at the same time! She even manages to look at me while texting while making no mistakes whatsoever!  I don’t know how she does it! 

It’s amusing but I want her to learn to stay in the moment. She’s still young! The problem of today is that there is nothing that enchants them or make them happy. They’re blasé. They love something with passion today then a few weeks later they lose complete interest in it. How can they go from one extreme to the next? I don’t get it! That’s why they’re super unhappy all the time. 

Do you dream to pass Ladurée on to your kids? 

Of course but I don’t want to impose anything on them. It has to come from them. It’s not my role to project myself into the happiness of my child. Everything I do is for them. My daughter came to the opening event of Ladurée Geneva and was so proud. She worked at the office during her summer break for a month and it was great. She wants to go to hospitality school which says something. I would love nothing more than having her on-board but it will be her decision to make.

If they decided to join Ladurée would they have to start at the bottom?

The bottom of the bottom! I asked my son what he wanted to do and he said “I want to be you!”, just like that! I asked him “but do you even know what I do? Who I am?” He wants my life or what he sees of it from the outside (the parties, the people, the art, etc..) but he has no idea of the work it entails. I told him I have worked my butt off for 28 years with the worst first years. I have no regret because that was part of the learning. I told him he could do the pastries for 3 months. “Then what?” he asked. “Well that’s just the beginning, you’ll have another two years of apprenticeship to go :)”  He said, “2 years? I’m not into it”. I told him that no matter where he goes that will be the trajectory. 

Have you ever fallen in life?

Thank god not often but of course I have. There are two ways to perceive a failure. To me a failure is like a stone on the road. If I hit it I fall. But I choose not to fall. I step on it and continue my journey. Mistakes and failures happen all the time as part of life, but it’s how we choose to perceive and deal with them that is important. For instance we had a very difficult year after all the attacks in Paris and a generalised fear all over the world. I saw it as a sign, an opportunity to create something new and build a better future. Whenever something doesn’t work I always look at the bright side – I try to look beyond the obvious. 

Any advice for the young generation?

First learn to know yourself by looking at yourself in the mirror. It hurts but it’s so worth it. I did a huge introspective work when I was 20 and really suffered from it but rather than let sadness take over, like kids today who breathe sorrow, I grew from it. I did the work, fell even harder by looking into the mirror, but then re-built myself. One of the big problems that I see with the young generation is that they live through the eyes of others and get influenced. I learned early on not to care. For example I always had long hair and refused to wear a tie, and that bothered many but I couldn’t care less because I had to stay true to who I was. It was difficult at first but I learned to accept it and freed myself from the outside noise. There is so much pressure that we lose sight of ourself and that’s dangerous. 

Be tenacious and persistent in whatever it is you are passionate about. Don’t give up. Life is not learned in two years. 

Images courtesy of Annil Wetter and Ladurée and featured image by 

 
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