"If you buy six pastries, you get a free Supermoon Bakehouse box," informed the pretty brunette standing behind the pink terrazzo table lined with impossibly decadent croissant creations. "Would you like to order two more to make it six?" First thought: Heck yes. I definitely want a free Supermoon Bakehouse box. It's shiny and iridescent and positively Instagram gold. Second thought: Which pastries do I choose?! They all look amazing. "Well, I'd recommend the banana split croissant. It's about to sell out. And if you like black sesame, our triple black donut is also really good." Done. Add those to the order please.
I've only had five hours sleep, it's a cold New York morning (I'm hiding under a large Craig Green hooded parka and black knit beanie), and I haven't had my morning coffee yet; but any regret about making the early morning trek down to New York's hottest new bakery (tucked away on 120 Rivington Street on the Lower East Side) vanished with my first bite into the 'NYC' — a croissant interpretation of the classic New York bagel — filled with lox and generous lashings of cream cheese. The crunch of the flaky croissant contrasts perfectly with the briny salmon. And paired with my Americano (praise Jesus, they have a coffee machine) it's easy to see why the 'NYC' has made it into Time Out New York's list of '100 best new dishes and drinks in NYC 2017'.
Supermoon Bakehouse has only been open for four weeks, but it's already cultivated a legion of fans. Think: Lines outside the door before 8am, daily bulk orders in excess of $200, and exponential growth on socials. In short, Supermoon Bakehouse is going supernova. After polishing off five out of the six pastries I ordered (they were just so freaking good) I sat down with baker and co-founder Ry Stephen for a frank chat about business strategy in the age of social media, what goes into making some of his best-sellers, and why he wants "Supreme-sized lines".
Click on the 'Listen in browser' button below to hear Stephen welcome you to his bakehouse.
You launched Mr Holmes Bakehouse in San Francisco, which was really successful — now with franchises in Los Angeles and Seoul — why did you decide to leave that behind and start up Supermoon Bakehouse in New York? For me, it was just time for a change. Change of scenery too. Moved over to New York and Aron Tzimas and myself went straight into looking for a retail space...
And Aron is your? Aron is my business partner here for Supermoon. And he also was one of the founders of Mr Holmes and did all the identity, all the design, all the branding. He's done that for Supermoon here again. It took us about two years to find this location. So from 14th street all the way down to FiDi [that is, the financial district for the non-native New Yorker] and east to west, we've seen every space that was available for rent. And we finally landed this one on 120 Rivington Street.
Why did you decide on this location? What kind of space were you looking for? Because Mr Holmes Bakehouse in SF doesn't have a sit-down area. This space is much larger than that location. The two cities are very different, both in layout of course, but also in the culture of the cities. New York has very harsh winters and very strong summers, and you need a space for people to sit in and stay warm during the colder months, or to stay cool and in AC during warmer months. It's something we wanted to provide for our customers this time around. You know, finding this space with high ceilings and natural light — plenty of natural light, actually — and enough space for us to work out of in the back, while retaining a strong retail presence in the front, it just made sense.
You've only been open for about four weeks, but you're already blowing up on Instagram with 13.6K followers. The space is very social media friendly — you have this large pink table lined with your pastries for sale. Everything is super Instagrammable. You don't even need to buy a pastry in order to take a photo. Was this something you had in mind from the beginning? That this place needs to be social media savvy? I mean, that's obviously what we did in San Francisco too. We have never spent a scent on PR or marketing, it's always been Instagram. It means more to the potential consumers. Because, you Norman Tan come here, you take a photo and post it, and that reflects to all of your followers that Supermoon is approved by Norman Tan, and therefore it encourages them to visit us too. You know, it means a lot more than an ad in a magazine.
It's digital word of mouth. Exactly. It has a lot more leverage and it doesn't pull any punches either, because you don't have stylized shoots and professional photographers taking the photos. But at the same time you have to make sure that you are on point. People point and shoot and post immediately. So if you're lagging in presentation it will show.
Let's talk about the similarities and differences between Supermoon and Mr Holmes. For me, the similarities are the neon signs — you have 'Bite Me NYC' here, whereas it was 'I got baked in San Francisco' for Mr Holmes. Also, you have emoticons: A peace sign for SF and now an upside down smiley face for New York. Why the upside down smiley face? That was just Aron playing around.
Does it mean anything significant? No.
(Laughs) That's refreshing... Neither did the peace sign. It's not like we were pursuing world peace or something. It was just about having fun, and it still is with Supermoon. That's reflected in the packaging, the neon sign, and something quirky. You know, we take what we do extremely seriously, but at the same time, we are fun and happy people.
Talking about fun, your packaging is intense. Yeah, those iridescent boxes.
Exactly. Where are they made? Are they made in the USA? Are you serious? God no.
(Laughs) Because it's super expensive. Yeah, no one would buy pastries here if that was the case. No, they are made with our very long-standing contact that Aron has in China.
