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HomeFoodIn New Orleans, Dong Phuong Bakery’s King Muffins Reign Supreme

In New Orleans, Dong Phuong Bakery’s King Muffins Reign Supreme


New Orleanians in quest of town’s finest king cake typically journey down Chef Menteur Freeway till they hit what appears to be like to be an strange, nondescript car parking zone. However alongside it sits one of many metropolis’s most extraordinary bakeries.

The silhouette of Dong Phuong Bakery & Restaurant at 14207 Chef Menteur Freeway — its title emblazoned atop the institution in shiny letters, each English and Vietnamese — confirms to guests that they’ve arrived. Throughout Carnival season, they’ve to hitch the queue of shoppers lining the size of the constructing earlier than they get their arms on a coveted field of the bakery’s king cake.

In a metropolis the place eating places typically rise and fall, a bakery based by South Vietnamese refugees within the early Eighties succeeded in elevating New Orleans’s popularity as the most effective meals cities on the planet — and positioned the ingenuity and resilience of its Vietnamese group firmly within the highlight. Dong Phuong, as New Orleanians comprehend it now, was constructed over 4 a long time by three generations of a single household. Though the enterprise first began as a haven for the Vietnamese group, members of the Tran household contributed to its explosive recognition, one recipe at a time: Huong Tran’s mooncakes, De Tran’s bánh mì baguettes, and the household’s king truffles that ultimately earned them nationwide recognition.

Immediately, the bakery sells a number of flavors of its buttery brioche king truffles, together with almond, coconut, pecan, cinnamon, and cream cheese — the latter its hottest. Dong Phuong’s model eschews king cake custom: Its layered, tender dough is folded, not braided, and the truffles, whereas flatter than some, are usually not dense. They’re ring-less, that means extra cake to get pleasure from, and are available with out the plastic child. The frivolously whipped frosting is airier and much less candy than many others on the town. A January 2024 story from The Washington Submit studies that the bakery sells someplace within the vary of 60,000 truffles, every taking three days to finish, throughout Carnival season. They’ve gained a lot acclaim that Dong Phuong even limits the variety of truffles allowed per buyer for preorders and walk-ins.

Huong Tran wearing a light pink button-up shirt, standing in a kitchen piping vanilla icing onto a cupcake.

Dong Phuong’s icing is delicately candy.
Offered by Linh Garza

Huong Tran, her hair cut short, wearing a pink sweater and standing behind a counter stacked with trays of pastries, with a bronze mural on the wall behind her.

Huong Tran’s mooncakes are particularly beloved.
Offered by Linh Garza

“For 2 months out of the yr, we have now individuals who’ve by no means stepped foot in New Orleans East come out,” Linh Garza, Dong Phuong’s president and De and Huong Tran’s daughter, says. However that wasn’t at all times the case for the restaurant, which operated with the identical title beneath totally different possession earlier than the Tran household purchased and re-established it in 1981. The bakery opened shortly after in 1982. The quick story is that this: Garza’s grandmother, Lieng Tran, then employed by Dong Phuong — one of many space’s solely Vietnamese eating places on the time — discovered a possibility to purchase the enterprise along with her household and did so, holding its unique title.

However the household’s journey to New Orleans really started in 1978, when Garza, then one yr previous, and her kinfolk fled Việt Nam to flee the conflict. Throughout their preliminary keep at a Malaysian refugee camp, her household utilized to stay in a number of nations, together with Australia, Canada, and the U.S. Her father’s childhood pal, who resided in New Orleans, sponsored the household, they usually resettled in New Orleans East within the late Seventies, constructing a brand new house amongst its Vietnamese diasporic group. The majority of that inhabitants initially gravitated towards the suburb’s Versailles group or West Jefferson, in accordance with the Louisiana Folklife Program.

