Step through the wide, glass doors of Beard Papa’s, and a warm and spectacular smell will cocoon you. At first, you might struggle to actually define this smell. It certainly isn’t savory by any stretch, but it lacks the cloying sweetness that often hovers around popular bakeries and dessert shops. As you drift towards the back of the shop—past the low white tables crowded with groups of people happily chattering away—you might even close your eyes for a brief second and inhale, losing yourself completely in this buttery, doughy, and slightly sweet scent.
That smell you’re smelling? It’s the smell of a freshly baked cream puff.
First sold from Beard Papa’s original Japan location, which opened in 1999, these cream puffs quickly became a phenomenon. In a little over a decade, the brand has opened over 200 stores worldwide—over 160 of which are located in Japan—but just five are located on the East Coast: one in New York, one in Virginia, one in Washington, D.C., one in Boston’s Chinatown area, and, most recently, one in Allston—just a 15-minute ride down the B Line.
Beard Papa’s Allston location, which opened this past July, opened to the public in tandem with Chatime, a bubble tea chain that has proven popular in the Boston area. Although Beard Papa’s and Chatime are separate brands—the former originated in Japan and the latter in Taiwan—Beiwei Ye, the regional manager for both Beard Papa’s and Chatime, explained that opening both restaurants within the same storefront was a carefully developed business strategy.
In order to make both restaurants more competitive in Allston, an area already packed with many small businesses that serve the bubble tea and dessert customer base, Ye proposed combining the two brands after closely monitoring their individual Chinatown locations. Although both Chinatown stores were successful, Ye noted that while Chatime maintained popularity mainly within Boston’s vibrant Asian community for its authentic, hand-shaken bubble tea, Beard Papa’s mainly attracted a customer base that existed outside of that community. By combining Beard Papa’s and Chatime in Allston, Ye hoped to merge the two distinct customer bases and use the popularity of the Beard Papa’s cream puffs in order to eventually educate more customers about bubble tea.
“We tried to get the people who love cream puffs to recognize Chatime, so it’s our strategy to bring Chatime to the next level with Beard Papa’s,” Ye said.
The popularity of Beard Papa’s cream puffs—-a popularity that Ye hopes to harness in the Allston store—certainly stems from the unique nature of the dessert. One of the only vendors in the Boston area completely devoted to cream puffs, Beard Papa’s are made in the European-influenced Japanese style, which makes them light and subtle instead of the highly sweet and whipped cream-based American ones. Ye noted that this allows customers to eat multiple cream puffs in a row without getting tired of the fillings, or overdosing on sugar.
The intense freshness of the pastry and custard sets Beard Papa’s puffs apart. Chefs bake countless batches of the shells of the cream puff, a thin and crunchy dome of choux pastry, throughout the day in order to keep the pastries as fresh as possible. All day long, customers can smell the fresh puffs as soon as they open the door. They can see it too: a large window behind the counter reveals the bakers in the back pulling fresh cream puffs out of the oven and putting fresh batches in.
After the puffs are cooled, they arwe filled with a combination of custard and cream to order. Though the process is time-consuming when it comes to serving a rush, it maintains the essential crunch of the pastry shell and allows the customers to customize their cream puffs.
For such a straightforward dessert, customers have a wide range of options. After choosing a pastry shell, either the traditional, a choux puff topped with powdered sugar; the eclair, a choux puff with a chocolate shell; or the Paris Brest, a ring-shaped choux, customers select their fillings.
These fillings range from a soft and subtle vanilla, a sweet but earthy green tea matcha, a powerful dulce du leche caramel, to rotating monthly flavors such as November’s pumpkin caramel—a custard completely reminiscent of pumpkin pie filling. As bakers prepare the cream puffs after the customers place their orders, each puff is weighed to ensure a carefully developed ratio of custard to pastry.
Each day, fresh batches of custard are made with natural ingredients sourced from carefully selected local vendors. Each vendor was carefully chosen by the company heads in order to allow the Boston locations of Beard Papa’s to serve cream puffs that taste exactly like the ones served in Japan, which is a tricky feat. This could put Beard Papa’s at the whim of the vendors—if something happens to the milk delivery they will have nothing to sell but it pays off in the complex yet delicate flavors that Beard Papa’s packs into each cream puff.
Ye highlighted the vanilla custard as an example, as it gets its flavor from seeds that the bakers scrape out of vanilla pods instead of just vanilla extract, a subtlety of flavor evident in all of the puff fillings.
Ye hopes Beard Papa’s ethos comes across clearly to each customer.
“We want to present [Beard Papa’s] as a joyful place,” Ye said. “Our customer service [is very] friendly and we want to bring joy.”
Featured Image by Madeleine D’Angelo/ Heights Staff