For Belinda Leong and Michel Suas, winners of the coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker in 2018, the baker’s life is getting complicated. Upon meeting with them this summer at their trend-setting San Francisco shop, b. patisserie, Suas shares they just returned from Korea where they opened their first international b. patisserie in a four-story building in Seoul. The menu?
“They want the same products as here,” Suas says quite simply. The menu includes the classically French kouign amann and seasonal Bostock pastries that earn b. patisserie the reputation as one of the leading pastry shops in the United States. And like the French, Koreans appreciate great food and great conversation. “They come in and sit for two hours,” Suas says. “Koreans socialize for a long time.”
It’s been quite a year for Suas and Leong, who now looks to open a completely different retail concept in her native San Francisco within about six months.
“We are starting a new concept for mochi donuts,” Leong says. For those who don’t know, mochi is a popular dessert in Asia that is made by pounding rice into paste, molding the desired shape and baking it.
“Mochi is huge in the Asian market,” she points out. “We’re trying to obtain just the right texture — like if a glazed donut and mochi had a baby. It shouldn’t be too chewy. We want to make it our own style of donut holes and have our style of flavors.”
Leong visited Hawaii where she was inspired by mochi donuts, which are made with rice flour, tapioca starch and wheat starch. She’s tested mochi donuts in San Francisco, offering flavors such as horchata, baklava and chocolate almond. For the new shop, Leong says the plan is to offer different toppings and glazes and present it in a way that appeals to all generations.
Once they open their new store, it will operate under a different name than b. patisserie and feature its own branding. The name has yet to be determined.
“It can be confusing to do too many things in one store,” Suas explains. “For a concept to work, you need to identify who you want to be.”
This has proven true for b. patisserie and B. On The Go, which is located a block away and opened in 2015. According to the owners, B. On The Go is a neighborhood eatery serving slow roasted meats and vegetables on house-made breads. A daily selection of salads and take-away products are also available.
Hot and cold sandwich selections include banh mi (Chinese barbecue pork belly, cucumber, jalapeno, pickled carrots & daikon on house soft roll), roasted Brussel sprout (with anchovy, lemon and parmesan on house ciabatta), and roast beef (with roasted peppers, provolone and herb mayo on house torta). The sandwiches sell for about $9-10.
“It is more like a boulangerie,” Suas says. “The neighborhood was asking for a sandwich shop. The business is going very well.”
But at b. patisserie, “here we want to be a pastry shop,” he adds. “Both places have kept their identity.”
Viennoiserie selections such as cherry apricot kouign amann and passion fruit/almond cream Bostock entice customers with seasonal flavors that they can’t find elsewhere. “Changing with the seasons is nice for the customer and interesting for the crew,” Suas says.
Leong excitedly opens a bag of their signature granola for me to try, and I immediately find the mixture of purple wheat, puffed Kamut, almonds, crispy rice and oats to be absolutely delicious. “It’s like a wheat field in your mouth” is the way they describe it.
Suas is excited by the fact that retail bakeries, at least in San Francisco, are enjoying a steady upswing in business, driven by a renaissance for fresh bakery products made with high quality ingredients. “The quality of bread and pastry is coming up,” says Suas, who is also proud to say that four San Francisco bakeries are now run by former teachers at the San Francisco Baking Institute, which he founded in 1996.
Suas, a native of France, started baking when he was 14. Suas later moved to the Bay Area and established the San Francisco Baking Institute, a renowned leader in artisan bread and pastry education. Suas says these are exciting times, with plans for new concepts ahead and young staff members who help challenge them to reach new heights. At b. patisserie, they are not about to rest on their laurels, even after winning the James Beard Outstanding Baker award this year.
“We think of the award as a gift to the staff,” he says. “They know why they are working so hard.”