If you've not traveled to California recently, you may not have heard of 85C Bakery Cafe.
Founded in Taipei in 2004, the rapidly-expanding company now boasts more than 900 stores in Taiwan, China, Australia and even the United States. But, so far, American audiences intrigued by its renowned Sea Salt Latte or fresh seasonal Mooncakes have had to try them out in places like Irvine or San Diego. That's all about to change when the wildly popular cafe and bakery makes its first move out of the Gold Coast and into Texas this September.
Chances are, there will be a line.
The first California store opened in Irvine in 2008, and it quickly became a bit of a phenomenon; it's still the company's busiest store in the U.S., though it's also the smallest. Eight years later, they've built bigger locations, but there's still a line snaking out the door most days both in Irvine and at others. Fans -- many, many of them -- say it's worth it.
We already know North Texas gets excited about buzzy bakeries. When the Cake Boss set up a location here in March, locals peered through the windows and even camped out overnight before the grand opening.
According to 85C fan posts online, lines at the California stores typically move quickly. While you're waiting, servers bring out warm batches straight from the oven and joyfully shout "Fresh bread! Fresh bread!" for customers' perusal. By the time you've made it to the front to order, you'll likely have a piece or two from the trays -- most costing just a dollar or two -- and will have gotten a glimpse of other tasty offerings in the large display cases.
85C has been informally called the "Starbucks of Taiwan" by food writers here in the States, but that seems like a major undersell.
According to Director of Operations Charles Wu, 85C exceeds typical coffee shop expectations in both what the shops offer as well as their quality.
"We have so much more choice; we're a full bakery that also offers fresh bread and cakes along with the coffee and tea," he says.
Among those options are a range of coffee and espresso drinks; teas -- including some preparations less well-known to mainstream American consumers like boba milk tea and coffee jelly milk tea; breads in a variety of international styles; and gourmet cakes and pastries. Here in America, menus vary slightly from what you might find overseas, but all U.S. locations feature the same selections, Wu says.
As for the Texas store, the location itself comes as no surprise.
You might remember the buzz around Carrollton Town Center when dollar store Daiso Japan moved in last July. Since its renovation by Houston-based developer NewQuest Properties, the center has grown to include recognizable and "authentic to the core" brands that "embrace Asian culture," reps say. So far, it seems to be working: Daiso's opening in Carrollton was its strongest in the U.S. and the second-highest in the company's history, The Dallas Morning News reported last fall.
"Texas and Dallas are booming, and there's a lot of population growth and diversity," Wu says. "We were looking to expand all over the U.S., but Dallas has been so friendly and was the best opportunity at the time."
Carrollton Town Center presents a chance to reach North Texas' Asian populations who might already be familiar with the brand -- or, certainly, the types of menu items it sells -- but, if the California pilot project is any indication, it will also introduce new delicacies to a wider local audience.
"We just like feeding the whole community," he says.
He adds that NewQuest's professionalism was another big draw for 85C. Construction on the new store has begun and the sign is already up; Wu estimates an opening date around the second or third week of September, just in time for the Chinese Mid-Autumn harvest festival and the delectable Mooncakes that come along with it. The company plans to continue its expansion into other states when a location in Seattle opens shortly after the Texas store.
Speaking of Seattle: With such astronomical expansion, it is still tempting to, as others have, compare 85C to that other ubiquitous purveyor of coffee and sweets -- that's right, Starbucks -- but, Wu says the similarities are superficial at best.
"Our M.O. is freshly made; we are not adding chemicals, so our shelf life [for Mooncakes] is shorter than a grocery store's 6-9 months," he says. "We're proud of that."
All of the food items are baked daily and fed into individual stores several times per day from a large-scale industrial kitchen in Brea, Ca., which Wu says will also serve the Texas store, for now. It speaks to the brand's founding commitment to quality. It began with the vision that a high-end, five-star experience should be accessible to everyone. Recipes are designed by medal-winning gourmet chefs, and the name itself points the company's commitment to "careful attention to every detail."
85 degrees Celsius is the temperature at which the company believes coffee holds its best flavor.
As for the Sea Salt Latte that has gained so much attention on the West Coast, there's a trick-of-the-trade there, too. It's been known to inspire spontaneous happy dances.
When it opens in September, the new D-FW location will feature both indoor and patio seating and will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. most days of the week, with possible extended hours over the weekend. Details are forthcoming for an official ribbon cutting, but Wu says to expect discounts both on opening day and throughout the month. Until then, you can stay updated on its progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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And, check out other recent stories on D-FW's bakery boom:
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