Manuel Sanchez and Dane Thibodeaux never expected to see their Sacré Sucré French bakery mired in controversy.

The business appeared successful during its tenure on Fleet Street in Upper Fells Point, attracting customers with its croissants, eclairs and artfully decorated macarons. In August, they expanded their modest pastry operations, packing up and moving less than a half-mile south to a multimillion-dollar building on Fell Street — a quiet, largely residential block tucked away from the bustling heart of Fells Point. They prepared to welcome customers in September.

Then they met their new neighbors.

The self-proclaimed stewards of the historic homes lining the street questioned Sacré Sucré. They eyed the owners as they slathered the building in a coat of white paint and proudly announced plans to pursue a liquor license, promising morning mimosas and evening cocktails.

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To them, the once-quaint pastry shop began to take a different shape — one of seemingly unchecked development and corporate greed. What began as an exciting addition to the cobblestoned street spiraled into a bitter public feud.

Sanchez and Thibodeaux did not open their bakery until Jan. 20. Customers lined the street, many with questions: Did they finally get a liquor license? Will they open for lunch service? Why had they turned into a “magnet for drama”?

The owners, who are also married, claim residents on the block have “attacked from the very beginning,” organizing a 50-plus-person petition against the bakery’s liquor license, spreading stories about their previous tenancy and threatening lawsuits over Sacré Sucré’s intent to build a kitchen that would expand the building’s second floor.

Meanwhile, their next-door neighbor Nicolas Jabko refers to the business as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” He believes the owners’ expansion will threaten the historic value of his home, and their evening hours and alcohol offerings will bring the rancor of nearby Thames Street spilling onto Fell Street.

After repeated failed attempts to get the owners to agree to a restricted liquor license, like Jabko had done with the building’s previous owner, he says he and his cohort of neighbors may as well be “waging war.”

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The level of discourse is unusual even for Douglas K. Paige, executive secretary for the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City. “Neighbors and licensees often meet and come to agreements without this level of contention,” he said.

The preservationist

Nicolas Jabko stands in the hallway of his home, next to 18th-century, black-and-white images of the house printed from the Library of Congress website. (Matti Gellman)

When Nicolas Jabko moved from Paris to Baltimore in 2011, he claimed to have found the city’s “crown jewel” in the form of the Captain John Steele House, a 3½-story row home erected by an 18th-century shipbuilder.

Jabko purchased the home at 931 Fell St. from Jean Hepner, a preservation society member who restored the complex into a three-kitchen, seven-bathroom abode. He swore to her that he would protect the house, which sat next door to an old ‘70s bar, the Dead End Saloon.

Like other historic homes in Fells Point, the exterior is protected by the Maryland Historical Trust. While working as a Johns Hopkins associate professor, Jabko invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into renovations, each according to the preservation society’s guidelines.

Jabko said he had no issue with his neighbor until 2014, when the new owner of the building next door, Larry Silverstein, presented plans for a restaurant he described to the Fell’s Pointer as “The Red Star with pizza.” Silverstein planned to expand the property’s second floor and invite customers in through its residential-facing Fell Street entrance in addition to the one on South Wolfe Street.

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But a second-floor addition could block sunlight from seeping into Jabko’s historic courtyard, he said. He gathered the neighbors, each fearful of an unruly tavern moving in; Silverstein had no intentions of opening a tavern, according to the article. Jabko and the neighbors promised to contest Silverstein’s liquor license unless the developer agreed to certain rules, despite some of them being outside the liquor board’s jurisdiction.

Silverstein conceded, in what Jabko called a “balanced agreement.” The developer agreed to a memorandum of understanding with the neighborhood that restricted hours of operation, as well as no building of a new addition on the second floor, no entertainment permit and no Fell Street entrance.

“A street that is now safely tucked away from Thames Street, and all the noise and traffic and nuisances of all kinds, could become something like that, one bar at a time,” Jabko said.

Attempts to reach Silverstein were not successful.

After a short residency in 2022 by Lucky Buns, the building sat empty. Then, in June 2023, Sacré Sucré's owners bought it.

