The Covid-19 pandemic has been brutal to restaurants and the people who make them run: chefs, bussers, dishwashers, servers, sommeliers, suppliers. In October 2020 we looked at what people were doing now that their restaurants were closed—including making pickles and dreamy cakes and leading virtual wine tastings. Now there's a light at the end of the tunnel and restaurants across the country have re-opened, packed with diners and drinkers eager to celebrate. While restaurants were closed, staffers found other ways to feed people—through pop-ups, meal kits, and thousands of comforting baked goods. Here are a few of the colorful, creative, and delicious home businesses restaurant staffers have started—and will continue. If you live in the Bay Area, be sure to follow Hungry Hungry Hooker, who has done an incredible job reporting on culinary side hustles.
Gramercy Tavern pastry cook Joy Cho started her home bakery business in March 2020. A restaurant kitchen this is not—Cho's Brooklyn apartment has limited drawer, cabinet, and counter space, and her equipment is a stand mixer and an electric hand mixer—but you wouldn't know it from looking at her jewel-like gem cakes. Fridays and Saturdays bakes 200 cakes, but "for one pickup day, I had to make 83 boxes—nearly 500 cakes. I slept from 10pm-midnight and then pulled an all-nighter." When she's not baking for Joy Cho Pastry, Cho is writing a monthly cake column and says, "It's been really fun to dream up and test cakes every month, taking into account seasonality and personal preferences. So many flavor and topping variations out there, it's super exciting to me!" Follow @joycho_pastry for updates.
Many of us passed the early months of shutdowns by baking at home, but Richaud Valls turned his home-baking attempts into a viable business. The French actor started baking baguettes in his small West Village apartment, six loaves at a time, delivering by bike all over the city. After perfecting his baguettes, Valls added pullman, brioche, sourdough, and country breads and orders continued pouring in. Laetitia Rouabah, executive chef at MICHELIN Plate Benoit reached out, and Valls went to join them as a baker. Now he bakes 80 loaves a week for Benoit and, at the weekends, makes 200 loaves for customers and other restaurants, delivering by bike (he's upgraded to an electric bike). The next step for Valls and his friend and partner Max Van Bel is securing funding to open a store in the West Village store where, Valls says, "customers can taste my breads, coffee, salads and sandwiches, and happiness." Follow @richaud.nyc for updates.
Resident is part pop-up supper-club, part culinary incubator. They partner with empty luxury residential spaces—a penthouse terrace in the Financial District, a loft in Soho—and 40-ish guests enjoy a multi-course feast with wine pairing for $175 or $195. The combo of gastronomy and real estate is peak New York. Participating in multi-month residencies are twenty chefs like Ki Kim of Two Star Blanca (and previously of Two Star Jungsik and Two Star Atomix); Keyvin Adams, head chef at MICHELIN Plate Aldo Sohm Wine Bar (previously at Three Star Le Bernardin); and Ayaka Guido of Three Star Per Se (previously at MICHELIN Plate Little Park and One Star The Musket Room).
There are usually two dinners per week, and the current schedule goes through July. Up next is Luis Herrera (MICHELIN Plate Cosme, Two Star Blanca), whose Venezuelan-inspired tasting menu includes charred octopus with mole verde and potatoes and braised short ribs with pickled papaya and caramelized peanuts. Follow @meetresident for updates.
Kevin Tang, Shane Sardinia, and Dan Kanzlar all met while working at One Star Mister Jiu's and Tang met Kris Hoang at Nari. The foursome now run a Vietnamese pop-up, Claws of Mantis, which Tang says comes from a Shaolin Kung Fu technique; he grew up watching Kung Fu movies with his grandmother.
"We want to highlight the products; we're so blessed to have such amazing ingredients in San Francisco," says Tang, and so the menu revolves around what's in season. "Each menu all involves white boards, shared Google sheets and docs, and many drunken brainstorming sessions. Together we work so well and have so much fun."
Since Claws of Mantis started in June 2020, they've served 50 different Vietnamese dishes, among them bánh đúc mặn (steamed coconut rice cake with ground pork and mushrooms) and cánh gà chiên nước mắm (fish-sauce-glazed chicken wings). Tang's favorite is thịt kho (braised pork belly), which he says "really feels and tastes like [it's from] Mom's house. (Tang's mom makes occasional cameos on @clawsofmantis.)
This summer, CoM will have weekly tasting menus (from $125/10 courses) where Tang and crew will really showcase their favorite Vietnamese dishes. "With dine-in we're able to do much more technical, crispy, and temp-sensitive dishes." Follow @clawsofmantis for updates.
When One Star Kin Khao closed temporary last spring due to covid, sous chef Intuon Kornnawong popped up at Hayes Valley wine bar Birba. She began cooking the food she grew up eating in Northeastern Thailand—Isaan cuisine. On the menu are dishes such as kanom pung nha koong (shrimp toast with spicy mayo) and laab duck, a zingy salad heaped with fresh herbs and duck cracklings, plus two specials and sides like sticky rice turned a beautiful blue from butterfly pea flower.
Intu is now running Intu On full time and, in July, opening Jo's Modern Thai in Oakland's Laurel district. The cuisine there will be more Thai tropical-family style. Intu's favorite cuisines to cook are Thai and Californian, with a love of salad that spans both, making use of California ingredients. She hopes one day soon to open her own restaurant in the Bay Area, a Thai diner and drinking snack concept, sure to be a hit. See the menu or order ahead at Birba and follow @_intu_on_sf for updates.
