Sunday Family Group’s East Bay ‘Bakeshop’ concept
The special at Sunday Bakeshop on National Donut Day is a banana milk donut. Chef Elaine Lau created it together with Deuki Hong, who she says loves banana milk. Lau tried the Korean drink, packaged in a juice box, because he had talked about it. She decided to combine her love of donuts with one of his favorite drinks. “It’s literally just bananas ground into milk,” Lau says. “Only it tastes more artificial. We roast real bananas in our version.”
Hong is also a chef, but both he and Lau describe his present occupation as someone who “finds people who are passionate about food and then provides them with their own platform.” Sunday Bakeshop is just one culinary wing or “concept” from the Sunday Family group. But the hospitality group initially formed when Hong moved to the Bay Area from New York.
Hong’s first endeavor here, Sunday Bird, was a fried chicken pop-up in the Boba Guys Fillmore location. Its success led to an expanded partnership with the Boba Guys. They started Sundays, a food and beverage program at the Asian Art Museum (AAM). Now that public spaces are opening up again, Hong, with Chef Elena Yamamoto, will be at the AAM serving up sandos that are as big a hit as his fried chicken was on Fillmore. Another concept, called Sunday Gather, in partnership with The Way Ministry, serves Hawaiian barbecue. Located in the Bayview on Third Street, items range from loco moco to a chicken katsu sandwich. In addition to their food service, Gather provides job training for people who have been incarcerated or are in recovery, and for people without housing.
Sunday Bakeshop, though, is the first East Bay venture. Hong says it’s “an homage to the Asian bakeries we grew up eating [in] and loving.” Chef Yamamoto contributes packaged snacks usually found in Asian convenience stores, such as pandan coconut caramel corn. But the pastries, which decorate the glass cases at the Bakeshop, are primarily Lau’s creations.
Lau began to work with Hong, and his established partnership with the Boba Guys, to develop a pastry program. The plan was to sell pastries wholesale and at the Boba Guys storefronts. In the second year, her baked goods sold well enough that the Sunday group decided to provide Lau with the opportunity to run her own shop. The Boba Guys were in the process of renovating the closed-down Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream space on College Avenue. When the landlord suggested they also rent the adjacent shop, formerly Katrina Rozelle Pastries and Desserts, Sunday Bakeshop got the green light.
When Lau first began working for the Sunday Family, she was cooking savory dishes in restaurants like Manresa. “But I never got to show what my menu might look like,” she says. Lau believes that Hong saw something more in her. “I had always dabbled in pastry, and when the opportunity to interview [with the Sunday Family] came up, Deuki’s vision drew me in.”
The pastries are displayed in the same way they were in the Asian bakeries from Hong’s childhood. Originally, the idea was for customers to pick up a tray and self-serve, cafeteria-style. Because of Covid-19 that approach is on hold until pandemic restrictions normalize. As for the types of pastries themselves, Hong wanted to move beyond simply recreating the baked goods from his youth. Lau’s croissants suggest a fusion of her French culinary training and her Chinese-American heritage. Her hojicha croissant contains chocolate valrhona bars and is dusted with roasted green tea. She fills the “aloha” with a pineapple sausage and tops it with furikake, scallions and parmesan.
Fusion though, Hong suggests, isn’t exactly the mot juste. “Elaine’s putting forth a definition of what Asian American pastries look like,” he says. She may be drawing from nostalgic influences, but the red bean buns don’t look like the ones you’d find at a bakery in Chinatown.
“Red beans are starchy, almost like a sweetened potato mash,” Lau says. “I stuff it in everything; mochi bread, even filled donuts.” One year for Thanksgiving, she made a red bean pie, which tasted like a sweet potato pie. But her favorite use of them is a beverage from Hong Kong. “They pour evaporated or coconut milk and sweet red beans over ice,” she says. “It’s super refreshing but also, oddly, very tasty and satisfying.”
The energetic Hong moves from one branch of Sunday to the next. When I visited the Bakeshop, he was behind the counter, taking orders and handing them out a few minutes later. He gives full credit to Lau for the creative inception and execution of the pastries. “The beautiful thing is we’re both Asian American—we grew up very differently, but we both have shared experiences,” he says. They bounce ideas off of each other, but Hong, who claims he doesn’t know how to bake a brownie, defers to her culinary talents, calling her “the mastermind” behind it all.
Unlike Hong’s specific passion for banana milk though, Lau says she’s a seasonal eater. Last weekend, she went cherry picking with another chef and came back with apricots, too. “If I know cherry juice is coming in season,” she says, “that is definitely what I would be looking for.”
Sunday Bakeshop, open Saturday-Sunday, 11am to 4pm, 5931 College Ave., Oakland. 510.599.8550. thesundaybakeshop.com