Of Bread and Business
posted by Stephanie in Indulgences
One of the things I love the most about living in Manila is being able to reconnect with old friends and see what they done and how far along they’ve come. Unlike with older generations, such as the one of my sister, most people who studied abroad for university ended up settling there and never moving back. I find more and more with my own circle of friends from high school and those a few years above and a few years below have slowly decided to come back after a few years living away and bring back their expertise to make something wonderful in our home country.
I have known Stephanie Brimo for wow, over 15 years now and she is one such example. Having studied at the Culinary Institute of America where she worked simultaneously for Chef John Besh at Restaurant August in New Orleans she loved the kitchen but eventually after graduation worked as the Assistant Manager of Food and Beverage at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto. After three years she felt it was time to go back to the kitchen and made the move to the capital of gorgeous pastries Paris where she studied at the Ecole Escoffier at the Ritz with the intention of coming back to Manila afterwards to open her own restaurant. There is no one who knows more about the difficulties of opening a new concept from scratch than myself which is why I find it both so intelligent and at the same time brave that Stephanie decided to takeover an existing concept – Jipan.
“I heard from my family that JiPan was going to close up shop because the original owner, a family friend, wanted to move back to Japan. Having grown up on their breads, I felt like it would be a waste for it to close, and so I offered to take it over and run with it.” Explains Stephanie. “From personal experience and in talking to so many people about it, JiPan really does have a great reputation for making excellent quality breads and great food. To this day we still bake all our breads fresh every morning, we don’t use preservatives and chemicals or mixes, and we do 3 deliveries a day to each of our stores. Sometimes, breads arrive at the store still warm from the oven. “
While the existing structures are there which make it seem easier to build on, taking over an existing concept has its own daunting complications. How does one rebrand without changing the essence and losing its original fan base while still finding ways to make it your own?
Today Jipan has been voted one of the Top Ten Places for Delicious Breads in Manila by spot.ph and is poised for expansion – a testament to her success! Stephanie shares her insights with us here at The Gypsetters Net as well as tips for entrepreneurs wanting to take over existing brands and concepts. She also explains what exactly are Japanese Bread and Pastry because frankly it’s something that I was never really quite familiar with. I mean we all know two main schools of baking which is French or European Classic and American… We get to find out about this strange hybrid of asian and western flavors that hail for the land of the rising sun. It’s an inspiring story and one that will make you hungry!
Love and light, Stephanie
The Gypsetters Net: “Explain the concept behind Japanese style breads, it’s not your usual, traditional French type bakery.”
Stephanie Brimo: “I have found that there are two main Japanese bread categories: one which were created solely by the Japanese, such as the Anpan (a soft sweet bread with a filling of sweetened red bean paste invented in Tokyo) and the Melon Pan (a soft bread enveloped in a sugary, cookie-like shell), and the other category, which are breads that have been influenced by or adapted from countries around the world. These include English loaf bread, Milk breads, Danish breads, and baguettes, which have all become staples in Japanese Bakeries. I think the primary difference between Japanese and French breads is the texture. The softness and the pillowy texture of Japanese-style loaf breads are quite unique to this type of baking, whereas the breads from a traditional boulangerie are delightfully chewy and somewhat tougher. It’s almost like the Japanese added a finesse to the hearty rustic breads that are common in European countries. The playfulness of the breads and pastries found in a Japanese bakery is also really unique and interesting. There is so much variety and creativity put into making the different flavors of breads like our Okonomiyaki Pan (bread baked together with a topping of Japanese seafood pancake and topped with bonito flakes) and our Spicy Vegetable Curry Pan (vegetable curry with a hint of spice baked on top of a soft savory bread).”
TGN: “It’s been around for awhile but you’ve recently revamped it, what new things have you brought to the table that differ from the old Jipan?”
SB: “We didn’t take the rebranding lightly at all. We’re so blessed that JiPan has very loyal customers, but this also made us hesitant to completely change everything. We built on and enhanced what was already there. Our breads are 100% the same, still made by the same people using the same ingredients from 22 years ago. JiPan became somewhat of an institution because of these products. What we did tweak in a major way was the brand image and the store design and menu. We wanted to streamline the items we offer so that we could better concentrate on the quality of our food. We took it down from 6 full legal sized pages to a more concise offering of Japanese café fare. We made sure to keep the old favorites that were (and are still) top sellers, and we added new items to freshen up the choices. Sushi Pizzas are new as well as some of the Japanese- style pastas and sushi rolls. The pastry display changes quite a lot as well. This is where I’m able to get my hands dirty. I get to test out new recipes, have fun with new and interesting flavors, put my spin on classics, and see how the customers respond to it. Sometimes it’s a hit and sometimes it’s back to the drawing board!”
TGN: “Where do you see Jipan going in the near future?”
SB: “We’re opening a fourth branch at the new Capitol Commons mall, Estancia on Sept. 2014, and we’re about to renovate our commissary branch on Pilar St. in Mandaluyong. We’re constantly coming up with new menu items to try. We have a couple of sushi rolls and healthier menu items in the works, which I’m really excited about. For the bakery, we’ve recently put out a couple of new mousse flavors (hazelnut, cappuccino, and milk chocolate) and a Baklava Sticky Bun loaded with nuts, honey, and orange blossom water. We have a long list of things to try in the test kitchen that we play with when time permits. I guess you could say that we never really sit still at JiPan and I hope we keep doing more of the same in the future!”
TGN: “Major challenges in the beginning?”
SB: “My main challenges were in the business end of it. I had a difficult time adjusting to the business practices in the Philippines because all of my work experience had been abroad. I hate to say that I was “culture shocked”, but I really think I was. It was a rough start implementing proper procedures, correct processes—many things that the team was used to, but it has paid off so much. It’s great to be able to look back and see how much you’ve accomplished with a great team of people.”
TGN: “Advice for starting entrepreneurs taking over an existing concept.”
SB: “My advice for anyone would be not to lose heart. It’s constant juggling and troubleshooting but don’t worry too much, if you drop a ball you can always pick it up again. Make sure you try harder the next time and tweak what didn’t work before. Chose who you trust wisely but don’t cry when you get burned. There’s no crying in baseball! It’s going to happen at least once but you’ll grow a thicker skin and move on, I promise! Recharge your battery! Take a time-out when you have the chance to get away from the city and clear your head. When you get back from that trip, you’ll feel better and make better decisions.”
SB: “Our top 3 best sellers in the bakery are the Monroe Bread, Raisin Walnut French Bread, and Maple Croissants. At the cafe the top 3 sellers are the Dynamite Roll, Seafood Ramen, and Chuukara Ramen. But my personal favorites are the Spicy Tuna Salad and the Dynamite Roll. From the bakery, I can never resist the House Bread and the Monroe. The Thick toast is also so perfect for making stuffing or French toast!”
TGN: “If you could make any item what would it be? Ingredients, equipment, chefs… anything you need to make it would theoretically be available to you.”
SB: “This is a tough one! I’m going to change the question a tiny bit! Sorry!
My dream would be to work on the line under Dan Barber, Thomas Keller, and David Chang. I’m really passionate about fresh ingredients prepared masterfully and to be able to work for, to be trained by, and even to get yelled at by those Chefs would really be dream come true!”
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We are two friends who were former magazine editors. Having moved onto other things, we both realized that the creative flow the publishing world used to offer us was missing from our lives. Armed with a common love of travel to the exotic and familiar, a penchant for the bohemian, an obsession with food and a lust for writing, we decided to collaborate our unique and fashionable journeys through life together in one passion project.
We are The Gypsetters.