A Niche Market in Asian-style Bakeries: Sweet Dreams Bakery & Bubble Tea

By: Iris An 

(All images are provided by Sweet Dreams Bakery & Bubble Tea, used with permission) 

YiMemg Wang is the owner of Sweet Dreams Bakery & Bubble Tea, a bakery on Cool Springs Blvd., in Franklin, Tennessee, which specializes in pies, cheesecakes, egg tarts, breads and bubble tea. In this interview, YiMeng shared her story of establishing her own business and the most essential factors and long-term strategies in the food service industry from her unique perspective. 

(more introduction of YiMeng’s fantastic bakery is below this article!)

IA: What made you decide to establish your own business? 

YM: My husband and I both enjoyed making and tasting bakeries and desserts, and we have noticed for a long time that there is a huge lack of supply in Asian desserts. 

The detailed plan began in 2017. The store was chosen in 2018.  At the time, there were stores with all kinds of locations, categories, and shop styles available for purchase, but I felt it was most necessary to select a style that was close to my own style and in keeping with our own styles. We purchased this store at the end of 2018, redecorated it, and reopened it in 2019.

IA: What was the most difficult part of opening an Asian Bakery in such a competitive market?

YM: The most difficult aspect is creating new products. To determine whether a new product is successful or not, you must provide it for an extended period of time. Even if it appears that customers are not interested in these new products at first, you must not give up in the first few days. Only after a long period of time, when customers begin to notice and decide to try it, can you be certain of its popularity. In other words, you have to be patient in order to give people time to choose their favorite flavors.

For example, we tried but eventually abandoned the four-inch pie. On the one hand, pie was not difficult for the patissier to create; it was comparable to a cookie with certain contents. Pies, on the other hand, were freely available as a classic American dessert at all bakeries and even grocery shops. It’s difficult to tell our pies apart from those of other stores.

Egg tarts remain the top-selling product, but they require the most complicated manufacturing process, and although demand is high, supply is limited. To solve this problem, we must either hire more people or use machines to prepare egg tarts.

Milk tea has been increasingly popular throughout the years. Our key advantage is our excellent relationships with good suppliers. Milk tea is very dependent on suppliers; if the raw materials and spices are good when purchased, the finished product will be excellent.

For each new product, we must go through a long trial period, continually modifying the recipe. After the guests have tasted and approved it, we seek to improve the production timeline by sourcing local high quality ingredients,finding new machines to replace some work, and eventually employ machine production lines to reduce labor. In general, a product cycle of 3-4 years is optimal because we would have enough time to source ingredients, find appropriate machines, and . Four years after opening the store, our products have been thoroughly tested.

At first, we used to target Asian rather than American customers, but we’ve gradually changed and believe that the best situation is for us to be able to accommodate both. Because American clients like sweeter pastries and Asian customers prefer lighter pastries, we are constantly adapting so that we can reach a happy balance. 

IA: What inspires you to design new products?

YM: Oh, there are so many things! Many people will come in and ask whether we have a certain food available. If we don’t, we will examine whether to add it later. Many Southeast Asian flavored snacks and particular flavored cakes, for example, are designed in this manner. In addition, if we have any leftover raw materials, we consider what we can do with them. Other ideas might be discovered in magazines and newspapers. We will discuss what we read, what we think, and work together to come up with fresh ideas.

IA: What is a moment that made you feel happy, and that made all your hard work worth it

YM: On holidays or weekends, the store gets so crowded that new customers have to wait outside! The sweets are sold out as soon as they are ready and we run out of mink tea!

We were lucky to have a lot of traffic when we initially opened the business since the bakery is in a commercial area. Many people passed by and stopped in since we were new. Over time, we built a loyal customer base and became a well known bakery in the community.

Watching the sweets selling out is always touching as well. I want the food I offer in my store to always be fresh and new. A business standard of ours is that the products are always fresh and made that day. Products selling out is a rewarding reminder that we are making products our customers love. That is an amazing feeling! 

IA: How did the covid-19 pandemic impact your business? How are you recovering?

YM: We had to close the store for nearly six months during the worst of the pandemic. We reopened the store in January 2021, but only for in-person pickup of online orders. Overall, the impact on business has been minimal, however, we had to reduce our opening hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. to 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., and are now closed on Sunday. 

In terms of hiring, most high school students come to work in the afternoon from 3:00 to 7:00, but we lost the majority of them during the pandemic. It has recently largely recovered, with an increasing number of high school students returning to work with us. It is easier to make milk tea than to be a waiter or waitress, so our store is quite popular for kids who want a part-time job.

During the pandemic, the supply chain we depend on to make our products was not affected. Milk tea, for example, became even more popular, which helped us stay afloat and is a sign of growing customer groups.

IA: What are business goals for 2022, and where do you see yourself and the bakery in 10 years? 

YM: Prior to the pandemic, our bakery was quite small. Following the pandemic, our long-term goal is to expand, build branches, and launch more extensive products. 

A big concern is still employee shortage and recruitment.  We are trying to hire more professional pastry cooks. This will allow us to not only restore our previous hours of operation, but also, ideally, to offer breakfast. We would prefer to be open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The present hours are still insufficient for both breakfast and lunch, losing a substantial amount of traffic. If we can get enough employees, we can set up a shift system and stay open all day.

We have resumed Sunday operations and are in the stage of adding breakfast service and designing breakfast goods. Overall, the program is still in its early stages, and there is little product variety. We are willing to experiment with both American and Asian breakfast products and then adjust based on customer response. Jianbing, a traditional Chinese street food similar to pancakes, for example, sells well in New York, and we have the equipment to make them, but it remains to be seen how well they will sell in Nashville. These asian pancakes are a very healthful and delectable breakfast dish, so we expect them to be accepted well. As students and office professionals are often rushing for time in the morning, a nutritious and time-saving breakfast category will be perfect!

Sweet Dreams Bakery & Bubble Tea is located on 443 Cool Springs Blvd #115 Franklin, TN 37067. Welcome to check out their website, yelp page, and FaceBook!

A huge thank to YiMeng for this interview, and thank you Eric for introducing me to this lovely business!

By Iris An

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