People often mistake Berry Opera at 811 Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena as an opera house, instead of a small bakery and café that got its name from one of the most popular items on the menu – the Berry Opera, owner Christine Oh’s version of the French Opera Cake.
Berry Opera opened in mid-2019, and like most local businesses, the cafe was just beginning to make an impression in the local community when COVID-19 hit. Somehow, using a combination of quality work on their cakes and pastries and the available opportunities for online selling and delivery and pickup services unique to this pandemic, Berry Opera has been able to continue serving South Pasadena customers and even those ordering from outside the city.
“The product is different from others,” Christine Oh says as she goes through some of the cafe’s main qualities. “We are not a franchisor; we’re a small business and a small boutique. So we have our own unique product called the ‘Opera Cake.’ You’re going to look through a million French pastry places and they’re gonna come to our store and purchase it. So I don’t think there’s a lot of places making high-end pastries like us, even in South Pasadena.”
The owner and founder is aware that many first-timers would hesitate coming into the cafe because they’d think they’re in front of an opera when they see the sign. But Oh says it has not been a problem. When customers learn she named the cafe for the Paris Opera House, and when they see Berry Opera, the cake that looks like the French Opera Cake, it’s more than enough encouragement for them to stay and order from the extensive menu.
Oh has made the Berry Opera the signature pastry. Instead of the traditional layered almond cake with coffee and chocolate filling and icing, Oh’s Berry Opera features a raspberry flavor. Of course, if someone prefers the classic dessert, they also serve the traditional Opera Cake. Their French-educated chef makes sure the cakes have the classic touch, and more.
“Many customers think that we just make pastries that are really simple, easy,” Oh says. “But this is some little piece of art that we spend a lot of time making; it’s also chemistry. For example, macaroons take two days to make. The customer may think that it’s a very high price, but we spend a lot of time making this one small, tiny piece. So that’s a very high quality of work and a lot of customer support.”
Berry Opera makes everything in-house, with quality ingredients from a French supplier. Even the chocolate decorations are made in-house, which necessitates good training and the best experience.
“It’s not that we’re just a very good bakery, we (also) have all the people certified and everything,” Oh said.
Oh and her team has also made it a point to help the community, by making sure nothing is wasted. If there’s left-over bread, they’re donated straight to Saint James Episcopal Church that’s just a 10-minute walk away.
“We’ve been doing that since we opened the business,” she continues. “So it’s been two years (that we’ve donated to) the food bank. We also donate our bread and other pastries to the community, too.”
Oh is a graduate from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, and worked in the corporate world for several years before deciding to open her own cafe business.
Berry Opera’s menu includes a variety of cheesecake, macaroons, Tiramisu and fruit tarts. They also serve a variety of baguette sandwiches, and an assortment of croissants, Danish pastries, Brioche and quiches.
Cakes come in different sizes and for different occasions. Their smallest cakes are three inches thick, the largest have been 10 inches, but give them enough time, say four or five days, and they can customize your simple design. More complex creations may need up to 10 days of advanced notice.’
Berry Opera is where Cake Sensations in South Pasadena used to be, with the interior now painted in white with contrasting gray tile floors and copper accents.
Oh says the first thing customers would notice when they enter is the modern, well-lit space.
Since last year when the pandemic started, Berry Opera has served their customers through online ordering, with deliveries handled by Uber and Postmates. Oh, however, would prefer having customers call, walk in and pick up their orders. Eighty percent of sales are actually in-store, she says.