At the Emeryville Public Market last week, A Girl Named Pinky held a pop-up preview of baked goods to come. For three days, Chef Tina Stevens made an assortment of pretty treats. Perfectly sized for Thumbelina, the crust of one tiny tart was golden and crisp when I bit into it. The shell contained a large dollop of cream topped with a single strawberry slice. I liked the ratio! It was a charming variation on the theme of petit fours.
The pastry case also held cupcakes and three flavors of macarons—chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Living up to the company’s name, the color pink appeared on every shelf, whether it was in the frosting, in a cookie or as a fruit topping. The macaron fulfilled its primary mission to deliver a crunchy baked meringue filled to the edges with a creamy center. And the satisfying, delicately frosted cupcake, not too sweet, avoided the biggest downfall of all. It wasn’t dry.
After Stevens established her catering company, she began operating A Girl Named Pinky in an indoor kiosk on the UC Berkeley campus. When Covid-19 arrived, the University closed the entire kiosk and, shortly thereafter, didn’t renew Pinky’s lease. By chance, the chef later met someone in a cooking class who asked her if she’d heard of La Cocina.
Stevens didn’t know about the San Francisco restaurant incubator, part of whose mission is, “providing resources to women from communities of color and immigrant communities.” La Cocina helped launch the professional kitchens of both Reem Assil, of Reem’s California, and Lamees Dahbour. Dahbour ran Mama Lamees out of the same Emeryville spot where Pinky’s will soon hold their grand opening—Dahbour is still in the process of finding a new location.
Stevens subsequently applied to La Cocina’s mentorship program and was accepted. “They have a commercial kitchen,” she said, “and they offer their entrepreneurs a better rate than you can get at any other commercial kitchen.” Stevens’ menu and recipes had already been finalized, but, “La Cocina meets you where you are.” In Pinky’s case, they’ve been helping her figure out how to make the business grow. A crucial first step is coordinating the short-term lease at the Public Market.
“Starting off small, at least for us, was perfect,” Stevens said. “Because it takes a ton of money to say, ‘I want to build a space out.’” That’s not something Pinky was equipped to do at first. As a pop up, catering and making wedding cakes were the best ways to generate income and to establish her name in the community.“We were the go-to place for desserts for a lot of people,” she said, “but the ultimate goal is to have a place where our customers know they can find us.”
Her vision for A Girl Named Pinky also includes the addition of a savory menu. Stevens said that anybody who’s tried her food knows she’s a wonderful cook and baker. Another part of her long-term goal is to open a restaurant and bar where, “you can come in and have a beautiful sit-down meal and have celebrations.”
Stevens’ menu, she said, sprang from a straightforward idea. “I based everything on what me and my family like to eat. I just love pretty things, so my brand is based on what looks good and what tastes good.” Without divulging what gives her carrot cake its specific kick, she said it’s spicier than most. “It does not have nuts or raisins because, to me, that’s a fruit cake. A true carrot cake only has carrots in it and a little spice.”
For the next couple of weeks, Stevens will get to know her new work space, install signage, fix a broken mixer and train her employees. “We’re going to try for a grand opening on January 15th—but I can’t predict everything that might go wrong—but at the latest, February 1st.” Once she’s settled in place, Stevens says she’ll add some savory items to the menu too.
Many of Pinky’s former customers from Berkeley showed up in Emeryville last week. “It was wonderful for them to come out,” she said, adding, “And I met some regulars at the Public Market. They said they’re happy we’re there, because they needed a place to buy desserts. So that’s encouraging!”