By ERIC HAYASHI, Rafu Shimpo
The smell of fresh baked bread in the morning always brings smile to my face and my mouth starts watering. As I stepped into Cream Pan Bakery in Fountain Valley, my eyes opened wide and my mouth dropped open from the amount of different products available.
There were breads, cakes, croissants, muffins and various pastries. Although most famous for their strawberry croissants — flaky, buttery confections filled with fresh berries and custard — Cream Pan Bakery has so much more to offer.
Yoshinori Inada, originally from Osaka, learned to bake while working at a part-time job after graduating high school. The bakery had an oven that did not have a thermostat. The head baker would put his arm in the oven and tell the employees the temperature. Inada remembered that one time the head baker burnt off the hair on his arm. That oven was too hot.
In 1988, at age 19, Inada quit his part-time job and moved to New York to work at a bakery. He spent two months there before getting hired as the head and only baker in Brookline, Mass.
Inada stated he has a few recipes from Japan, but also spent two weeks in Minnesota, where he learned from a French baker to really understand how to make doughs. During his 12 years in Brookline, Inada perfected many of the recipes he uses for his products. He credits the owner for being very honest with his opinions and giving constructive criticism to create a better product.
In 2000, Inada set out to create his own bakery by driving a pickup truck across the U.S. looking for the perfect location. The search started in Boston and took him to New York, Washington, D.C., South Carolina, then west to California. He crossed the country twice before deciding on opening his first Cream Pan Bakery in Tustin in 2002.
“We opened in 2002, in January. I thought we would be busy, but there was no business,” Inada recalled. “Every day, I throw away everything. I don’t sell anything the next day. Even the rolls and bread loaves, even though they are still soft, I throw them away. Every day, I do not have anything sold the next day.
“I came up with the strawberry croissants, name is Cream Pan, and it was more popular at that time, but now strawberry croissants are the most popular. When I started making the strawberry croissants, they were big and did not sell many. Now, I make them small, about half-size, and they sell. I don’t remember how I came up with the idea, but strawberry and fresh fruits look pretty.”
Inada said of his first bakery, “It was 1,100 square feet. It was small, tiny, but I am very happy.”
He decided on Fountain Valley for his second location and opened just as the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The second location was designed to house all the bread and cake making facilities. Inada was asked how it was opening at that time. “March, April and May were very bad, but better than the restaurant people. People are always asking, ‘Why are you growing?’ I say, ‘I only lucky. I am always lucky.’”
Now over a year into the pandemic, the bakery goes through at least four pallets of flour and sugar each week making the delicious baked goods.
Inada admitted his favorite thing to make is the baguette. As most bakers know, baguettes are the most difficult to make as the dough is never the same. It has to do with the humidity in the air, the temperature and the yeast. Inada said baking now is much easier than when he learned and he enjoys it daily.
During the tour of the bakery, Inada proudly stated he had to purchase a new, larger mixer that mixes about 500 pounds of dough per batch. Each day, his team of bakers starts between 8 and 9 p.m. to produce 12 or 13 different doughs. Baking begins around 11 p.m.
According to Inada, strawberry croissants are baked and filled at each location throughout the day. In addition, they average 6,000 strawberry croissants per day during the week, double on the weekends and 30,000 during the holidays.
I asked if there were plans for expansion or maybe a restaurant; Inada jokingly said maybe an udon shop because it uses the same flour as the breads. Hopefully we will see fresh udon at his third location in Lomita. The Lomita Cream Pan Bakery should open in the spring of 2022.
When the new location opens, I will be there ordering my new favorite item, the almond croissant. It seems flakier and more buttery than the strawberry croissant; and has a generous amount of marzipan and sliced almonds on the top.
I know I will need to get there early, as Inada said he will not sell any products a day old in order to keep his quality control.
602 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780
15945 Harbor Blvd.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708