“My life has been about a series of experiences,” Philippe Feret says. “That is what I’m trying to recreate here.”
Just two days after he opened his Hilton Head Social Bakery South in December, the parking lot is abuzz at 8 a.m. with cars and loyal fans of Feret’s crusty French baguettes, Instagram-worthy pastries, and buttery croissants considered by locals as the best on the planet. They’re familiar with the baked goods from Feret’s first location, Hilton Head Social Bakery in Shelter Cove Harbour and Marina. This second locale opened in a onetime Dairy Queen, but Feret has made it his own.
Feret tells me that he’s been working since 2 a.m., swamped with special orders. The Normandy-born French chef is used to long hours in kitchens. He worked with his father in his family’s bakeries in Paris as a young boy and trained as a chef in restaurants in France before moving to New York City. Feret helmed legendary restaurants such as Tavern on the Green and Windows on the World, owned several of his own eateries and a catering business, and hosted private galas for business tycoons including Rupert Murdoch and companies such as L’Oréal. When he finally grew restless of the restaurant industry, he put his creative energies into construction and furniture design during his last three years in the Big Apple. But that wasn’t the end of his culinary career.
Looking for a new adventure in life, in 2015 Feret reached out to investors all over the country regarding restaurant opportunities. A broker from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, was the first to respond. Intrigued with the prospect of island life (and no snowstorms), Feret landed here for the first time in January 2016, moved quickly, and opened Hilton Head Social Bakery in October 2016. He initially built it as a production kitchen for a new restaurant, but Hurricane Matthew soon changed those plans. Feret decided to focus on the standalone bakery instead—and the word spread.
Most days, there’s a line out the door of his waterfront location. It’s a cozy spot where you can sit to watch the boats sail by while tasting a savory lunch tart with a baguette. Even his father, a traditional French baker with strong opinions on ingredients and methods, approved of Feret’s use of a levain, a type of preferment that Feret includes in his bread-making process for more flavor and character. After his father traveled to the island from France for a visit, he told Feret, “It’s not my recipe, but don’t change a thing.”
In early fall of 2021, Feret started looking for a second spot to become his primary production kitchen and to expand his menu and seating. He found a former Dairy Queen and transformed it completely. “The concept is to tell the story and experiences of my life,” he says. A life that’s been shaped by rigorous culinary training, the places he’s lived, and his passion for woodworking, design, and motorcycles.
“When you walk through the front door and look left through the glass panels, you can imagine yourself in NYC, in a loft overlooking a brownstone next door,” he says. The wood trim to the right of the door is constructed like an old factory—Feret joined wooden planks stacked side by side with old bolts from the Brooklyn Bridge. A self-proclaimed hoarder, Feret trucked down planks once used to line garden beds of mushrooms that he salvaged from a farmer in Pennsylvania. In the hallway by the front door, he pays homage to his time as executive chef of Windows on the World with a framed and signed (by Feret) charger plate.
In contrast to the subtle natural wood tones, a red World War II 1941 Indian motorcycle sits regally behind the counter. “I’ve ridden bikes since I was sixteen,” Feret says. “It’s one of the reasons I came to America. I was fascinated with the movies where bikers rode out West. I’ve even made the trip four or five times myself with other chefs.” He smiles. “That’s why the bike is facing west.”
Other than this one hit of color and two small chandeliers, the room’s muted tones mean your attention goes right to the food. “The colors of the pastries pop.” And what pastries they are. Two of Feret’s favorites are the decadent Chocolate Bluff (named for the neighboring town of Bluffton) made with chocolate ganache, layers of meringue, and a dark chocolate shell, and the mille-feuille, with custard crème layered between stacks of pastry and topped with icing.
At the new location, Feret will also soon be serving composed sundaes and desserts made with daily homemade ice cream, gelato, and sorbet. As an homage to the build-your-own dessert tradition in French vacation towns, Feret hopes guests will create their own flavor mixes—he recommends blackberry sorbet with blackberry coulis, topped with a chocolate ganache.
He calls his offerings of crêpes, waffles, tarts, salads, and sandwiches made with freshly baked croissants and brioche bread “deluxe fast food.” The new location serves beer and wine at its indoor and outdoor seating, and Feret is working on a drive-thru to serve cappuccinos and pastries on the go.
Knowing he won’t stay still for long—and Hilton Head locals and visitors enjoy seeing whatever he cooks up next—I look forward to a return trip soon to see what’s in the works for this master chef, artisan, and baker. Heading home with baguettes, crusty boules, and even a traditional yule log (Bûche de Noël), we share hugs and say au revoir until next time.