Looking around the test kitchen at Y. Hata in Sand Island, you’d think the chefs were opening a restaurant.
And you wouldn’t have been entirely wrong.
The four apron-clad workers — surrounded by containers of spices, bags of flour, ovens, racks, KitchenAid mixers and every pot and utensil you could ever imagine — were experimenting with recipes for breakfast biscuits, hearty skillets and robust salads for Magnolia Bakery Cafe, a new concept for the beloved bakery chain that’s opening up in the new ‘ewa wing at Ala Moana Center in November. This will be its first location in Hawai‘i.
The New York City-based bakery, known for its cupcakes and banana pudding, will be one of several new merchants to open as part of this multimillion-dollar expansion project. Other tenants include Agent Provocateur, Kay Jewelers, Nitrogenie and Zara.
Magnolia Bakery, which started in 1996 in NYC’s West Village, now has locations around the world, including Tokyo, Mexico City, Moscow, Seoul, Abu Dhabi, Beirut and Kuwait City. These are all bakeries specializing in classic American baked goods like cakes, icebox pies, brownies, muffins and cheesecakes. But some of its shops in the Middle East serve savory items — a requirement from the shopping malls in which they’re located — though nothing to the scale and magnitude of the cafe planned for Honolulu.
“We really didn’t have the time or infrastructure to create a lunch menu (in the Middle East),” said Bobbie Lloyd, co-owner and chief baking officer of Magnolia Bakery, who was mentoring her chefs on the art of making biscuits. “So we had a simple menu. Just a few salads and a few sandwiches, that’s it.”
For the 3,700-square-foot cafe at Ala Moana Center, however, she had to come up with breakfast, lunch, dinner and — of course — dessert fare for a restaurant that will seat up to 66 people.
And for someone like Lloyd, who attended the Modern Gourmet Cooking School in Boston and has opened restaurants and even served as a private chef for Calvin and Kelly Klein, this was a daunting but exciting challenge.
“I was a chef in my first life, I have a lot of friends who are chefs, and I love to eat good food,” she explained. “When my partner (Steve Abrams) and I bought the bakery at the end of 2006, (a cafe) was always on the back burner. I have always loved breakfast foods, so to have a full-service cafe along with the bakery seems like a natural fit.”
Here’s how it will work: In the ‘ewa (Sears) wing, which is slated to open on Nov. 12, there will be a freestanding bakery, where you can grab all of Magnolia’s signature baked goods and desserts. Nearby will be the Magnolia Bakery Cafe, the brand’s first sit-down, full-service restaurant in the United States. The menu will feature breakfast all day long, with items like egg skillets, pancakes, biscuit sandwiches and seasonal salads, as well as the brand’s iconic homemade desserts.
Lloyd pulled out a tray of freshly baked biscuits — a recipe she came up with a long time ago when her daughter, now 13, wanted to learn how to make them — and drizzled honey on the side.
“Here,” she said, pointing to the tray of perfectly golden square-shaped biscuits. “Try them. We’re going to make sandwiches out of these.”
The biscuits were deceivingly light, with a crispy outer crust that I really liked — but the chefs didn’t — and the perfect consistency to be cut and filled.
And filled they will be! Lloyd plans on filling them with pulled pork, onions and jalapeños. Or eggs and bacon. Or avocado and tomatoes. And the biscuits won’t just be plain, either. She has recipes for biscuits with dill, cheddar and black pepper, and scallions.
Magnolia Bakery has long been known for one single dessert: the banana pudding, made with layers of vanilla wafers, fresh bananas and a creamy vanilla pudding. It’s easily one of the best desserts I’ve ever had, perfect in every way — and you can buy them in sizes from small cups to the insanely huge double bowl that serves 20 people.
When I was in New York City last, I literally went to Magnolia Bakery every single day, almost always ordering the banana pudding — small size — or one of its equally famous cupcakes.
Of course, the bakery will be serving this specialty here — it sells well at every location, including the ones in the Middle East — but there’s a new menu item that might top that: banana pudding pancakes. It’s in testing right now.
“We’re coming up with pancakes that reflect the baked goods (at the bakery),” Lloyd said.
Genius, I thought to myself.
Other pancake flavors will include red velvet, carrot (as in cake) and its popular hummingbird, a flavor of cupcake that features a banana-pineapple-pecan cake with a sweet cream cheese icing. And she’s introducing dutch babies, a popular breakfast item in her home, baked in a 6-inch cast iron pan.
Uh, yes please.
Along with pancakes, Lloyd has come up with a variety of salads, skillets and sandwiches she’s super excited about. So much so, she pulled out her iPhone and showed me photos of them. A classic Cobb salad. A beet — not beef! — carpaccio. A Reuben bake with an egg on top. (“If it’s breakfast, you always gotta have an egg on top,” Lloyd said, smiling.)
While she plans on using local ingredients whenever possible, she wants to keep the menu true to its NYC roots.
And that means, for now, there’s no rice anywhere on the cafe menu.
“We’re still discussing it,” she said.
Magnolia Bakery and Magnolia Bakery Cafe will open on Nov. 12 at Ala Moana Center, ‘ewa wing. Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Follow on Instagram @magnoliabakeryhawaii.