Joanne Chang: ‘Mom Test' Applies to Pastries and the Pandemic

"Everyone is sensitive, and on edge right now," Flour Bakery + Cafe owner Joanne Chang said. "We all recognize that and I think if you're working in hospitality there is an understanding that we are trying to make your transactions smooth. We're trying to make your life better."

Kristin Teig

Joanne Chang, owner of a popular local group of cafes called Flour Bakery + Cafe, told NBC10 Boston how her bakery's mantra about passing the "mom test" applies to the coronavirus pandemic.

And after opening a new location last week on Cambridge Street in the Charles River Plaza, Chang spoke about how she has been able to not only survive the financial impact being felt by many businesses during the pandemic, but to expand.

This transcript has been lightly edited. Watch the full interview above.

NBC10 Boston: How did you get into the restaurant industry?

I wasn't trained to be a chef. I studied math and economics at Harvard and spent a couple years in business, but the whole time that I was in business I was always kind of dabbling in cooking... My first job out of college I was a management consultant. I worked during the day in front of a computer and traveling but every weekend I was baking and cooking. There was this thing in the back of my mind when I was in the kitchen, [that said] this is really where I'm meant to be. So after two years of working in business, I got a job in the restaurant business, got a job as a line cook in a restaurant and I felt at home.

What was the reaction from family and friends when you left an almost "guaranteed" career and decided to bet on yourself?

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I was 24 years old and so at that time, the idea of how important it is to have a steady job and a steady income and all of that, my mind wasn't really in that. I was just like, "I want to figure out what I want to do when I grow up." My parents were like, "You need to save money and you need to have a stable life."

So I told them, "Let me try this for two years. Let me try this for a year. Give it - give me a year just to test it. And I'll keep all of my contacts at this company that I work at and if it doesn't work out, then I'll come back and continue on the business track."

Was there any point where you were worried about that decision?

I think it was three or four weeks into the job, when I was a line cook at a restaurant that I like, "Oh so this is why mom and dad (are) worried." There was about a six month period where I wavered and I just thought, "This is kind of crazy. I like cooking but do I really want to, you know, be at this restaurant at midnight cleaning out the fryolator?" Something just got its claws in me. I just fell in love with the energy and the passion that exists in the restaurant world. I was worried a little bit, but I also was learning so much and honestly I was so busy, you know, that I don't know that I had a lot of time to reflect on whether or not I made the right choice.

You opened your ninth bakery this week. How have you been able to find things that work despite the hard hit to the hospitality industry from the coronavirus pandemic?

The ninth bakery is in Beacon Hill on Cambridge Street right next to Mass. General, and we realized that if there's any place it's going to be busy, it's a hospital, so we kept going forward. It's been just about four or five days that we've been open and every day is busier than the next.

Your bakeries have always prided themselves in passing the "mom test." How have you been able to translate the "mom test" to your business during the pandemic?

We talk all the time about the "mom test" because when I first opened Flour, my mom actually moved in with me and she worked the counter while I baked all the pastries. Everything I baked went through her hands before she gave it to our guests. I wanted her to be proud of me and so everything I made I thought, "Oh gosh. Mom's going to give this to the guests, is she gonna be proud of it?"

I think through the pandemic it also extends, in that everybody is sensitive and on edge right now. We all recognize that and I think, if you're working in hospitality, there is an understanding that we are trying to make your transactions smooth. We're trying to make your life better. We're trying to make you happier.

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