By Andy Olin(opens in new tab), contributor
⏰ 3-minute read
When Rebecca Masson was growing up in Wyoming, she knew baking was going to be her life’s work. And she was committed to putting in the work to be the best. (Spoiler alert: Her Fluff Bake Bar(opens in new tab) appears on numerous Houston foodie to-do lists(opens in new tab), making her a sought-after creator of signature dessert menus for top restaurants in the area. But we’ll get to that.)
First came Paris and schooling at Le Cordon Bleu. She then landed a prized internship under chef Eric Frechon at Hotel Le Bristol. What was supposed to be three months of training was extended to seven because she was learning so much.
“This was real-life experience. I was making things under the direction of a chef and people were paying to eat it,” Masson says. “I was working with people who were established and had been doing this for years. I stayed seven months working for free because the education was priceless.”
Rebecca Masson (above) grew up in Wyoming before attending cooking school at Le Cordon Bleu.
Her next stop was New York, where she worked for chef Daniel Boulud in the kitchens of DB Bistro Moderne and Daniel before becoming the pastry chef at The Biltmore Room (which has since closed) in 2003.
Three years later, she made her way to Houston to team with Ryan Pera, who was then the executive chef at *17 Restaurant in the Alden Hotel (now renamed as The Pearl Restaurant & Bar and The Sam Houston Hotel, respectively).
Masson’s style of creatively combining French pastry classics with favorites from her childhood earned her a large following in Houston. Though successful, she eventually grew to be unsatisfied and somewhat disillusioned with life as a pastry chef working for others, so she decided to go into business for herself.
At her bakery, Masson combines her expertise in French pastries with American childhood treats.
A big break came when Pera and his business partner, Morgan Weber, asked her to fill the pastry case at Revival Market, a butcher shop and restaurant they opened in 2011 in Houston’s Heights neighborhood.
Masson jumped at the opportunity. She bought some big sheet pans, took the mixer from her house, rented space in a kitchen commissary and just started baking. And momentum soon started to build.
“I got to the point I had to hire a part-time person, then made them full-time, then had to hire another part-time person,” she says.
She did wholesale and direct-to-consumer sales for four years, and things were going really well.
“That [wholesale] was my moneymaker,” she says. “Soon, I was doing close to $200,000 a year in wholesale, which is a lot of freaking cookies. And I still only managed to work four days a week. Life was so good then!”
Fluff Bake Bar sells both wholesale and direct-to-consumer from a brick-and-mortar bakery.
But opening her own place was always in Masson’s mind.
So, she launched a Kickstarter campaign, got some investment funding from her mom and stepdad, and “for the least amount of money possible, I opened a bakery.”
In addition to Fluff Bake Bar, Masson still supplies baked goods to four wholesale clients in Houston, including the city’s Shake Shack locations. The profits from her wholesale work are enough “to write her rent checks” for the brick-and-mortar bakery.
Confronting a double standard faced by female chefs
Masson’s creations have earned her the nickname “The Sugar Fairy,” but to be sure she’s more Sookie Stackhouse and less a Disney-fied version of Tinker Bell. She’s both sweet and salty.
“If there were a color darker than black, that’s what I would wear,” she says. “I do like the color pink, but I don’t wear it.”
She describes herself as snarky and direct. (“I tell you the truth.”) And, like most gifted chefs, when she’s working in the kitchen, she’s immersed in her work. Being a great pastry chef requires a lot of skill and precision. It’s not easy, and it’s not always sweet. Those details can be lost on the uninformed.
“Some people’s perception of a female bakery owner is I should be Betty Crocker,” Masson says. “I should wear ruffled aprons, have rosy cheeks and smile and wave all the time. I could not be any further from that.”
“Some people’s perception of a female bakery owner is I should be Betty Crocker. ... I could not be any further from that.”
In an essay for ChefsFeed titled “I’m Not a B--ch(opens in new tab) — I’m the Boss,” Masson wrote about a double standard that’s applied to pastry chefs as well as many female chefs, whether they be a head chef, pastry chef or sous chef:
“Most days, I just want to go to work and bake things and be in my happy place. And then when I do and you see my game face, you say it’s resting b--h face or stank face. When you see the chef working the line or the pass and he has his game face on, does he look angry or mean? No, you think he looks focused, on his game. Is that because I’m a woman, or because I make delightful cookies?”
Unfortunately, it’s the same double standard experienced by women in many workplaces, whether running a business from the kitchen or a corner office.
“We’re either wimps or we’re b-words,” she says.
Masson also discussed some of the difficulties she faced in getting her bakery up and running, including working with building contractors and finding quality staff.
Grow Wire: Can you talk about some of the biggest challenges you met in opening Fluff Bake Bar?
Rebecca Masson: I think the biggest challenge was not knowing what all goes into starting a business.
And contractors … finding fair and reliable contractors(opens in new tab). And learning the rules and regulations of building and permits and dealing with city inspectors. Luckily, we have a family friend who is an architect. So, I was able to say, ‘Joe, I need a bakery.’ And he said, ‘I got you.’ My mom knows a cabinet maker and plumber, so I’m lucky in the sense that I had contacts and didn’t have to search out everyone involved.
Then there’s the time. Just the waiting [for the store to be ready to open]. You sit there every day thinking, ‘I have to pay rent this month. We need to keep going because I need to make more money, and I can only make more money when I open the bakery.’
"You sit there every day thinking, ‘I have to pay rent this month.' ... The stress of it is insane."
That stress of it is insane! I signed my lease in December, and the contractor promised completion by March. It wasn’t finished till the end of May, but I started paying rent in March.
But I’m lucky. I’ve heard horror stories.
GW: What about challenges you faced once things were up and running?
RM: These days, the pool of talented pastry chefs is so small. I was really lucky in that the person I hired to help me early on in the commissary — her name is Kim; I call her ninja — worked with me for over five years. The day she left it was like I lost my sister.
We’ve had some ups and downs, but right now we have a great team. We’re small. Including me, we only have six people. That’s the hard thing with a small team, you have to make sure everyone’s personalities mesh. If you get one bad apple in there, it’s just horrid. Nobody wants to come to work.
When we hire someone new, we have candidates come in and hang out in the kitchen with us for three or four hours. That way the team can provide input. Do they want to work next to this person every day?
It’s not just me. I have to consider the other five people who work with me.