85°C Bakery Cafe has been called "the Starbucks of Taiwan," but Cathy Faber and Kathryn Varner don't think that's quite right.
The cousins, who are Frisco and Little Elm residents, respectively, say Starbucks and 85°C Bakery serve their Texas families in two distinct ways.
"Starbucks is a convenience thing," Faber says. "This," she says, gesturing inside the 85°C Bakery shop that was busy on its opening day on Friday, "is a more social experience. My kids love this place."
Faber and Varner, who both grew up in Asian-American families, stopped into 85°C on their Friday morning to peek at the new, and beloved, bakery that is much closer to their homes compared to the existing 85°Cs in Carrollton, Plano, Richardson and Fort Worth. The newest store serves a Frisco population that is about 11 percent Asian.
"If you want an Asian destination, come to Frisco," says Heather Nguyen, a development partner at NewQuest Properties. Her company owns the shopping center in Frisco, near Ohio Drive and Warren Parkway, where 85°C just moved in. The new shopping center will also have a dollar store called Daiso Japan (expected to open in late October) and an Asian grocery store called 99 Ranch Market (expected to open in spring 2019).
If you've got déjà vu, here's why: NewQuest also owns the shopping center at Old Denton Road and the Bush Turnpike in Carrollton, where all of those businesses are also located.
For Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam but lived there for just 18 days before her family moved to the United States, she relishes the idea that Asian businesses can thrive in Texas. But she says developers have to work for it: "In Asia, when they [businesses] think of coming to the U.S., they think of New York and California."
That's what 85°C Bakery did: Its first store in the United States was in Irvine, Calif. Though it has grown to 55 shops in the U.S., 85°C's biggest customer base is in Asia, where it operates 1,000 stores.
But Nguyen, who lives in Houston, hopes the Frisco and Carrollton shopping centers can prove "there's a demand for them to grow here." She thinks food-related businesses can help create that connection.
On Friday morning, 85°C Bakery had a line out the door when it ceremoniously opened at 9 a.m. Most of the customers knew exactly what to do once they walked inside: Grab a tray and a pair of tongs and start hand-picking small, colorful pastries for purchase.
The milk pudding and the brioche loaf are two of the most popular bakery items, says Gloria Gorden, director of operations for the company. The bakery is proud to sell items that look and taste "different from American pastries and desserts," she says. The 40-some drinks range from hot coffee drinks to iced teas and smoothies. And of the dozens of people in the shop when it opened on Friday, nearly everyone had purchased some kind of drink.
Some customers described a sense of pride — of being able to buy Asian cakes for just $2 or $3, at a shop that was closer to home. "I would load up on pastries and take them back to Texas," Nguyen says of when she first visited an 85°C in California nearly 10 years ago.
As of Friday, Texas has nine 85°Cs. And counting.