“Before, the emphasis was on quantity, and then it changed to a focus on quality. I found this type of bread-making very interesting. Breads were cute,” he said.
Within three months, Tsai was promoted to head pastry chef. After saving up capital, he relocated to a remote but affordable location in Miaoli to open his own bakery.
Sixteen years later, things are continuing to change.
“I am taking classes now, so I can get my college degree,” Tsai said.
The state of the bread is changing, too. Consumers are moving toward whole grain breads and organic ingredients, he said. They are also embracing bread that aspires to be artistic.
For about a year now, he has ventured back into the world of steamed buns, molding Angry Birds and Kero Kero Keroppi frogs out of naturally dyed flour. He designs his own cartoon characters, too, and the round creations have sold — literally like hotcakes — to preschoolers for parties, to lovers on Valentine’s Day and to online shoppers.
“This is most fun, because I like sculpting so much,” he said.
He is not a professional artist, but in Tsai, a combination of skills and the appreciation for change have come together to form an effective business model: Pro Food has been profitable for the past 13 years.
“I am aware that a store that won’t change is a store waiting for death. I have seen so many traditional bread shops in which initially business is great, but after a while profits slide and the shops disappear,” he said.
“Bread is bread, of course — that’s constant, but with some attention, you can change the flavor or change the appearance and offer a new experience.”