Why this MIT grad quit a six-figure job in finance to bake croissants for a living

Morgan Brasfield
Arsicault Owner Armando Lacayo
Morgan Brasfield, CNBC

Baking a good croissant is an elaborate, multi-day process, a labor of love that took Armando Lacayo nearly twenty years to perfect before he opened his San Francisco bakery, Arsicault.

On the first day, you have to mix the dough. The second day, you incorporate the butter. On the third day, you roll and bake the croissants.

"It's a lot of hurrying and waiting," says Lacayo. "You have to work fast to prevent the dough from warming, and then wait … and wait. You have to be very patient."

Almond and chocolate croissants
Morgan Brasfield, CNBC

Lacayo's family has been in the baking business for three generations. His great-grandparents owned the original Arsicault bakery in Corbeil-Essones, France, which still exists today.

"My grandfather always taught me what makes good bread, so I grew up with an appreciation for bread and baked goods," says Lacayo. "I'm very picky. I'll drive a great distance for a good croissant. To me, it's worth it."

Lacayo wasn't initially drawn to the craft of baking himself. 27 years ago, he moved to the United States to study Math at American University in Washington D.C. From there, he went on to work in equity research for Salomon Brothers on Wall Street. After a few years, he was accepted to MIT for his MBA. He landed jobs with Barra, Munder Capital Management, and eventually American Century Investments in Silicon Valley.

"I was enjoying my job, it was rewarding financially as well as intellectually," Lacayo says. "But I wanted to be my own boss and knew I had something to share."

I was enjoying my job, it was rewarding financially as well as intellectually. But I wanted to be my own boss.
Armando Lacayo
owner of Arsicault Bakery, San Francisco

On nights and weekends, Lacayo found himself practicing the art of constructing the perfect croissant. He referred to a book called "The Bread Bible" for guidance, practicing the recipe over and over, each time applying details he had overlooked before.

"I did not cut corners," he says. "If it took an extra couple extra steps, I'd do it."

Finally, after many years of practicing, Lacayo felt like his product was good enough to share. He quit his jobs with American Century Investments in 2014 and moved his business into a seven foot space at a local café in San Francisco. After six months, the customer response was positive enough that Lacayo felt confident opening his own storefront.

"I am here to share my taste," says Lacayo. "I like my croissants a certain way and it's not for everyone. It's really personal, and that's the risk."

Customers line up to purchase Arsicault’s famous croissants
Morgan Brasfield, CNBC

In April 2015, Arsicault Bakery opened its doors in San Francisco. The bakery started with three employees: Lacayo, a sales person, and Lacayo's visiting nephew, who spent his spring break helping in the kitchen starting at 4:00 am. The bakery sold about 100 croissants a day.

Within a year, production had tripled. As word spread about the tiny bakery and its delicious croissants, demand increased.

On August 10th, 2016, Lacayo received a call from a friend who was screaming through the phone.

"I had no idea what he was trying to say," recalls Lacayo. "I then realized he was screaming 'Congratulations!' and he told me, Arsicault was named 'Best Bakery in the Country' by Bon Appetit Magazine."

Lacayo rushed to the bakery and began production on extra croissants for the next day. Before the doors were set to open, there was already a line weaving down the block.

Since the article was published, Arsicault has increased production to over 900 croissants a day. While the store is open traditionally from 7:00 am - 1:00 pm, every day of the week Arsicault sells out several hours earlier. Lacayo has also increased his staff: he now has 10 employees taking care of baking and sales.

An Arsicault Baker carries a tray of almond croissants
Morgan Brasfield, CNBC

Lacayo's next goal is to develop into a full-fledged bakery, one that will be open all day long and sell more than just croissants.

"I told a former boss that no job in finance has been as difficult as opening this bakery! I've never worked so hard in my life," says Lacayo. "My plan is to continue to focus on the product, and the next product I introduce ... it better be good! That is the greatest challenge for me, how to scale up in quality. That's also what's the most exciting."