This is the second of a two-part chef chat series. Read Part 1, which ran in this same space yesterday.
Two years ago, Candace Chang left the world of fashion merchandising to pursue a lifelong passion: baking. During Part 1 of our chat from yesterday, we learned that Chang took private lessons with a master pastry chef in Hong Kong instead of going to culinary school proper. Today, Chang tells us some of the trials and tribulations of being both baker and business owner.
EOW: So...baking. Most people go to work for somebody. What made you decide to open up your own space?
CC: I think because what I'm doing is so different. The cakes I'm making, they're not the same as what's out there. I don't see many shops that sell the same thing, and I wanted to do something that's more unique. I can be very stubborn when it comes to my cake. I like it the way it is, and that's the only way I'm going to do it. So, if somebody says it needs to be more sweet, or it needs more sugar, I'm going to say no.
EOW: Did you have money put away? How did you finance this?
CC: My parents helped. I call my dad the "Big Boss." He's the boss behind everything. Both my parents grew up in the restaurant business. My grandfather owned Chinese restaurants in New York, and my mom's side also. So they're both interested in the restaurant business even though they're not doing that anymore. So when I became a baker, they really wanted me to have my own shop. And they were like, "We know all the details, what you need to do to have a shop." They helped me a lot -- how to deal with vendors, how to hire, how to run the shop...
EOW: That's really great. Not that many people have that luxury. It doesn't look that big from the outside, but it's a nice-sized space.
CC: Yes, I've been very lucky. This space is a lot bigger than I was looking for originally. I was only looking for a 600-800-square-foot space in the beginning, but it was very hard to find.
EOW: How big is this space?
CC: It's about 1,300-1,400 square feet. So far, the size has been pretty good, but lately I feel like the kitchen's getting smaller and smaller...
EOW: You're still pretty hands-on, then.
CC: Yes, I try to be. In the beginning, I wasn't. I didn't have the time because I was trying to get everything organized, what with where to buy supplies and running the business. For example, I actually didn't drink coffee at the beginning, but people said, "If you have a dessert shop, you have to have coffee." So I was like, "Okay, fine." And I went to learn. I worked with my vendor and my supplier, and asked them, "Okay, what's good coffee? How is good coffee supposed to taste? How do you make an espresso? How do you make a latte?"
EOW: Oh my goodness!
CC: Yes, I was learning all those things, running errands. That's what I was doing in the beginning. But the past few months, we pretty much know our routine, when to open, when to close, when's our busier time...
EOW: What are your hours?
CC: We open 7:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. Monday through Thursday, we're open till 9 p.m., Friday, Saturday, we're open till 10 p.m.
EOW: So you have breakfast, too?
CC: Just croissants. We make our own croissants here -- plain croissants, chocolate croissants, almond croissants. Something simple. We also have paninis -- something simple, too, like turkey or chicken -- something that people can walk around with. A lot of business people come by for lunch. A lot of people come for coffee and get a croissant to go with it, but our main thing is still the cakes.
EOW: Tell me how many cakes you have.
CC: We have about 15 cakes. We rotate several flavors, but we have a few staples that are available all the time.
EOW: Which ones?
CC: The chocolate hazelnut crunch, the raspberry pistachio, the rum raisin chocolate truffle and the banana chocolate. The other cakes depend on how fast they're selling and if the ingredients are available.
EOW: So it's 15 cakes across the board, but there's different styles.
CC: Yes, we have the small domes -- I call them more personal-sized. Then we have the bigger three-inch ones. I make them that size so people can share, but a lot of people say, "We don't want to share."
EOW: That's what me and my friends did when we came to visit. We ordered several and tasted each, then fought over the ones that we liked the best. But pretty much everything I tried, I really loved.
CC: Well, I try to make each cake really different, so they're not too similar, with really different flavors. That way people can try several and not feel like they're eating a version of the same thing.
EOW: So do you think you've had, or have you had, any stumbling blocks along the way?
CC: Yes, I still think some people don't like my cakes.
EOW: Really? What do they say? How do you know?
CC: Well, Yelp, and then some customers come up and tell me.
EOW: What do they say?
CC: They just say it's bland. They feel it's not sweet enough, they say it's too light. They want that heavy, strong sweetness. My cakes, I agree: They're not for everyone. And sometimes it depends on your mood, too. Some days, you just want that really sweet shot of sugar.
EOW: Who's most likely to tell you they don't like it? Can you fit it into a certain type of person?
CC: No. It's pretty random. In the very beginning, I had my first bad review. I took it to heart. They tried my tofu cheesecake and didn't like it. He put a review on Yelp that said it was so bland and so light, it wasn't what he was looking for. And I realized that, when they come in and they see the cake, they may think that's what they want, but it's not really what they want. So that's why I try to have all my staff talk to the customers and ask them what they're looking for. "Do you want something light, or something strong? Something fruity, or something chocolatey?" That way, we kind of know what they're looking for. Then, if someone wants something rich and strong, we won't sell them the cheesecake.
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EOW: Do you think you'll ever compromise and do a really sweet ganache or something?
CC: (Hesitates and smiles mysteriously, followed by long, reflective pause)I believe I did with our macarons, because they're a lot sweeter. I'm picky on the macarons also, because when it rains and the weather's not good, I don't make them. I don't want to mess with them. Macarons and I just finally got into a nice relationship. I don't want to push it. When it rains and it's humid, the moisture in the air makes them crack and makes them hard. They don't like the moisture. So, I feel like that's my compromise. For somebody who wants something sweet, I suggest they try the macarons.