Michel Perrigaud | VailDaily.com

Michel Perrigaud

Staff Reports

Michel Perrigaud was just a 14-year-old boy when he decided on a career. He had been raised on a farm on the west coast of France in a small rural town called Brittany.”In those days we didn’t have any chance to go to college,” Michel says. “We didn’t even have high school it was primary school and then most of the kids would learn a trade.”To this day Michel (pronounced mish-el) isn’t entirely sure why he chose the profession he did, though in the end it suited him well.”Don’t ask me why I wanted to be a baker, I have no clue. We had to learn something; contrary to here where people are 30 years old and still don’t know what they want to do.”For three years Michel worked as an apprentice to a baker. The job bordered on slavery, Michel remembers.”A slow day was Wednesday and that was 12 hours. The other days were 13, 14, 15 hours long and we worked six days a week. My boss was drunk every day.”After finishing his apprenticeship, Michel found a job on the coast. Though he had been raised only 20 minutes from the sea, he had only been to the beach three times while growing up. A year later Michel accepted a job in Switzerland and a year later, one in Germany.After finishing up his mandatory military service, Michel went to work in Alpe d’Huez for four years, a city that now serves as one of the bigger stages for the Tour de France. At the age of 21 Michel met an American girl, Martha, during the Olympic games in Grenoble.”That acquaintance ended up in marriage four years later,” Michel says. “She went back to the States and then returned two years later. A year after we were married.”Traveling on an airplane for the first time, Michel journeyed to America to be married. The couple returned to France after their nuptials in Kansas City, but a year later, when Michel was 25, the two moved to the United States permanently.”I had a job as a chef in Kansas City,” Michel remembers. “It was a good experience; I just loved the people that I was surrounded by. It couldn’t have been a better introduction to American culture. I always felt welcome.”After two years Michel decided he’d like to live in a place others flocked to for vacation: ultimately, a resort town. He traveled to the East Coast and then to mountain towns surrounding Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge among them, looking for the perfect town.”I knew I didn’t want the beach, so it had to be the mountains,” Michel says. “Vail was it, and why? I have no clue, it just struck me as the place to be.”Michel and his wife moved to Vail in the fall of 1973. Almost immediately Michel started a small bakery, fittingly called Michel’s Bakery, in the mining town of Gilman. A year-and-a-half later, Michel’s marriage ended.”At that time I almost left (Vail),” Michel says.Michel decided to stay after he was approached about the possibility of moving his bakery to Minturn, since the mine would soon be closing.”I realized that some people did care,” Michel says.And so he moved his bakery to Minturn and bought brand-new equipment.”With that new machinery, we just did it. It was night and day. We ended up working less hours and got so much more. And we got kind of caught up in the game of doing more, more, more. We expanded to Breck’, Aspen and Steamboat. We did everything here and trucked it over.”In the meantime, Michel was single and having “all kinds of fun,” as he says. He met his wife-to-be, Maryse, over the phone.”There was no Internet back then,” Michel says with a smile.”I had a Citroen Mazerati (car) and I blew the engine. Maryse worked for the company I was trying to get the engine from in Paris.”The two immediately felt a connection, even though thousands of miles apart.”I was coming to the U.S. to visit,” Maryse says, “and he said to me, ‘Why don’t you come over to Colorado first?'”Maryse decided to take his advice and meet the Frenchman she’d been speaking with from across the ocean.”She came to check the engine, check the car,” Michel laughs. “She left but she came back and then she never left again. We married a year after, on Sept. 21, 1978.”We were way ahead of our time; it’s fate. Everything is fate. Sometimes people go, ‘Wow, you are lucky, your stars were right on,’ but really, you have to stick to your guns.”After seven years of trying to have children, Michel and Maryse decided to try a different approach. They adopted a baby girl from Guatemala who they named Ashley, and three years later, a four-year-old boy named Jason, also from Guatemala.”That was the highlight of our lives,” Michel says. “They completed the dream; we wanted a family.”In the meantime, Michel and Maryse had opened a doughnut shop in West Vail, and soon after, Columbine Bakery in Avon.Twelve years ago Michel sold Columbine Bakery and nearly eight years ago, when Michel was 52 he sold Michel’s Bakery to his longtime friends and employees, Pierre Felli and Patrick Rouaud. The two still run the bakery today.”I met Michel back in France when I was 14-years-old,” Rouaud says. “I came over (from France) and worked for him at Columbine. He’s a wonderful man, a role model for me. He’s a hardworking man who really enjoys life. He’s my dad here in America.”Michel has returned to his roots, so-to-speak, spending a significant portion of his time at his ranch north of Wolcott. And as far as leaving the valley is concerned, Michel hasn’t even considered it. Vail is home, and will remain so.”We have been fortunate to come here,” Michel says. “There are too many friends here, it really has become home. We are perfectly content.” VTCaramie Schnell can be reached at cschnell@vailtrail.com.

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