In 1975, the U.S. Catholic Convention and its dioceses all through Louisiana began serving to among the refugees resettle within the Pelican State. New Orleans East largely hosted the newcomers due to the provision of housing constructed within the Nineteen Sixties for the world’s Nationwide Aeronautics and House Administration presence, in accordance with the American Historic Affiliation. Vietnamese refugees in Louisiana predominantly hailed from northern Việt Nam — extra particularly, the township of Phát Diệm and the Roman Catholic diocese of Bùi Chu.

Rising up within the Versailles space in New Orleans, Garza felt extra intently related to her Vietnamese tradition than Crescent Metropolis traditions: celebrating Tết, or Lunar New 12 months, and the Mid-Autumn Competition inside her group. Louisiana provided some parallels to Việt Nam, with its distinguished fishing and shrimping industries, scorching and humid local weather, and the colonial remnants of the French language scattered all through the state and within the metropolis itself. However its quintessential customs, like Mardi Gras, second traces, and gumbo, had been notably absent from her childhood in New Orleans East, which is positioned on the outskirts of town — a few half hour drive from the French Quarter.

A group of people standing around a bakery counter selecting rolls of bread, baguettes, and swirled pastries with metal tongs.

Dong Phuong is thought for its crusty banh mí baguettes.
Offered by Linh Garza

As her mother and father labored to make a dwelling, Garza’s mom, Huong, would lean on recollections of her personal father’s bakery in Việt Nam and bake conventional pastries, equivalent to mooncakes, of their shotgun home to promote at native grocery shops. When Garza’s grandmother, Lieng, was approached by then-owners of Dong Phuong with the provide to purchase their enterprise, she prayed on it for days earlier than shifting ahead with the deal. “It was an enormous threat for us on the time,” Garza says.

After Garza’s household purchased the restaurant in 1981, they’d use its kitchen to bake after hours. Whereas Huong continued delivering to neighborhood Asian markets, De shipped packages of mooncakes to clients nationwide from an electronics retailer owned by his pal. (“They had been making an attempt every little thing,” Garza says.) Throughout the day, the restaurant stored the household even busier. Far more widespread than the bakery again then, clients frequented it for conventional Vietnamese household meals and noodle soups.

In 1982, they opened their retail bakery in the identical constructing. Garza’s father made a culinary breakthrough that boosted enterprise within the early Nineteen Nineties: a French bread recipe for bánh mì baguettes. “Earlier than that, we had been nonetheless making fairly conventional pastries and desserts that, outdoors of our group, no one actually knew about or cared to strive,” Garza says. “[But] who doesn’t like French bread, particularly in New Orleans?”

Round that point, Garza, a center schooler, began working at Dong Phuong, serving to on the register and within the retail store. She lent a hand to the small employees, made up of about 15 staff, because the Tran household grew their enterprise steadily over the subsequent 20 years.

However in 2004, grief rocked the household when De Tran handed away. Within the wake of his loss of life, the position of firm president ultimately handed on to Garza. She was nonetheless reeling from the loss when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005.

The storm struck within the weeks main as much as the Mid-Autumn Competition, thought-about prime mooncake season to many, together with the Trans. Garza didn’t wish to evacuate earlier than the hurricane made landfall and depart behind unshipped containers of baked items. Nonetheless, her household in the end determined to journey to Dallas to stick with her sister — a brief plan that will final for months. From a tv set in Texas, they watched as information channels broadcasted the devastation in New Orleans. Throughout these weeks, they didn’t know what occurred to their house in close by Slidell or to Dong Phuong, which sat vacant through the storm and its aftermath.

De Tran, wearing glasses and a white button up shirt, reaches over trays of mooncakes and pastries in Dong Phuong bakery.

De Tran on the bakery.
Dong Phuong

Upon their return within the late fall, they assessed the harm. The bakery and restaurant had flooded, with no electrical energy, working water, or close by companies open to hurry alongside the fast space’s restoration. Garza’s household was confronted with a choice: reopen the enterprise or shutter its doorways for good. Finally, they selected the previous, however with the constructing’s roof broken and its cupboard space demolished, it took weeks of labor to get Dong Phuong up and working once more. Contractors had been in brief provide, so the Trans needed to learn to perform lots of the restaurant’s required repairs themselves. For her half, Garza painted and took part in minor development work.

