Business & Real Estate

Globetrotter returns home and brings one-woman pastry business to LA

Megan V. Winslow/ Town Crier
Melody Hu prepares to open Petit Bakery Co. at 209 First St. in Los Altos. Hu’s gluten-free vanilla sponge cake with elderflower buttercream and lemon curd, right, is her best-seller to date.

Melody Hu is set to open a patisserie-style bakery in downtown Los Altos this summer that fuses her international living experiences: the craftsmanship of Parisian pastries and the modest sweetness of Asian mochi rice. Yet Hu said the health-minded, gluten-free goods will make Petit Bakery Co. “quintessentially Californian.”

Established in 2017, Petit Bakery Co. will fill the space at 209 First St. after Cho Yu’s retirement led to the recent closure of Cho’s Restaurant. Hu said some minor remodeling is in store before her bakery opens in the summertime.

Most importantly, space is needed for a jewelry-style display case to present her cakes, cupcakes and other tasty treats, a feature she has envisioned since even before experimenting with recipes in early 2017.

Falling in loaf

Hu was a young intern living in a 60-square-foot room across the street from the Louvre Museum in Paris when she discovered a bakery on her way to work that she said made her appreciate each “tiny piece of art.” Skimping on breakfast, a practice for many 20-something post-grads, meant something different to Hu: a warm croissant or madeleine and a cup of coffee.

Hu grew up in Taiwan, which she described as a place with a “heavy foodie culture.” Her appreciation for food only grew when she moved to the United States. She attended Cupertino High School first before transferring to Gunn High.

Her friends at Gunn took turns piling into one of their cars to visit downtown Los Altos and buy a Godfather sandwich – just $3 or $4 at the time, a great value for a bunch of broke teens – from The American Italian Delicatessen. While Hu admired the “European village feel,” she couldn’t have dreamed that 20 years – and a trek across the world later – she would open her own patisserie in downtown Los Altos.

Hu moved from France to China and back to France through her previous gig in luxury jewelry sales before she and her husband finally moved their two young children to where she spent her adolescent years. At 37, Hu said she is happy to live in Mountain View now, back to the “melting pot” that is Silicon Valley.

Muffin making

After less than two years of Pottery Barn pop-up shows and personal custom orders, Hu finds herself ready to take the leap of investing in a brick-and-mortar shop. She was approached by someone who knew someone at Los Altos Community Investments and hesitated to commit until she saw the First Street space.

“The location is amazing,” Hu said of her future patisserie’s home near the corner of First and State streets. “These (outdoor) tables aren’t really being used by (Webtown Drycleaners). They are just begging to be sat at.”

Hu was initially reluctant to start Petit Bakery Co., she admitted. When she was craving a dessert one day, she made muffins from a bag of sweet rice flour she had stored in her cupboard and fed them to her husband. He told her they were “good enough to sell.” “I never imagined I would get into the food business, but then I started trying different recipes and I realized, ‘Hey, but haven’t I always loved food?’” she said.

What’s more enticing for Hu than exploring new ingredients is the opportunity to purchase ingredients from local farms. The mochi rice included in all of her baked goods comes from a farm just three hours away, run by a Japanese family who has operated the business for generations.

“You don’t have farms like those right here in a lot of places around the world,” Hu said.

Sieving the dream

Last year was a total whirlwind, Hu said, with wholesale deliveries and baking in a rented commercial kitchen in Menlo Park into the wee hours of the morning.

“Every time I go into a baking session, it will be two and a half hours,” Hu said. “Really, in the beginning, I think for a lot of people it is a labor of love.”

Although Hu said the fusion aspect of her bakery may be a “little edgy,” she is excited to enter into what seems to be a tight-knit, blended community in Los Altos..

“I am in a very niche segment of baking, with no gluten, so I am hoping that people in surrounding cities who have that need or who are vegan or paleo will come and it will be a destination,” she said.

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