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Beard Papa’s, a cream puff boutique

The pastry maker’s decadent custard is at home among La Jolla’s luxury retailers

A half dozen custard-filled pastries from Beard Papa's
A half dozen custard-filled pastries from Beard Papa's

For as long as I’ve known the Village of La Jolla, I’ve associated its Girard Avenue with exactly three types of businesses: high-end cosmetics, designer clothing, and Warwick’s bookstore. So it’s fair to say I was surprised to find myself at a plum location, barely a block off Prospect Street, ordering cream puffs.

Place

Beard Papa's

7874 Girard Ave/, La Jolla, CA

Like, nothing but cream puffs. Because nestled among the boutiques is the newest location of international cream puff chain, Beard Papa’s.

Named in reference to Yuji Hirota, the bearded founder who first launched a small bakery in Osaka, Japan, in 1999, Beard Papa’s now boasts some 400 locations in 15 countries. I don’t know about the other 399-plus shops, but the walls of this La Jolla location are covered with the brand’s logo: the cartoonish face of Hirota, and his namesake flowing white beard.

The bearded founder is pictured in cartoon form on the walls of the shop.

While these details answered most of the obvious questions, they didn’t adequately explain the most confounding: how can a franchise go international behind a cream puff? As I would soon learn, it has mostly to do with the cream.

The s'mores cream puff, topped with toasted marshmallows

Not to dismiss the puff part of the equation. Apparently, the secret to the pastry has to do with a pie crust exterior and a puff pastry interior. Every cream puff on the menu — including a crème brûlée version — starts with this pastry shell as a base. You can see dozen of them behind the counter, some plain, some glazed with flavored frosting.

Behind the counter, a pump fills pastry shells with custard, to order.

The idea is to build a custom cream puff to order. I found a menu offering pastry shells coated with chocolate glaze, as well as ube, green tea, and honey butter. There was a shell topped with chocolate and toasted marshmallows, for a s’mores effect, and another pairing vanilla glaze with oreo cookie crumbles. It’s $3.60 to $3.90, depending which you settle on.

An ube cream puff filled with green tea custard and a green tea cream puff filled with ube custard

Once you’ve selected your shell, it’s time to choose a filling. These mostly echo the glazes, so there’s chocolate as well as vanilla, and both green tea and ube are again featured. These options sit within big steel vats behind the counter, with pumps at the bottom to inject each shell, to order.

Buy five cream puffs and you get a sixth for free, so I had fun playing with the pairings. Plain with a chocolate filling, chocolate glazed with vanilla filling. Most fun was putting ube cream inside a green tea shell, and vice versa. The contrasting purple and green proved amusing enough that it almost didn’t matter how well the flavors paired together.

And it almost doesn’t. Because all the flavors and colors are added to the same, absurdly creamy vanilla custard. Fill the pastry shells with anything less than this ultra-decadent cream, and Beard Papa’s would have one or two-hundred locations, max. Without doubt, it’s the silky custard that makes the brand an international sensation. One that can share a block with the likes of Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren.

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A half dozen custard-filled pastries from Beard Papa's
A half dozen custard-filled pastries from Beard Papa's

For as long as I’ve known the Village of La Jolla, I’ve associated its Girard Avenue with exactly three types of businesses: high-end cosmetics, designer clothing, and Warwick’s bookstore. So it’s fair to say I was surprised to find myself at a plum location, barely a block off Prospect Street, ordering cream puffs.

Place

Beard Papa's

7874 Girard Ave/, La Jolla, CA

Like, nothing but cream puffs. Because nestled among the boutiques is the newest location of international cream puff chain, Beard Papa’s.

Named in reference to Yuji Hirota, the bearded founder who first launched a small bakery in Osaka, Japan, in 1999, Beard Papa’s now boasts some 400 locations in 15 countries. I don’t know about the other 399-plus shops, but the walls of this La Jolla location are covered with the brand’s logo: the cartoonish face of Hirota, and his namesake flowing white beard.

The bearded founder is pictured in cartoon form on the walls of the shop.

While these details answered most of the obvious questions, they didn’t adequately explain the most confounding: how can a franchise go international behind a cream puff? As I would soon learn, it has mostly to do with the cream.

The s'mores cream puff, topped with toasted marshmallows

Not to dismiss the puff part of the equation. Apparently, the secret to the pastry has to do with a pie crust exterior and a puff pastry interior. Every cream puff on the menu — including a crème brûlée version — starts with this pastry shell as a base. You can see dozen of them behind the counter, some plain, some glazed with flavored frosting.

Behind the counter, a pump fills pastry shells with custard, to order.

The idea is to build a custom cream puff to order. I found a menu offering pastry shells coated with chocolate glaze, as well as ube, green tea, and honey butter. There was a shell topped with chocolate and toasted marshmallows, for a s’mores effect, and another pairing vanilla glaze with oreo cookie crumbles. It’s $3.60 to $3.90, depending which you settle on.

An ube cream puff filled with green tea custard and a green tea cream puff filled with ube custard

Once you’ve selected your shell, it’s time to choose a filling. These mostly echo the glazes, so there’s chocolate as well as vanilla, and both green tea and ube are again featured. These options sit within big steel vats behind the counter, with pumps at the bottom to inject each shell, to order.

Buy five cream puffs and you get a sixth for free, so I had fun playing with the pairings. Plain with a chocolate filling, chocolate glazed with vanilla filling. Most fun was putting ube cream inside a green tea shell, and vice versa. The contrasting purple and green proved amusing enough that it almost didn’t matter how well the flavors paired together.

And it almost doesn’t. Because all the flavors and colors are added to the same, absurdly creamy vanilla custard. Fill the pastry shells with anything less than this ultra-decadent cream, and Beard Papa’s would have one or two-hundred locations, max. Without doubt, it’s the silky custard that makes the brand an international sensation. One that can share a block with the likes of Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren.

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