The little house sits up on a small hill, out of the way and almost undetectable if you don’t know what you’re looking for. The only indicator of this chef d'oeuvre is a small sign by the roadway, white ply board in a red frame, a red pepper and brown baguette crossed over one another with these words written in slanted script: Le Spice Restaurant and Bakery.

It’s 4 a.m. on the western side of town when Nick Dhers opens the door to his double decker industrial oven, and his loaves of bread begin to sing. As he removes them from the heat, they rhythmically crackle and huff, an audible assessment of their readiness, as the provisions transition from the incandescent warmth of the kitchen out into the gray light of early morning. Everybody else in Spartanburg is still sleeping, but in a couple of hours the navy colored front door will swing open and patrons will begin filling the homey space, seeking something to satisfy their sweet tooth or satiate their craving for something a little unusual, perhaps the Open Faced Asian Steak breakfast sandwich, or perhaps some pulled pork with a hint of French sensibility.

Mini danishes peek out of a basket in front of the cash register, the glaze on top causing them to gleam in the light. The infamous bacon chocolate chip cookies that sit nearby disappear before the day’s end, as they always do. Croissants, enclosed in a glass case are the arbiter of today’s dominant smell, the soothing flavors of butter and wheat escaping the seams of their confines and filling the 3,200 square-foot space with something that might smell like home.

This renovated cottage has held a number of businesses before, like The Rose Cottage and Gardens and Converse Deli West but executive chef Amonrat "Ae" Dhers, 38, and her husband, pastry chef Nick Dhers, 34, bring French and Thai vibes at turns familiar and exotic to the space creating something new on Spartanburg’s west side. Escargot and Quiche Lorraine sit on the menu next to the Thai Curry Bowl. Cuban and Mexican influences appear in the crepes on the menu, a nod to Ae’s curiosity about the cuisine of other cultures, and the vast dessert selection is all Nick’s doing.

Le Spice is their love story, the culmination of years of experimentation and a fusion of their culinary backgrounds. Ae hails from a small village in Thailand, where her family grew their own vegetables and would go out every morning and collect eggs from their chickens. Nick is from Esquay-Notre-Dame, a small village of 400 people in northwestern France. Surrounded by corn and potato farmers, he grew up in a similar fashion: “Technology wise it felt like France was 10 years behind the U.S. We had two bakeries and a bar that was it,” Dhers laughs, but it underscores the importance of good bread in the Normandy region of France. A childhood memory would push him to become a pastry chef. “In France, you buy the bread every day, it’s not like here when you go once a week, so I would often go to the bakery in the morning with my dad and a lot of times we would get a chocolate croissant to bring back for breakfast."

At the age of 12, when his family relocated to Spartanburg, he dreamed about those croissants. He eventually attended Dorman High School and took his first culinary arts classes at R.D. Anderson Applied Technology Center. There he met Marlen Kuzsmaul, his culinary arts teacher, and the former owner of Le Spice’s current location. Under her guise, he started chasing the chocolate croissants from his childhood. Realizing he wanted to continue to advance in the pastry arts, he went back to France and studied at the Institut National de la Boulangerie Pâtisserie (INBP) from 2005 to 2007, where he was awarded degrees in both pâtisseries and in bread baking.

Ae’s inspiration is different. She didn’t set out to become a professional chef. The calling found her. While living in Miami and working as a yoga teacher, she realized how burned out she was. She closed her eyes and tried to think of what would make her happy. “I told myself whatever it is, I’m going to do it, even if I don’t get paid for it,” she said. “It wasn’t until then that I realized how much I like to cook — no matter where I am, I’m always in the kitchen cooking for people.”

She pursued the path with abandon, working harder than she ever had. She asked various restaurateurs in Miami to let her work in the kitchen so she could learn how to cook professionally and finesse her knife skills. That’s how she ended up in a kitchen in Miami, under Nick Dhers’s watchful eye, working as his sous chef at a Miami hotspot in 2014.

The pair didn’t hit it off at first. “I hated him,” Ae said with a laugh. “I thought he was lazy and he talked too much. I work hard because I know that I started late and I needed to catch up to someone who has been cooking for 10 years. I had to work harder and faster and every day I studied.”

Ae’s work ethic forced Nick to see her talent. “She’s only been training for two years but has progressed more than anybody I’ve known—anybody I went to school with, anybody I’ve worked with. She knows how to bake — she picked things up so quickly. Duck pates, foie gras, escargot, she knows all of that too. I love the fact that she’s not traditionally trained but she came at this with such passion,” Nick recalled with a slight smile on his face.

Soon, Nick ran out of things to teach her. When Ae transferred to another kitchen to continue her studies, he realized how much he missed her, and the pair married in 2015. The pair knew they wanted to start their own experimental food restaurant, but knew the hustle and bustle of Miami weren't suitable to that type of risk. “One bad dish could spoil a reputation,” Nick said, and Ae nodded somberly.

The decision to move to Spartanburg was happenstance. Nick wanted to be closer to his family, and he missed baking too. His love of chocolate croissants was on the back burner in Miami, pushed aside for better monetary culinary pursuits. When he visited his high school culinary arts teacher he found out that this house with the navy blue door was for sale, and that the clientele in Spartanburg could handle their dreams of an eclectic menu. In August of 2016, Le Spice opened its doors. The locals fell in love with the eatery, and the Dhers became enchanted by the city.

“I like Spartanburg,” Nick said, “because less stress as far as us trying something new. When we’re relaxed the outcome is so much better, you aren’t rushing.”

Ae added, “When I was working at other restaurants for other people I didn’t get a chance to blend flavors. It was always just strict traditional cuisine. I didn’t have a chance to show them what I think. I wanted to try Mexican, French, Thai. I think of it as modern food. Here we have a special of the day and that’s where I let my creativity flow.”

Their favorite experiment so far has been the duck bun. A fusion of their culinary backgrounds in one dish, the toasted brioche bun with a hint of sweetness is Nick’s contribution, and Ae cooks roast duck the way her father taught her. The pillowy texture is accented by the crunch from cucumbers and slight saltiness of the siracha aioli. Ae feels pride every time she serves the dish, and it is one of the best sellers. “The best part of this is when I cook something and I create something that they love and I see their face when they’re eating.”

The Dhers consider their love story to be a success. Ae can flex her creativity and Nick has his bakery. Now they’re trying to figure out what comes next. “I want to serve up something that you can’t find anywhere else,” Ae exclaimed, excited by the challenge, even if it does sound daunting.

Nick insists that Le Spice isn’t going anywhere, even if they decided to venture out and try other projects. “Le Spice will always be Le Spice, it’s complex and it’s our first bakery. We love it.”

Largely on their minds is how they can further impact the community, perhaps giving an enterprising youth the opportunity to learn under their tutelage, just as Ae learned under Nick.

“I want to give opportunities to people that work really hard and just need a chance, like me,” Ae said. “When the people we train have the skills instead of having to go off and work for somebody else, they’ll be able to work for themselves. Hopefully, they’ll be able to help their quality of life and give back to the community, too.

There is no way of knowing what the future holds for the Dhers and Le Spice, but as long at the little house at 8881 Warren H Abernathy Highway keeps pumping out pastries, the future sounds (and smells) pretty sweet.