On a Friday afternoon Cristina Nishioka is leaning against the communal table at the front of her pastry shop begging her auntie for fresh ube. They are surrounded by shelves of vintage glassware and locally made ceramics. The pastry case to their right is empty except for a few cookies.
Nishioka immigrated from the Philippines and has traveled the world perfecting her craft. After she was born in Manila she grew up in the Laguna Province and then moved to Quezon City where she enrolled into her first baking program and began working at Julie’s Bakeshop – a Filipino franchise that has been in business over 40 years.
Here, Nishioka worked her way up from a dishwasher to a baker to eventually managing eight bakeshops, while simultaneously earning a history degree with a minor in anthropology from the University of Philippines. After eight years of hustling for Julie’s, Nishioka told her boss she wanted to “see the world.”
Nishioka headed to Qatar where she worked as a pastry chef for two years learning French technique. When a job opportunity baking pastries in Singapore arose, she hopped a plane and moved again. While in Singapore, Nishioka found a new passion when she began teaching at a baking college as a pastry instructor.
“Thatʻs what I loved the most,” she said. “That was my perfect job. Better quality of life. Not production life, but still making things and teaching.”
Life happens and soon a new opportunity surfaced. After dating her partner long distance for one and a half years, Nishioka visited Hawai’i for the first time to meet her girlfriend’s family. When she returned to Singapore her girlfriend proposed and in less than a year Nishioka was starting over again in another new country.
Beyond Pastry Studio was an idea in the making when Nishioka moved to O’ahu in 2015. She had journaled about opening a baking studio located in the middle of Honolulu, but first she needed to establish her credibility as a pastry chef, which she did working for the renowned Alan Wongs and 3660 on the Rise.
In January 2021 Nishioka started popping up at Fishcake in Kakaʻako – an artistʻs studio and retail space with revolving pop-up restaurants. Here, she lured customers with cinnamon babka, lilikoi cheesecake, light-as-air coconut milk breads and compound butters for schmearing. The idea was to do a test run for three months and if it proved to be successful she would go for a brick-and-mortar space.
A few months later, in the middle of a pandemic, she pursued the dream she had been manifesting since 2015 and opened her studio in downtown Honolulu.
“The calling was so strong,” Nishioka said. “It was just screaming at me, ʻyou need to do something!’ I didnʻt know where to get money. I didnʻt know how it was going to work out. I didnʻt know this place was gonna magically appear in my lap. Everything just fell into place.”
Nishioka’s pastry case reflects her extensive travels. Every year she goes somewhere new to take a class and discover new techniques. There are Filipino pastries of course, many she learned during her time at Julie’s, but you will also find French, Middle Eastern and South East Asian inspired treats too.
“I donʻt go to mainland United States,” Nishioka said, “I go back to Asia. I go back to Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and attend classes and learn something, not just in the course but by traveling.”
There is no menu at Beyond Pastry Studio, just Nishioka’s imagination and extensive repertoire. In addition to asking her aunties for locally grown ube – because she would never use ube extract – Nishioka sources fresh coconut for coconut pie, enormous jackfruits for jackfruit upside-down cake and summer mangos for mango-pineapple Spanish rolls.
You would think when tasting her ube ensaymadas and pandesal adobo nests she has been making these Filipino pastries since she was born, but that is not the case.
“The baking culture in the Filipino culture is non-existent,” Nishioka explained. “It’s not something that you do at home … There’s no such thing as ʻmy grandma taught me how to make this cake,ʻ because we donʻt have ovens. If you need cake you go to the bakery.”
If you show up to Beyond Pastry Studio on your lunch break you are going to be too late. Nishioka’s pastries, especially the Filipino ones, are so popular they often sell out before they even reach the shelf.
“Sometimes I’m still mixing the dough and the customer is like, ʻI want six of those I’m going to come back!” Cristina said.
The success of the studio comes from word-of-mouth recommendations in the community she has created. A customer will visit one day, bring their co-worker the next day and soon the whole office knows about it. She said the support of the community makes her feel like she is going in the right direction.
“You donʻt see this story every day,” Nishioka said. “You donʻt see an immigrant…minority. Iʻm LGBTE, Iʻm gay and I’m a woman. I feel like I check all the boxes. You donʻt often see that person open something up in the middle of the pandemic. People saw that and were like, ‘We’re here. We’re gonna root for you.’ I couldnʻt wrap my head around it that I started as a pop-up.”
When Nishioka created her business plan she used an approach outlined in W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne’s book, “Blue Ocean Strategy,” to create a new concept and demand.
“I didnʻt want to be another bakery,” she said. “When I decided to have a business my mentality was, ʻI donʻt want to be in a red ocean.’ That was the foundation of everything. I didnʻt want to compete.”
While Nishioka is producing her dessert art in the kitchen, local artists display their ceramics and other crafts in the front of the shop on a monthly curated rotation. The studio is a community space where artists and pastry chefs collaborate and learn from each other.
Nishioka looks forward to getting back to teaching and will start offering public baking workshops in January 2022.
“You learn more by teaching, and you grow more if you share,” she said. “I didnʻt want to be that person that guards everything. For me there’s always an abundance of everything and the more you share with people the more people do a good job.”
Each workshop will focus on a different technique that students can easily recreate at home. For example, she may teach a class on how to make biscuits and offer several variations.
“We’re not a school with a curriculum,” she said. “We are more here to empower the home bakers and just have fun.” Adding on, with a giggle, that students are encouraged to BYOB.
Although she enjoys painting and drawing at home, her classes will be strictly edible.
“I appreciate art, but I don’t know if I can call myself an artist in a way thatʻs comparable to these people,” she said pointing to her retail space. “I’m a baker.”
The goal is for everyone in the space to uplift each other versus competing with one another.
“It’s a playground for us,” Nishioka said. “For chefs. For artists. I hope that will bring change with how we think. The old kitchens are so guarded and competitive and toxic. Empowering people, that’s what I’m here for.”
Visit Beyond Pastry Studio next time you are in downtown Honolulu. Pre-order from the website or take a gamble and walk in. Just be prepared for an empty case if you arrive near closing time.
Beyond Pastry Studio 1067 Alakea St, Honolulu, HI 96813 Tues-Fri 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Paid parking is available next door at Alii Parking Garage. beyondpastrystudio.com
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