Philip Moreau had never whipped up a batch of royal icing “mortar” before he built his first gingerbread house in 1994. But after an impromptu dinner meeting with a Williams-Sonoma executive (and several glasses of white wine), the former toy maker from Nice was suddenly in the business of cinnamon-spiced McMansions.
Today Moreau is the gingerbread guy, overseeing the annual production of more than 250,000 edible holiday homes and 3-D designs (toy trains, Santa Claus and his reindeer posse) and 3 million hand-decorated cookies at Monaco Baking Company, a 50,000-square-foot factory in Santa Fe Springs. “You have to reinvent the baking rules when you make handmade cookies on this scale,” says Moreau, whose clients include dozens of mail-order companies, upscale retailers, theme park giants like Disneyland, and celebrities (he cites the Kardashian clan as his earliest custom gingerbread mansion clients). Among Moreau’s floury design highlights: a $15,000 walk-in gingerbread playhouse for Neiman Marcus’s holiday catalog.
During the seasonal rush, 30 bakers each hand-cut as many as 8,000 cookies a day. The baking sheets are then scanned into a computerized tracking system so that workers can be paid by the cookie (“It ends up being more money than by the hour,” says Moreau). Electronic ingredient monitoring also makes it easier to track down that faulty batch of gingerbread men.
At a long series of worktables, dozens of employees pipe window-ledge details onto the walls of L.L. Bean’s more humble cabins, lighthouses, and ski lodges as well as onto majestic $250 Williams-Sonoma estates with family names monogrammed above cherry-hued doors. According to Moreau, red is an appetizing color because it evokes memories of candy canes; green, not so much. “People associate it with green beans,” he says. So he keeps the hedges out front to a minimum.
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