Mountain View resident Melody Hu had anticipated that her patisserie-style bakery would open in downtown Los Altos over the summer. She’s still waiting.
Renovations needed to be made to her new shop, located at the former home of Cho’s dim sum restaurant on First Street, to create the airy, inviting ambience she had envisioned for her Petit Bakery Co. But six months after she last spoke with the Town Crier and a few red-tape run-ins later, Hu has changed her company’s name and timeline as she navigates the delays.
Hu rented a commercial kitchen in Menlo Park to accommodate wholesale orders and pop-up show inventories after opening Petit Bakery Co. in 2017. Her Asian mochi rice-based sweets became popular enough that it was finally time to open a brick-and-mortar store. Her gluten-free goods would be unique, and Hu thought their “quintessentially Californian” character might just catch on.
Hu’s talents will be tested once the shop passes city and county inspections and gets the green light to operate full time. She estimated around the time school went back into session that it could happen within the next few weeks, but now she has no firm date.
Since announcing she signed her lease in late February, Hu has received inquiries from customers old and new who know of her reputation as a baker who can make a healthy dessert alternative that actually tastes good. Hu, who grew up in Taiwan and spent her 20s in Paris, has worked for two years to merge the subtle complexities of East Asian dishes with the artistry of French confections.
“Plant-based enthusiasts reached out to me for vegan cupcakes. I really enjoy (the) Paleo diet, and started experimenting with Paleo pastries, (which) definitely struck a chord as well,” Hu wrote in a newsletter sent to customers a few months ago. “A client reached out to me for a diabetes-friendly 70th birthday cake, and I developed a low-carb, no-sugar cake that would serve the purpose of the celebration.”
Hu found her inspiration accidentally. Fulfilling a spontaneous craving, she made muffins for herself and her husband with the sweet rice flour stored in their pantry. When he told her they were “good enough to sell,” a light bulb went off in her head. Hu began experimenting with recipes that would enable people with special diets to treat themselves just like everyone else.
Between the growing demand for her products and securing a location, Hu figured it was time to “allow Petit Bakery Co. to grow up and embrace the new identity that it has developed from organically.” She renamed the company Sweet Diplomacy, a brand now advertised on the front doors of its future home at 209 First St. Sweet Diplomacy will expand Petit Bakery Co.’s flair for eccentric ingredients from just desserts to new drinks, Hu said.
Learning the business
When Hu opened her doors for a preview early this year, the space had not changed since Cho’s last day the month before. Still, the baker was buzzing with ideas: On one end of the room a jewelry-style glass case would stand grandly as a focal point for passersby to admire her handcrafted treats. On the other end, Hu was considering a grab-and-go station for customers who worked in the area. Maybe, she said, she would install a standing counter to accommodate those who couldn’t find a spot outside.
Hu described her changes to the storefront squeezed between Tin Pot Creamery and Webtown Dry Cleaners as “minor.” In another newsletter sent out to customers this month, she admits to underestimating how extensive the process would be.
“Basically, there are two ways to turn an existing food service into a new one. The easy way is to take everything ‘as is,’ give the store a fresh paint, and open the next day,” Hu wrote. “The hard way, but ultimately I hope the better way, is to duly fulfill the requirements.”
She went on to describe those requirements: detailed plans on the smallest of alterations to the store to satisfy both the city of Los Altos’ Building Department and Santa Clara County’s Department of Environmental Health.
The plans demanded finding and hiring a team that includes an architect, engineers and a general contractor. Hu said assembling the team before even beginning the project “took awhile.”
Until the opening, expect Hu to keep answering one question until she’s blue in the face: “When will the shop open?”
“I’ve been asked this question by everyone I know, people that I don’t know, and their aunt, and their dog,” she joked.
For updates on Hu’s store opening, visit sweetdiplomacy.com.