Flour Power

by Kelsey King

Photo by Karam Yang

Flour may be a simple name for a bakery, but the food, drinks and atmosphere created by the local chain are far from ordinary. Joanne Chang opened the first location in the South End in 2000. She has since opened three other locations in Fort Point, Cambridge and Back Bay with booming success.

Chang grew up in a traditional Taiwanese household where dessert was fruit. It wasn’t until her later adolescent years that she first experienced chocolate cake at a friend’s house, which ignited her passion for baking. She began selling cookies as a side business during her undergraduate career at Harvard, which grew into “Joanne’s Kitchen” once she graduated. She then entered the field of management consulting.

Unsatisfied with her career, Chang took a year to pursue her passion in the kitchen; Flour is the ultimate product of her time off.

Photo by Karam Yang

“Our philosophy of baking at Flour is that things should taste great,” said Chang. “If something is so good that when we take one bite we can’t stop eating it, then that is something that goes on our menu.”

In addition to the anticipated array of baked goods, Flour offers salads, sandwiches, drinks, daily stuffed bread, quiche, pizza and soup. Allergy transparency and accommodations are important to Flour, so customers can find their favorites marked with symbols such as a red star for nuts, “v” for vegan, “veg” for vegetarian, “df” for dairy-free and “gf” for gluten-free. For those who find themselves eating a diet sans gluten, Flour’s sandwiches can be made into an organic mesclun green salad or with gluten-free bread.

“My favorite sandwich is the roast lamb. It’s white focaccia, roasted lamb seasoned with salt, goat cheese, a tomato chutney and mesclun greens,” said Lydia Tao (CAS ’17), a Flour employee. “But the most popular is probably the roast chicken sandwich, which is achiote chicken and comes on white focaccia with mesclun greens, honey-lime marinated jicama and guacamole. And the most popular item, overall, is definitely our sticky buns—especially after they won against Bobby Flay’s.”

That’s right. Chang beat the world-renowned chef in a sticky bun throw down against Bobby Flay on the Food Network.

“My favorite item at Flour is the sticky buns—so good,” said Primrose Yooprasert (CAS ’17). “I can’t get enough of them.”

Photo by Karam Yang

This is exactly the kind of reaction that Chang changed her business career for.

“When I watch people enjoy our stuff, it’s really amazing to know that I’ve been able to—with my staff—bring so much pleasure to people through food and that’s the whole goal of Flour,” said Chang.

However, Chang’s bakery endeavors don’t just include happy customers; they include happy employees as well.

“There are a lot of other students, so most of us are young, and I don’t know what it is about Flour that makes it different, but we’re all really close,” said Tao. “For example, we talk a lot outside of work and get food—and I didn’t do that at my other job. I think that’s really important because when you’re close with fellow employees it makes it a more enjoyable place to work and is probably pleasant for the customers to see, too.”

Chang is also notorious for writing “Thank You” on each and every paycheck of her more than 270 employees.

“The first day that I met her she already knew who I was. I hadn’t met her prior to being hired and she walks into Flour one day and goes, ‘Hi, Lydia!’” said Tao. “I just think it’s really impressive that she’s able to know all 200-something of her employees faces and names before she’s even met them.”

Chang’s response?

“If the staff is happy, everything else will follow.”