Dong Phuong reopened in January 2006 promoting only one product: bánh mì baguettes. However as one of many few bakeries to come back again, neighbors — largely anxious and scared — rejoiced nonetheless on the indicators of rebuilding.

Over the subsequent two years, the enterprise step by step recovered. Just a few clients inside the Vietnamese group started to ask Huong Tran if she would ever bake and promote king truffles. Huong tried out totally different variations, whereas Garza taste-tested different king truffles out there to offer her mom concepts. As soon as kinfolk and associates gave their stamp of approval on a recipe, the household offered their king truffles for the primary time in 2008. However they weren’t a direct phenomenon, and Huong would proceed to tinker with the recipe each Carnival season. Garza says that, at first, information of Dong Phuong’s king cake unfold slowly, “simply by phrase of mouth.”

She described their massive break as an article revealed within the Occasions-Picayune newspaper about Dong Phuong king truffles within the mid-2010s. Clients from outdoors of New Orleans East began stopping by, and distributors labored with the enterprise to promote truffles all through town. By 2018, the king truffles’ recognition erupted. That yr, the James Beard Basis awarded Dong Phuong with its American Traditional award, securing the New Orleans bakery a spot on the nation’s culinary map.

Along with king truffles, patrons can nonetheless purchase Dong Phuong classics like its conventional mooncakes and bao. The bakery’s pastry choice consists of croissants, Danish twists, and cream puffs, priced at $3 every. Bread lovers can soak up greater than the enterprise’s famend baguette, with 7-inch pistolettes, milk bread, coconut rolls, and cream buns on the menu. Candy seekers are additionally in luck — a prolonged listing of desserts spans from fruit tarts and flan to mochi and Chinese language wafers. Dong Phuong takes orders for truffles of all sizes to have fun particular events, which may include customary fillings or premium choices, like contemporary coconut and durian.

The restaurant and bakery weathered its newest problem in 2020 through the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Garza says that the yr’s Mardi Gras season had simply wrapped, and she or he’d held a crawfish boil for her staff proper earlier than outbreaks started. “Our employees was frightened,” Garza says. “We might see all people was anxious.”

Huong Tran wearing a red chef’s coat, holding a big king cake with stripes of green, yellow, and purple sprinkles, standing in front of racks of baguettes.

Huong Tran with Dong Phuong’s iconic king cake.
Dong Phuong

That March, Dong Phuong shuttered its enterprise operations briefly, however its workforce tried inventive options to maintain its clients fed and staff employed. The restaurant and bakery arrange a walk-up window for a couple of days earlier than ultimately turning to on-line ordering and curbside pickup. As soon as the COVID-19 vaccines turned accessible to the general public, enterprise began to return to its regular degree. “We sort of mustered via,” Garza says.

Dong Phuong counts as one touchstone of New Orleans’s broader Vietnamese group, which has made an indelible imprint on town’s cultural tapestry, Garza says. A lot has modified since her childhood. Now, “you possibly can go wherever and see a phở restaurant or a bánh mì store,” together with Mint Trendy Vietnamese on Freret Road and Lilly’s Cafe on Journal Road, she says. She’s watched New Orleans come to embrace Vietnamese tradition and others as extra immigrant populations, together with Hondurans and Guatemalans, forge new lives and develop their communities in The Massive Simple.

This Carnival season, enterprise is booming at Dong Phuong, even within the wake of some January manufacturing hiccups. When Garza arrives to begin her day, New Orleanians are already gathered outdoors, with a line forming as early as 7 a.m. In 2024, the road stretches longer, and the workforce is stored busier than earlier than, however Garza stays assured of their potential to feed each mouth anticipating a chew of the bakery’s king cake.

“Yearly, we get a bit of bit higher,” she says.

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