Ono Bakehouse is the East Bay’s first Hawaiian bakery.
Pineapple upside-down cakes aren’t on the menu at Ono Bakehouse. Desiree Valencia, who opened a bakery dedicated to Hawaiian fare, isn’t opposed to using the abundant, if arguably overused, island fruit. “I just haven’t thought of anything to do with pineapple yet,” she says.
Coconut lovers, however, will rejoice at the prospect of finding the flavor in a variety of different iterations. Valencia glazes the mini lilikoi poppyseed pound cake with coconut and passionfruit. The butter mochi is filled with a coconut custard and topped with coconut chips and macadamia nuts. Her four-inch chocolate haupia pies are topped with a coconut custard, whipped cream and coconut chips.
For now at least, the sweet taste of pineapple is on hold as Valencia slowly starts to expand the menu. She explains that, after opening the shop in December, her employees are “well-trained up” and everyone is in a good place. “Now we can focus on putting out new things,” she says.
Although Ono Bakehouse has been described elsewhere in the press as “the East Bay’s First Dedicated Hawaiian Bakery,” Valencia isn’t restricting her culinary imagination to “only Hawaiian fruits.” “I’m making whatever I think tastes good,” she says. “I’m not really sticking to a strict idea.”
When we talk about a specific flavor profile that most of the customers respond to, Valencia says, “I think everyone loves passionfruit.” It’s just one of the flavors featured in a Queen Emma cake. This guava, passionfruit and coconut chiffon cake, layered with pastel-colored mousse, is an Instagram star. She tried it for the first time at local bakeries on Maui where she grew up. Her recipe is an homage to this special-occasion cake.
Before Valencia opened Ono Bakehouse, she sold her pastries and ice cream at Oakland’s Magnolia Mini Mart. Due to health department restrictions around making ice cream in a commercial storefront, she has yet to include it on the menu. Behind the front counter, there’s a small kitchen, but making ice cream requires a separate room, she tells me. She would also have to apply for a different permit and attend to pasteurizing laws.
Valencia mentions that after finishing her degree at culinary school, she’d wanted to open an ice cream shop. But the practical reality was different than what she’d imagined. “It’s hard to make really good ice cream with only organic ingredients,” she explains. “It can be really expensive and some people don’t want to pay when there’s already so much good ice cream out there.” Since her pop-up customers liked her pastries as much as the ice cream, Valencia felt confident opening up her first brick-and-mortar venture.
Like other small business owners, Valencia made some adjustments prior to opening Ono Bakehouse during the pandemic—with mixed results. She wasn’t expecting to have to create a website for all of the orders. “We’ve been doing pre-orders, which is kind of weird,” she says. “Some people are confused by it, in terms of changing times and pickups.” It’s been a learning process of figuring out what, in normal times, she might not have had to do. Since people haven’t been out much, wandering or walking by, Valencia also uses social media as a way to bring in customers.
Last week, as outdoor and indoor dining resumed in the East Bay, Ono Bakehouse announced on IG, “Starting tomorrow we will have pastries available for walk-ins!” Meaning, there’s an end in sight to the complications of pre-ordering.
After culinary school, Valencia worked as a chef and pastry chef at Bay Area restaurants including Saison and Morimoto Napa. A few months into running her own business, she confirms that, “This is definitely something that I want to keep doing.” Most chefs, she says, dream of creating a menu. But for her, “I like being able to create a positive and warm environment.” Something that’s often hard to do at a restaurant. “I love having my own business and being in control of that.”