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An embattled bakery

Sacré Sucré owners Manuel Sanchez and Dane Thibodeaux sit in their French bakery. (Matti Gellman)

“Who in their right mind wouldn’t want a bakery across the street?” said Silvia Zumarraga, who has lived in her Fell Street rowhome, a former tobacco warehouse, since 1999.

But her excitement about the pastry shop dissipated when one morning she discovered the bakery’s exterior painted white, unlike the historic houses flanking the building’s sides.

The change was one of many ushered in by Sanchez and Thibodeaux. They thought of building a second-story addition to house a hot kitchen for lunch service, using the building’s Fell Street entrance to bring in more customers and pursuing a liquor license to curate cocktails and wines.

The owners anticipated some pushback. “You shouldn’t buy it [the building] if that’s what you want, or else you’ll be stranded. Historic regulations are tight in that part of Fells Point,” Jabko wrote to Sanchez in a Feb. 17 text message.

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When Sanchez showed interest in expanding the second floor and obtaining a liquor license in a text exchange with Jabko on May 18, the homeowner ended the conversation by writing, “See you in court.”

Still, Sanchez and Thibodeaux went to the city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation to authorize the addition, even producing a sunshine study for Jabko’s courtyard. Despite Jabko’s objections, the initiative was approved.

Once again, Jabko began to organize. In August, the owners applied for a liquor license. In October, they were shown a petition with more than 50 names against it. Per Maryland law, the license would be denied if more than half the owners or tenants located within a 200-foot radius of the business were opposed. The law has not been brought before the liquor board in more than 14 years, according to a liquor board spokesman. The pursuit of the liquor license was put on hold.

Community meetings over the bakery grew tense. Members of the Fell’s Point Residents Association said the agreement with the previous owner should carry over. Some neighbors feared without restrictions, the bakery could evolve into a bar, upending their quiet street. One neighbor called out during an October meeting that the business had treated their community “like idiots.”

“Our concern … you could go out of business and we could have a major restaurant selling liquor on a residential street,” Jabko said to the FPRA.

Nicolas Jabko believes Sacré Sucré's proposed second-story addition risks cutting off sunlight to his courtyard, at right. (Matti Gellman)

But Sanchez and Thibodeaux argue that their neighbors have distorted the bakery’s image into something sinister. The owners referred to Pitango, a bakery housed about a block away, and their limited alcohol offerings as an inspiration for growing the business.

“We did not purchase this building to be restricted like this,” Sanchez said of the space, which has always been zoned for commercial use. “We’re being targeted.”

The bakery’s frayed relationship with its previous landlord, Josh Adlin, who had served them an eviction notice, resurfaced. Adlin said the attempt at an eviction was not related to concerns over Sacré Sucré's vents that had been raised by a fellow tenant. But the notice made Zumarraga question the bakery, wondering whether their history would lead to further division in her community. In recent years, she’s felt as though the needs of her neighbors have come second to development in the area.

“It’s the residents who are frequenting these businesses and preserving these neighborhoods, they survive out of residents. I wonder who will support them if we move out,” she said.

Zelda Zen owner Beth Hawks, who has operated in Fells Point for years, said she has never seen this happen before. She helped Sacré Sucré gather their own petition, which is not expected to have an impact on the license, but still led to about 200 signatures across the neighborhood.

“Anybody should be so excited to have a classy business come in,” she said. “What you’re going to get next is a vape shop or a dispensary.”

By November, the owners’ lawyers had agreed to a memorandum of understanding that does not allow live music, entertainment or outdoor dining. It also specifies hours of operation from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and an agreement that the first floor is used for dining; the second, a kitchen; and the third, storage.

Sacré Sucré, which has been open for less than three weeks, is doing well, according to Sanchez. But he’s still worried about what comes next.

“We need to expand in order for us to survive at this magnitude,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re not viable.”

This article has been updated to add a sentence about Sacré Sucré's eviction notice at its previous property.

Matti Gellman is a Food Reporter for The Baltimore Banner. 

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