Green Card Blues: After a Frustrating Wait, French Master Bread-maker Returns to Grow a San Antonio Bakery

click to enlarge Green Card Blues: After a Frustrating Wait, French Master Bread-maker Returns to Grow a San Antonio Bakery
Lea Thompson
Sylvain Nykiel was working in the kitchen when he got a phone call a few weeks ago: the French baker he had sponsored for a green card, had finally been approved.

Finally, as in two years after he filed his application.

Sylvain and his wife, Sylvie, who run La Boulangerie in downtown San Antonio, had hoped to quickly reunite with Guillaume Boulard, their longtime baker, even sponsoring his green card application when he returned to France for a visa renewal in early 2017.

But it took months of paperwork, legal wrangling and international phone calls before 28-year-old Boulard, a master boulanger, or bread-maker, was able to return to San Antonio and resume work.

“He loves San Antonio like it was his own,” said Sylvain Nykiel, who relocated from Paris with his wife and opened their shop in 2015. “We decided that [Guillaume] would be the best person to make French breads, and perhaps in the future become the manager of the space. We didn’t know it would take so long to get the green card.”

A diehard Spurs fan, Boulard became fascinated with San Antonio when French basketball player Tony Parker joined the team in 2001. He was still living in France when he applied for a job with La Boulangerie in 2016.

“We couldn’t believe he applied,” Sylvain said. “He saw our online post looking for a baker, he applied, and he got the job.”

Though Parker has since left the Spurs, Boulard is excited to be back in San Antonio, cheering for his team and working in the kitchen. This year, the couple will be able to focus on opening a new bakery location, while giving Boulard free reign to establish the bread program he wants.

“I love this city,” Boulard said, adding that he was happy to see both new and familiar customers in the shop. “I’ll be making some of the breads, but I’ll be adding different [varieties] like grains, sourdough and savory pastries.”

At La Boulangerie, Boulard showcased his passion for the city and developed a reputation for incredible breads — flaky croissants, buttery brioche — rarely found in the states. His expertise was so great that when Boulard left in 2017, the Nykiels paused their expansion plans, including a new shop in San Antonio or Austin.

Attorneys estimated it would take a year or less for Boulard to return.

Instead, the frustrating process dragged on, costing the couple thousands of dollars and preventing both their business and Boulard from moving forward with their work.

“It was $10,000 to apply for the green card, not counting the paperwork and hours spent,” Sylvain said.

There are many U.S. small businesses, similar to La Boulangerie, that have been negatively affected by policy changes, he added. The Trump administration’s more stringent immigration requirements have created a paperwork nightmare for attorneys and businesses.

“The business is running behind — six to eight months — of where it should be,” he said. “I don’t think people understand how a business cannot grow without the right [people]. We needed a French baker because they don’t teach the same techniques here in the States.”

Fortunately, the couple was able to pay to expedite the visa application. “Otherwise we might have had to wait another year,” Sylvain said.

The couple still plans to turn over the bakery to Boulard, but they look forward to seeing how he grows the business and creates new breads for customers.

“We need more people like him here,” Sylvain added. “We need more people who want to live here, want to stay here and make great things.”

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