Today we’d like to introduce you to Justin Gaspar.
Hi Justin, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I knew from an early age I wanted to work in food. Initially learning how to bake with my Mom and Grandma, I really fell in love with it in high school when I began to hustle, selling cookie muffins and cake jars to students and staff out of duffel bags. I loved that the harder I worked, the more I made, so I started expanding and had some of my friends as distributors in different cliques around campus. This was when I really decided to take the leap, and in 2014, I graduated, enrolled in culinary school, mostly on scholarship and some money saved up from selling cookies, and started at SJSU for Business Admin and Entrepreneurship. During that time, I graduated from the International Culinary Center with a pastry arts diploma. I worked my way through different kitchens all over the Bay Area to try and find what I was really passionate about. I knew I’d need real kitchen experience if I was going to grow (a one-day stage with Pastry Chef Mimi Mendoza made that very clear).
I continued taking classes towards my degree at SJSU, but I spent most of my time working on business plans and applying theories and concepts to the food industry. In the mornings, I worked doing mousse cakes, tarts and fine pastry at a small French patisserie, did large volume cookies and cakes at a catering company, slung pizzas in the evenings, and helped a pop-up on Palo Alto. Only after I did all this did I realize croissants were my passion. Starting then at Manresa Bread, I grew and learned who I wanted to be as a cook in the industry, as it was an incredible example of how a business in the food industry should treat its employees. I also learned that I was spreading myself too thin and decided I should make more strategic moves to achieve my goals. I was working too many jobs, sleeping in my car between shifts and school because there was no time to go home, and I began to realize the tech-oriented business concepts I was being taught were not necessarily applicable to my industry or my future aspirations. All of these factors and more led to my decision to drop out of school during my third year.
From there, I saved money, left Manresa and made plans to move to San Diego with the opportunity to partner with a coffee roaster. After arriving, the company rescinded its offer, and we were left without jobs. The very next day, we were out networking and building a pop-up business plan. We promised ourselves we’d hustle or die trying regardless of how much was against us. We made all of the mistakes you could think of and even took up Lyft driving through the night to make ends meet. After several more failures, we were introduced to brother and sister duo Willy Hwa and Karine Beers: two humble, Chinese, French-speaking café owners from Madagascar. Anticipating the move to a larger location, the expansion finally allowed them to pursue their long-time dream of opening a bakery/bistro. They hired us on, gave us a contract, took care of us and our cooks, and saw value in what we wanted to do. They put people before profits, understanding that we needed to do our part to change the wages and negative normalcies of kitchen life.
Sean finally had a place to cook his French-Vietnamese fusion food without scrutiny, judgment, or prejudice, and I had to the creative opportunity to bake products that pay “Hommage” to all the tastes and experiences that brought me here. Most importantly, we had a team of people working together who believed in building a business that takes care of its people.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Hommage is thriving, even expanding to a larger location, but that didn’t come easily. From several failed partnership attempts before opening Hommage, barely making ends meet, the struggles of COVID, and one problem we never thought we’d have, growing too fast, we’ve learned so many lessons that have all manifested into our current workplace culture. 2021 has brought new opportunities, and now we have 18 different bread and pastry wholesale accounts around town, with more in the works. We also have a nearly sold-out café in PB (La Clochette du Coin) that has become a staple outing in the community on the weekends.
Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Hommage Bakehouse?
“Hommage” is to honor all the tastes and experiences that we all grew up with, encouraging our bakers to utilize their creative freedom incorporating flavors from their upbringings and culture. Each and every bread and pastry made is a tribute to a moment, a memory in time that defined our journey to get where we are today. We source specific ingredients and use modern techniques to share the very best our team can offer and stay true to our aspirations of taking care of our staff: paying wages far above the industry standard, appropriate work-life balance, PTO and say in what we choose to serve. We hope to offer benefits in 2022 to full-time workers.
Curating the menu inclusive of classics like the Baguette, Levain (country loaf), Kouign Amann, and Croissant, we’ve progressed into less traditional pastries like the Ube Bibingka Custard Buns and Portal Pockets (a modern take on the 90’s cult classic, the “Hot Pocket”), while still Offering a year-round menu of classics and seasonal flavors, utilizing the freshest in-season ingredients.
We are currently expanding to a new, bigger location in Sorrento Valley and are looking forward to increasing production and expanding on our current offerings. We also have our sights set on partnering with more businesses in the community and maybe even starting a subscription service in the next year!
Brendan Cleak at One Apparatus