San Francisco, CA
Last June, a few months after creating the pastry program at MICHELIN Plate Che Fico, Angela Pinkerton started baking pies. On the menu are passionfruit bay leaf merengue, strawberry rhubarb streusel, and chicken pot pies, although Pinkerton's favorite is a classic apple; her grandparents had an orchard and she watched her grandmother bake a lot of apple pies. In the beginning Pinkerton rolled dough for all her pies by hand but, to give them a break, she She began driving from Oakland to San Francisco at 4am to use the dough sheeter at Che Fico. Pie Society now turns out cookies and 250-300 pies, to be picked up in San Francisco or the East Bay. Follow @piesocietysf for updates.
Christina Hanks and Jacob Fraijo honed their pastry skills at Dominique Crenn's Crenn Group (Three Star Atelier Crenn, One Star Bar Crenn). When restaurants across California began closing last spring, the pair moved back to LA and, just before Thanksgiving, cooked up Pavé Bakery. Fraijo generally does breads and Hanks pastries. Nearly every closet in their house is full of packaging, and the dining room is now a kitchen extension—wooden work tables, a Metro rack, and two tabletop mixers. They do all their baking in a small convection oven—dark, rich chocolate rye sablés, crackling loaves of oat porridge bread, a bright, springy Fraisier cake (their favorite), and a simply scrumptious customer-fave kouign-amann. The duo hopes to expand their toothsome home treat business to a brick and mortar space soon. Follow @pavebakery for updates.
For nearly four years, pastry chef Cathy Asapahu turned out beautiful desserts at Two Star Providence in Hollywood, but when the restaurant closed temporarily, she headed to a kitchen she knows well: her parents' restaurant, MICHELIN Bib Gourmand Ayara Thai Cuisine.
What followed was a cornucopia of exquisite desserts: chocolate bonbons for Valentine's Day; pandan chocolate yule logs for Christmas, Bua Loy dumplings shaped liked vulvas and breasts for Women's History Month, shortbread cookie tins, Szechuan peppercorn chocolate eclairs, taro Swiss rolls, pandan Twinkies, rhubarb coconut tarts, and mooncakes.
The mooncakes are Asapahu's favorite: "Growing up, mooncakes were a special treat during this holiday, and we always shipped them to my grandma in Thailand. Learning how to make them and designing my own fillings was deeply nostalgic and fulfilling. We held a tea ceremony in front of Ayara in October where I taught guests how to make their own, and it was very gratifying to share this experience."
Asapahu's mom is her toughest critic. "My mom and my sister are guinea pigs for any dessert I put on the menu. In our house and in many Asian American families, the highest compliment for a dessert is "it's not too sweet". I'm only done with recipe development when I can get my mom to say that. I can't and won't settle for "that's good" or even "that's great" from her."
She's back at Providence now, but soon another adventure awaits. Asapahu will spend two months this summer training at École Nationale Supérieure de Pâtisserie in south-central France. Follow @ayarathai and @ayaracathy for updates.
Los Angeles, CA
After three years at MICHELIN Bib Gourmand Sqirl, Sasha Piligian went to Nashville to help a friend open her restaurant, Lou, before setting up her cottage bakery in Glendale. She now makes cakes (think rhubarb cardamom with a pistachio semolina cake base), pies, cookies, pavlova, and a surprise weekly pastry box. Her home kitchen has turned into a production kitchen, the table replaced with a workbench, a rack holding bowls and molds. Piligian says the space constraints make it challenging to prep things ahead of time, with no room for extra buttercream or more cakes.
Monday-Thursday Piligan she five to seven cakes a day and another seven to 10 at the weekends, plus 20 weekly pastry boxes. "I really love making the boxes because it pushes me out of my comfort zone and allows me to break from just cake. Every time I make anything hand laminated—a morning bun or a twist, which I love to do—it's customers' favorite. I’m always infusing sugars, candying fruit, and somehow incorporating those in the buns. Order from May Microbakery and follow @sashimi1 for updates.
Starting a pasta business was a goal for Josh Tango, an alum of Three Star The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood, so when California began closing up last spring, he got to work on hand-cut pappardelle and squid ink fettuccine. He now makes those and hyper-seasonal pastas like shishito and ramp (the ramps are foraged by a friend in Chicago whom he met while staging at Three Star Alinea). Tango's favorite is squid ink—he says he's always enjoyed both eating and working with seafood, though the seasonal pastas, with their limited run, are also snapped up by customers. The pastas are made with organic, free range eggs from Napa farm Taramasso Ranch. Add sauce (Bolognese and tomato), meatballs, and grated Parmesan, and dinner is a breeze.
Tango laughs thinking of his learning curve. "When I first started, I had absolutely zero packaging, so I bought some ziplock containers at $4/ container. Mind you, that was about 60% of the price of a single serving of pasta. Since then, I’ve managed to find recyclable boxes, which are far more cost-effective." The home pasta business is tough; Tango has found Napa Valley sales to be unreliable, but he says pop-ups are going steadily and hopes he can grow Tango with Chef into a full-time business. Follow @tango_with_chef for updates.