Out of the box Out of the box Out of the box

Pastry chef Lauren Tran, who bakes up desserts with Southeast Asian flavors, tells us how she got her start.

By Aleenah Ansari | Photos by Caean Couto | January 25, 2024

Pastry chef and Bánh by Lauren co-owner Lauren Tran, ’11, is coming off the heels of a fully-funded kickstarter, recent feature in a New York Times Cooking video and a number of sold-out pop-ups in New York City where she sells desserts made with classic Southeast Asian flavors like Vietnamese coffee, ube and pandan.

Follow along with Lauren Tran and her husband Garland Wong as they prepare for a Bánh by Lauren pop-up.

Fast forward to today, where Tran and her husband Garland Wong are preparing to open their own bakery cafe in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan. We sat down with Tran to learn more about how she bridges Southeast Asian flavors and French techniques, the art and science of baking, and how she’s intentionally building her storefront.

How did Bánh by Lauren come to be?

Our business started during COVID-19 when I was laid off from Gramercy Tavern. I started baking from my pastry school curriculum, which was focused on French cuisine. When I was really homesick, I decided to make Vietnamese desserts from scratch for the first time using high quality ingredients. I get a lot of inspiration from my family, and I feel like I’m continuing their legacy and channeling the work ethic I learned from them. My sister Anne was the one that suggested that I make chiffon cake, which I supplemented with pandan, and it’s become one of my signature cakes.

How did you go from baking at home to doing pop-ups in Seattle?

I came back to Seattle in 2021 after my dad had a health scare, and once we knew he was okay, we decided to have pop-ups and sell “bánh boxes,” or pastry boxes, showcasing Vietnamese desserts. I was able to get creative with my presentation, putting our honeycomb cake in cellophane bags and turning some of our cakes into cake cups so they could be eaten on the go. People shared these desserts with their friends and family, and some even waited in line at every Seattle pop-up! That excitement and commitment was a sign that we were onto something special.

One of Tran’s most popular offerings is bánh bò nướng (or BBN), a honeycomb cake infused with pandan.

How did your time at the University of Washington (UW) inform your business today?

For me, baking is an art and a science, and all my science and lab classes go hand in hand with how I bake today. I enjoy being precise and measuring things out on a scale. I love to know why things happen, so I’m always looking up the influence of changing the proportion of ingredients on flavor or texture.

During my time at UW, I spent a fair amount of time studying at coffee shops and trying croissants at every bakery. Whether it was food at Thai Tom, cookies from Solstice Cafe, gelato from The Fainting Goat, or pastries from Fuji Bakery in the International District, the flavors I tried in college still influence the desserts that I make now.

You’ve talked about your goal of intentionally planning for your storefront. What are your hopes for the bakery and cafe that you’re opening in New York?

We’ve been intentional about creating a space in Manhattan’s Chinatown where people can try Vietnamese and French desserts, food and coffee, whether it’s their first time or they want to eat something that reminds them of home. We want our storefront to be around for a long time and we’re so excited to be a part of the community.

Follow Bánh by Lauren on Instagram for updates on their pop-ups and storefront updates, and check out their website to learn more about the business.

About the author: Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is equal parts storyteller, creative problem solver, and journalist at heart who’s rooted in the stories of people behind products, companies, and initiatives. She writes about travel, entrepreneurship, mental health and wellness, and representation in media for Insider, The Seattle Times, Byrdie, and more. You can usually find her searching for murals, reading a book by a BIPOC author, or planning her next trip to New York. You can learn more at www.aleenahansari.com.