The Sweet Taste of Success
One artisan pastry chef reveals how she baked up a booming business one delicious macaron at a time.
Showcasing the sugary decadence of desserts and freshly baked bread in your restaurant feels good. But taking it to the next level and successfully expanding those tasty treats into other eateries and hotels? That’s certain to make an operator feel warm and gooey like the inside of a molten lava cake. But building a business within the business is more than throwing a great product at the market.
On average, going to the market with a product takes time. You’ll need supply chain solutions. You'll have to pound the pavement with marketing and sales strategies. And, of course, you’ll need persistent operations to keep quality and demand.
That’s how you’d expect a textbook to read. But what if some in the restaurant industry see it a bit differently? Take, for example, Chicago-based pastry chef Aya Fukai.
Her pastry program at Maple & Ash restaurant recently expanded to a wholesale bakery operation, offering 50 stock keeping units (including varying product sizes), to dozens of restaurants and hotels, creating an additional revenue stream and opportunity across the spectrum. Fukai, however, won’t let you think this happened overnight.
“It’s just not glamorous, as people see on TV,” insists Fukai. “You have to learn the daily grind. There are going to be 16-hour days and some months without a day off. But that’s how you get others to believe in you.”
The James Beard Foundation semifinalist pastry pro spent her career building relationships in the kitchen and bakery with fellow chefs. “I’ve always been a pastry chef who really likes working with other chefs,” continues Fukai, who graduated from Boston University. “This gives me the opportunity to work with people I worked with in the past.”
That means Fukai’s relationships over the course of her professional life have paid dividends because of the reputation she built and friendships she forged. Working side-by-side, laughing, hustling and creating good food with colleagues has helped her immensely. So, when she approached those same connections about her wholesale endeavor, they jumped at the opportunity to lend a helping hand, whether as team members or clients.
“I never had to sell myself,” she admits. “I built that trust over time. [Clients] knew I had a high standard for products.” So, her foot was always in the door. It was just a matter of when she wanted to open
“I’d go in, set up tastings and that’d be it.” Though, Fukai admits, they have since hired a salesperson to focus on new leads.
For those looking to pursue a similar path, she recommends starting with a high-quality product and leveraging relationships for market entry. Her Aya Pastry shop now serves 34 items, highlighted by Samoa Cakes, Dino Macarons and 25 bread products (led by high-volume favorites like baguettes and sourdough items).
What’s next? She predicts retail, first with an online store that’ll make products available for delivery or pick-up. She also anticipates a brick-and-mortar operation down the line.