While researching another story last year, I was introduced to one of the executives from 85°C. You know, the bakery with the lines that spill out onto Irvine's Diamond Jamboree. The folks with the sea salt coffee. Those people. When we eventually got in touch, I was at a loss for questions. Not being my typical chef post, I reached out for help. So to assist with this week's interview, I want to thank bakers (and former On the Line subjects) Jonathan Eng, Dean Kim and Tarit Tanjasiri for allowing me to pick their brains for ideas.
Is your growth in the US faster than your Asian market, and is it vastly different?
85°C has over 745 locations in Taiwan, China, Australia, Hong Kong and the United States. Mainly, it is more concentrated in Asia. However, the U.S. market for 85°C is staying competitive, as we have just started our expansion in recent years.
How many stores and employees do you have in California?
We currently have 15 stores in Southern and Northern California. Approximately 1,500 employees.
It always seems like there is a line to get into the store, and the product always seems to be coming out still warm from the oven. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
The freshness of our products came first. We stand apart from our competitors by continuously serving them right out of the oven to their tray for enjoyment throughout the day and on a daily basis.
What is the shelf life of your items?
Our products are all fresh, so we only sell our products that day for one day only. We suggest customers to consume the products within two to three days after purchase to keep the freshness. Depending on the products, some may be kept in room temperature; some will need to be in the fridge.
Have you adjusted your offerings in the United States to suit the tastes of Americans, or is it the same menu as Taiwan? Any surprises in the tastes of the customers?
Offerings in the United States are very similar to the menu in Taiwan. However, each of our products here has more flavors– more on the savory and sweeter side than in Asia.
Our customers are always surprised that the texture of our breads are soft and fluffy, our coffee is strong and bold (but not bitter) and our cakes are light, but rich and flavorful!
Please provide a few highlights of 85°C in the U.S.
The first U.S. store opened in 2008 in Irvine, California, and quickly became a phenomenon that attracted lines out the door [Editor's Note: It is also still the busiest U.S. location, despite being the smallest in size.]. 85°C is committed to quality and freshness. Our five-star rated master chefs created each one of our cakes and breads in accordance to the highest culinary standards.
A lot of products are influenced by traditional French pastries (i.e croissants). How do you fuse the French and Asian styles?
We learn from the best of both worlds and come up with our own fusion style. Such as the new product line we just launched. We blend traditional European bread with Asian creativity. 85°C Yudane [yu-dah-neh] is a culinary technique invented in Japan where our chefs mix our quality flour with 185° water to create extremely moist and elastic dough that's truly one-of-a-kind. Our new line of lavishly flavored 85°C Yudane bread is not only incredibly soft and sensationally rich in texture, but also contains lots of health benefits.
What percentage does location play in your growth?
Location is always important in any successful business. We have a team that is always looking for opportunities to open more in different locations.
You have such a huge following in Asia and California; any chance to see 85°C nationwide or more international?
Absolutely. We are hoping that we can expand to other states soon.
Where is everything made? What is made on premises, and what is shipped in?
85°C currently has a central kitchen in Brea that allows us to deliver semi-finished products to each of our stores in Southern California multiple times a day. With advanced production equipment and rigorous operating procedures, our Brea Central Kitchen allows 85°C to continue its commitment to provide the highest quality for our customers. In line with our devotion to freshness, 85°C baked products will be baked on-site at each of our stores.
Is technology the future for baked goods?
Technology definitely plays a big role in the future of baked goods. While we need to keep the creativity for new products, technology needs to be brought in for the right machine that can keep up the demands, and to further support our expansion.