By Tae Hong
Rather less than twenty years in the past, a fresh-out-of-college grad landed a job as an evening baker for a New York wholesale bakery determined for any job, even when this one meant 10 p.m. to six a.m. work hours.
That very same grad — Na Younger Ma, proprietor and pastry chef of Atwater Village hotspot Proof Bakery in Glendale, California — would spend a superb chunk of a decade working behind an array of workplace desks earlier than realizing her coronary heart was with the oven, not a pc display.
Ma, who opened the house 5 years in the past, has since seen excessive reward, from seeing her identify on greatest pastry cooks lists to Proof being heralded as “the guts of the Atwater Village neighborhood.”
For all the eye her fast-growing enterprise is getting, Ma’s nonetheless set her sights and objectives on her regulars, those that don’t a lot rely the bakery as one other identify to test off a Yelp checklist as a lot as they like to come back by every day to choose up her cult-favorite croissants or the insanely fashionable lunch baguette sandwiches.
“My emphasis is on individuals who come right here each single day and on ensuring that in the event that they order a croissant, they get the identical croissant each single day,” Ma says. “That’s my purpose — constant high quality.”
It’s a neighborhood joint, and it’s at all times been a neighborhood joint — if the stream of never-ending “Hi there”s and waves and “How’s your child doing, by the way in which?”s exchanged between Ma and her prospects doesn’t show it, the historical past of the house she inherited does.
3156 Glendale Boulevard has an extended historical past of bakeries, Proof being its fifth reincarnation.
Within the Nineteen Sixties, it was the Rollin’ Pin Bake Store, a buyer favourite with its 45-cent coffees and cents-more doughnuts. From the Eighties, it was the Dutch American Bakery, in its heyday the locals’ — and out-of-towners who’d heard of the finger-licking excellence of a selected dutch crunch bread — favourite cease for baked items. Toni’s Rollin’ Pin took over in 2002; seven years after that, Viktor Benes.
By the point Ma signed the papers to take the house in 2010, the built-in, old-school oven contained in the store had not been used for years.
Whereas the oven and the present kitchen meant, for a first-time enterprise proprietor seeking to bake, decrease prices and a neater preliminary launch, it additionally appeared to her that what the 50-year-old oven wanted was a bit love.
Ma and her crew of bakers have been fast to warmth it up. As Proof began to achieve traction, so did its items — its glass show instances brim right this moment with croissants, galettes, brioches, scones, jams, cookies, caneles and muffins.
Its various lunch sandwiches, skinny baguettes that fill the oven to capability regardless of its current improve to a extra trendy mannequin, promote out practically every day, Ma says.
Being part of a neighborhood means fixed suggestions. Ma, who used to area weekly calls asking about previous bakeries’ items, opened store nervous however has since continued on with religion in her product.
“Now, I do know that when you simply focus in your product tasting good, and doing one of the best you’ll be able to to make it style good, and use one of the best components, then different individuals will assume that, too,” she says.
“I’m actually into entire grains proper now,” she says. “I’m always telling my workers to experiment, and I do, too. Some issues are at all times the identical, just like the croissants, however I feel it’s extra attention-grabbing to evolve. For our prospects.”
Life wasn’t at all times about pastries, although she definitely thought of them always — Ma, who was born in South Korea and who grew up within the Los Angeles space after transferring to America along with her household simply shy of her second birthday, studied artwork historical past at Cornell and labored for years as a contract photograph and video editor at corporations like AMC.
Ma’s determination to go to culinary college had peculiar precedent. She’d get the baking worm in her mind following the enjoyable she’d had with the night time baking gig. The physicality of it, coupled with the invention of the bread baking course of, had a a lot bigger influence on her than she would have guessed.
For years, she’d spend the brief breaks between jobs working at bakeries, from Park Slope to Santa Monica. It was whereas working at a muffin store opened by graphic designers that she realized what it was to personal a small enterprise, and whereas cooking alongside a pastry chef in Santa Monica for just a few months that she realized it was time to completely commit.
Today, Ma, famous for her tackle basic French pastries and conventional European method, has begun amassing Korean cookbooks.
“I’m discovering as I become old that I actually need to eat Korean meals,” she says, crediting her love of the delicacies to her mom, who raised Ma on Korean meals till delivery her off to school.
Her sights are on discovering a technique to carry Korean parts to her show, whether or not it’s rice flour, barley or crimson bean paste.
“[Korean food] is an entire different approach of baking. However I’d like to gravitate towards having totally different taste elements,” Ma says. “I’m looking for a great way to include these parts so that they match Proof.”
However for now, enterprise is rising as it’s, and she or he’s able to take the following step. Proof, as soon as comfortably launched as a small-batch bakery, is hitting its restrict as increasingly individuals stream in for a style. It could be time for an enlargement.
“It’s going to be 5 years this yr, and we’re so at capability right here, we have to make this subsequent bounce,” Ma says.