For the last four years, you could find Yvette Ho behind the counter at Panade, her bakery at 129 Eldridge Street, pretty much every minute the shop was open.
She mixed and baked the namesake cream puffs (“panade” is the batter for the light, airy pastries that can be sweet or savory). She churned out cookies, muffins and other sweets alongside them. She brewed the coffee, collected the money and swept the floor.
“The second my customers walked in, I knew what they wanted; people want places like that,” says Ho, 36. “I got to know my customers, and they liked being known, and the whole place would turn into therapy sessions and gossip circles.”
Baking had long been her hobby, and during a decade as an elementary school teacher, including six years at P.S. 1 on Henry Street, Ho kept an eye out for the right place to open her own business. A resident of Queens who spent a lot of her childhood and teaching career on the Lower East Side, she stumbled on an ad on CraigsList for the former Good Friend Café, which was for sale by its owners, a young couple who’d run the place less than a year. She, her sister and a friend brainstormed the cream puff idea, tailor made for the reality that there wasn’t enough space in the 250-square-foot café to undertake making yeast breads, a longer and more complicated process than quick breads like puffs and muffins.
She built a customer base without any advertising, drawing on neighbors in surrounding blocks and word of mouth.
“It felt like home, it felt like family. Everyone was really local—residents and neighborhood business owners,” she says. “It became everyone’s living room, and it was really fun, but we quickly ran out of space.”
Ho solved that problem in December by taking a big leap across the street to a much larger storefront directly opposite the old spot. A three-month renovation turned an old building supply storage space into a bright, welcoming cafe with lots of wall space to display art work curated by the neighboring Woodward Gallery. (It’s currently populated with Matt Siren’s “Ghost Girl” vinyl figures.)
After opening the new café, Ho turned the former Panade into her kitchen and production space, which allowed for an expanded menu featuring some heartier fare such as soups and sandwiches. She was also able to offer informal catering for meetings small parties and other events.
Sandwiches are $4 for a half and $7 for a whole, and include options such as Black Forest ham, brie and cucumbers, as well as hot fillings like eggs and curry chicken. The catering menu offers mini muffins in many flavor combinations, and mini puff pastries with fillings such as goat cheese, honey and walnuts, or mozzarella, tomato and basil, at $18 a dozen.
Ho has more of a staff now, and she’s not often behind the counter, because she’s across the street, up to her elbows in dough, making all the baked goods from scratch (try the cranberry-chocolate-chip cookies). But so far, the expansion is proving successful, she says. It’s a different vibe, but the regulars remain loyal, and the growing popularity of the Lower East Side south of Delancey Street is beginning to show up in her customer base.
“We’re starting to see a little bit more of the destination dining,” she says.