They are very well made. Well, this company manufactures and produces boxes for high-end luxury companies. It's not out of their element to be making boxes for brands in the realm of Hermès or something like that. These aren't flat-packed boxes. The come fully assembled. We put a lot of effort on the box, because: number one, it's the brand; and number two, it's about presenting something in a fun magical way — both in terms of the iridescent cover, as well as the pastries on the inside. It goes hand-in-hand.
People have already contacted me on Instagram about whether they can just buy the boxes? They saw my post and just loved them. For sure, five dollars a box.
Amazing. And why the name, 'Supermoon'? When I first moved to New York, just shortly after, there was a supermoon. And then it's also a play on the croissant being a crescent, and a donut as a full moon. So there's that reference, but we literally had like 25 names that we were throwing around for the last two years, we finally had to pull the trigger on one of them.
Okay, we talked a lot about your branding and the space. But a bakehouse is only as good as its pastries. And, having tasted your stuff, it is amazing. Because you can package it and make it beautiful, but if I bite into a croissant and it's just average, then I'm not going to come back, right? (Laughs) Sure.
So tell me about the process of coming up with your pastries? How many different varieties do you have? Varieties? I guess it's probably around 10 to 12.
And you have some staples, but also play around with different flavours seasonally? Sure, seasonally. But also week-by-week. We change it up to keep the kitchen interested and the consumers interested too.
What are some of your best-sellers? I believe one of our best-sellers is our banana split twice-baked. And that one was pretty simple, we just wanted to make something decadent.
What's inside that pastry? In that one it's a chocolate almond cream, it's a vanilla crème pastissier, it's sous vide bananas, it's dehydrated bananas, it's white chocolate cream, it's caramel — it's just a decadent banana split sundae kind of thing.
And then there's the NYC, which stands for 'New York Croissant'. That's our interpretation of an everything bagel with lots of cream cheese and lox. Just because, whether you're a visitor in New York or whether you live here, everyone goes and eats a bagel. That's what I eat in the morning on my way to work. So we wanted to transform that into a croissant.
Great. So those are the two croissants you'd recommend to visitors at Supermoon Bakehouse? If you can get them! Yes. The banana split sells out very quickly. But for me, also the plain croissant. Because it's a real judge of how good everything else is going to be. You know, if it's a terrible plain croissant, then you wouldn't have much hope for the rest of the products.
Tell us about your training as a chef and how you got to where you are now? I dropped out of school and started my apprenticeship as a chef when I was 15. And then, I worked as a chef, I qualified as a chef, and then went into pastry in Melbourne, Australia. I worked in pastry in Melbourne for about three or four years, and then I went to Paris and spent two-and-half years there.
What did you do in Paris? In Paris, all pastry. So I was in a patisserie there and spent six days a week in a kitchen — underground, because all the kitchens are underground and just cooked my ass off basically.
Where to after Paris? Then back to Australia. Did more pastry work, more chocolate work, for about a year and bit, and then moved to San Francisco. So I moved to the States maybe about five-and-a-half years ago and now I've opened Supermoon.
What time do you recommend customers to get here in the morning to get the pastries they want? I recommend lining up the day before, so a good 12 hours minimum.
(Laughs) You're crazy... Just to help create hype.
Just to camp outside with tents... (Laughs) I want Supreme-sized lines. I want fences.
And you should have Supermoon merch! Think about the T-shirts and the cups! Actually, that is not a bad idea. Yeah (laughs).
I'm not even joking. I want re-sellers. That's what I want. Because your shit is not hot unless people are re-selling it.
Correct. I want re-sellers! (Laughs).
Dude, I already have friends in Singapore asking me to bring back your pastries. And I'm like, guys it's not going to survive the 24 hour flight back to Singapore. Yeah, no. They'll get soggy. Listen, we don't do it for hype. We do it to create great pastries. There are three of us in the kitchen — that's including myself.
You're here everyday? I'm here seven days a week. 15 hours a day.
What time do you start? We start at 5am and get out at 7 or 8pm. But for us, it's really about producing the highest amount of pastries we can, whilst above all else, maintaining the quality and consistency. Because it's not in our culture to just produce a whole bunch of pastries that neither taste good nor look good. Long-winded answer, but we open at 8am, so come here at 8 o'clock to get your full selection. Easy.
How many pastries do you make a day? Between 700 to 800 pastries currently.
Wow. And you sell out everyday? Yeah we sold out by 3pm today. But we will gradually increase our production. However, just to echo what I said, it's all about quality and consistency, not just quantity.
I know you just started, but what's the long-term plan? What's the vision? Long-term plan is to keep building up the space. We have a lot of room to grow in the kitchen back there. That's how we wanted to do it. We didn't want to get a space and then have a bottle-neck immediately; we wanted a space that we could grow into and size-up in. But also, training. All about training a group of awesome people, building up the culture in the kitchen, building up the brand Supermoon and what it represents — the quality that it stands for. And at that point, throwing our net a little further perhaps.
As in, more stores within the States? Or even abroad? Yeah. We definitely would. But right not it's too early to put a dot on the map and say this is where we want to be in six months or 10 years. It's a long-term goal, definitely. But short-term goal? Focusing on 120 Rivington Street, New York.