This is part three of “Baking Connections,” a series on three local bakers and the incredibly popular baked goods with Asian flavors they are bringing to the D.C. region.
Changing tastes and a craving for baked delicacies infused with Asian flavors have fueled the surprising success of three D.C. area bakeries in the past three years.
The three women bakers and entrepreneurs behind the baking establishments say they are excited, but also somewhat overwhelmed, by the popularity of their creations. But they are ready to meet the growing appetite.
“Every weekend is a little intense,” Rosie Nguyen acknowledged.
Nguyen opened Rose Ave Bakery in Woodley Park in June. Yuri Oberbillig and her husband Jason opened SakuSaku Flakerie in Tenleytown this past February; and Shurou Pu, who primarily sells at farmers markets in Northern Virginia under the Toimoi bakery brand, just opened her permanent weekend location this month.
All three integrate Asian flavors like ube, pandan, matcha and yuzu, into traditionally Western pastries like cakes, doughnuts and croissants. But just as they have each developed their own twist to this pastry style, they all have had slightly different answers for what is behind the pastry craze.
Nguyen believes the powerful story behind how she built her business from nothing has made word spread quickly about her pastries.
“Awareness about us and knowledge that we exist, has grown. Curiosity has grown,” Nguyen said.
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Yuri Oberbillig said people love the delicious, original twist on pastries that they are already comfortable with. The co-owner of SakuSaku Flakerie credits the combination of cultures with creating new “deeper flavors” that draw people in.
“For example, I make a miso chocolate chip cookie. It’s a chocolate chip cookie. But when I put the miso into it, it will make a deeper flavor,” Yuri explained. “And I think people really appreciate that. And enjoy that.”
Shurou Pu, who operates Toi Moi bakery stands at farmers market stands throughout Northern Virginia, believes it’s how “no one else is making” the same pastries, with each business creating its own medley of Western baking with Asian flavors.
‘Social media is key’
All three women can agree on one thing: Instagram plays a big part in their success. They each use the social media site to share pictures of their aesthetic baked goods with pastry-lovers around the region.
Nguyen said that “social media is key” for spreading the word about these creative pastries and inspiring people with her story.
“I did zero marketing. What I did do is make sure that our social media was beautiful, aesthetically beautiful, and informative, and straight to the point,” Nguyen told WTOP. “And also at that time, when I first started, I wanted to make sure that people knew there was a little human doing this. So it’s kind of like storytelling.”
Pu said social media also serves as an inspiration. She uses Instagram to research new pastry ideas and come up with flavor combinations that “people never thought of before.” Yuri also credits the “interesting flavors” that she finds on social media for constantly inspiring her unique and surprisingly popular pastries.
Beyond convincing people to try something new with aesthetic photos, Nguyen believes that social media tells the story of their bakeries and inspires people to follow their dreams.
“And because people know about places like Rose Ave, SakuSaku and Toi Moi, I think bakers also feel more confident that they can do this too,” Nguyen said. “Because stories like mine, where I was a home baker, I was in a completely different profession, it helps people know that they can do this too; there is a route to success … The love, the knowledge, the energy is just spreading.”
All three bakers started out by working diligently to build a community on social media, which has translated into a real-life community that is committed to supporting their pastry shops.
To expand or not to expand
Pu just recently expanded a rented commercial kitchen into a storefront that can accommodate walk-in customers on weekends. In the future, she plans to have the permanent location open for an extra day and sell her pastries at four farmers markets each weekend at least.
“I think we are going to do two markets a day, ideally,” Pu said, “and we have our Chantilly location open for three days, at least, to take walk-in customers.”
Meanwhile, Yuri and Nguyen have been operating large brick-and-mortar shops, open six days a week, for a few months now. Both entrepreneurs are approaching their expansions cautiously.
“We want to make sure that this place functions optimally. We want to make sure our staff feels supported. So in the very beginning stages of making this place, feel supported, or turnkey and autonomous,” Nguyen said of her Woodley Park café. “I want to make sure my managers feel like they can make decisions on their own. And, you know, that we can step away.”
That doesn’t mean Nguyen doesn’t have big plans for Rose Ave Bakery in the future.
“I would love to have more locations, I would like to grow into shipping nationwide. I have a lot of goals,” Nguyen said. “But those are in the back of my mind. And I’m more focused on just the physical place here.”
Yuri is also concerned about expanding SakuSaku Flakerie too quickly.
“I think I want to try to focus on consistency of our quality of pastries,” Yuri said. “So I’m not trying to become bigger. I wanted to keep it simple and small, but keep high-quality pastries. That’s my goal now.”
But Yuri’s husband and business partner, Jason Oberbillig, chimed in that they still might be opening a new location in the not-so-distant future.
“We did tour a new possible location yesterday,” Jason revealed. “So we’re
still considering opportunities for expansion on a modest level.”
When it comes to potential D.C. neighborhoods, Jason said they are looking at Columbia Heights or a larger space near their National Building Museum shop, possibly on Eighth Street.
“But it’s very, very early … We’re not really looking to jump into anything,” Jason said. “We’re just sort of keeping options open to see what may or may not work out or present self.”
Whether they are focused on expanding soon or further down the line, all three women are excited to refine their skills.
They say they won’t keep their recipe for success to themselves — they want to teach the pastry chef that assists them to bake in their unique styles and inspire more home bakers to follow their dreams. All as they continue to meet the demand for their inventive pastries throughout the D.C. region — and perhaps beyond.
This is part three of “Baking Connections” a series on how three local bakers made baked goods with Asian flavors incredibly popular across the D.C. region.