In today’s hyper-connected, always-updating world, it’s hard to keep hidden gems in St. Pete a secret. But there’s still one spot on Beach Drive that many visitors and even residents haven’t heard of: Cafe Clementine.
The French-themed scratch bakery and casual cafe has been nestled inside the Museum of Fine Arts since April 2022. You don’t need an admission ticket to visit the bakery’s cozy corner of the museum’s Conservatory, but if you aren’t looking for Cafe Clementine, you might miss it.
“I think people like to keep it a secret,” said Paulina Gervasi, Co-Owner, Founder and Operator of Cafe Clementine. “I always thought it was a fun idea that there’s this little hidden bakery inside the museum. It makes it fun when you discover it; it feels more special.”
“But, of course, we want everyone to know about us,” Gervasi laughs.
Gervasi says her love of baking sparked at an early age, recounting stories of baking at home when the household sweets stash got too low and always keeping the TV turned to the Food Network. It was when the world shut down in 2020 that Gervasi, like many of us, took a step back to reevaluate how she wanted to spend her time.
“I didn’t think you could make a career out of baking. I thought I had to go to school and be a Physician’s Assistant, and maybe after I retire, I’ll open a bakery,” Gervasi said. “Then COVID hit, and I thought, life is short, and this is something I’ve always wanted to do. Let me give this a chance.”
An apprenticeship at Born & Bread Bakehouse in Lakeland gave Gervasi the experience and confidence to start her own enterprise. She and her husband started serving her sweet treats and savory snacks at St. Pete’s Saturday Morning Market under the name ‘Le Clementine,’ giving the pair a sampling of just how successful the business could be.
“We would have lines through the market. We would sell out in the first hour,” Gervasi said. “It was crazy. We just couldn’t make enough to meet the demand.”
Word spread about Le Clementine, leading to a “residency” at Grand Central District darling Pete’s Bagels in 2021. Gervasi loved cultivating a “neighborhood feel,” and customers loved her back. One Yelper reviewing Pete’s Bagels laments coming during a breakfast rush with a line out the door but writes, “The pastries are the star.”
The Museum of Fine Arts staff heard about the star pastries, too, offering Le Clementine a more permanent home at the museum’s then-empty in-house cafe. Gervasi hired a team, took over the cafe, and rebranded it as Cafe Clementine.
What makes cult-favorite Cafe Clementine stand out isn’t just the exclusive location or stunning presentation. The true star of this hidden gem is its delectable menu, which showcases the finest flavors of French cuisine. From delicate pastries and flaky croissants to mouthwatering brunch bowls and savory salads, everything from Gervasi’s kitchen is crafted with meticulous attention to detail, using fresh, thoughtfully-selected ingredients from all over Tampa Bay.
“We put so much care and effort into every component of what you eat, which I think people can taste the difference and feel it when they come in,” said Gervasi. “We source the best ingredients we can to create food we would actually eat ourselves. That’s something that’s really important to us. We never want to take shortcuts.”
The extra effort is paying off: Cafe Clementine was selected as the Tampa Bay Times’ Best New Bakery in 2022, and new opportunities for collaboration are constantly popping up.
“We’ve got our roots down,” said Gervasi. “Now we’re ready to flourish.”
Cafe Clementine’s menu changes often, so check out the bakery’s Instagram to see the newest seasonal features. You can visit Cafe Clementine inside the Museum of Fine Arts (no ticket necessary) every Thursday through Sunday from 9:00 am-3:00 pm.