The idea for their bakery had been developing for many years, fed by the warm aromas that filled her mother’s kitchen.
“My mom started teaching me to bake when I was old enough to hold a whisk and we’ve been baking together ever since,” says Meghan Phan, who is in her final year of studying philosophy at Northeastern. “We’ve always had a close relationship, and baking with her is just another way to have quality time together, chatting and doing what we love.”
The Sweet Piglet Bakery and Cafe is a mother-and-daughter concoction one dozen miles from the Boston campus. Phan’s mother, Armanda Britton, is there from 5:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. six days per week. Phan helps as often as she can, and her younger brother, Marcus Phan, assists with deliveries and other necessities.
“My thing was really wanting my kids to be independent and self-sufficient,” Britton says. “So I was teaching them to cook at an early age. Meghan would be helping me measure flour and stir stuff when she was little. As she got older, she started doing more of her own things. She’s actually the one that started making macarons many years back—I didn’t even know what they were.”
Britton was a long-time counselor with Boston Asian Youth Essential Services who had developed a bakery delivery service for Boston-area clients. One of those customers, a cafe in Randolph, Massachusetts, was shutting down last year. Its storefront was offered to Britton.
“The opportunity just presented itself at the right time,” Britton says.
She jumped in knowing that Phan would be there to complement her. In their relationship, Phan is the realist who preaches a consistent approach to the business.
“Owning a business has always been her dream and being able to help manifest this dream is one of the best ways I’ve been able to show my appreciation for her,” says Phan. “It’s also fun for me because I get to be a baker and manage parts of the business at the same time. I’ve learned a lot in the process.”
The bakery is brimming with Asian influences. Matcha crepe cakes. Sponge cakes of pandan, a tropical plant that yields a green tint and a vanilla-like taste. Bread puddings that draw their purple hue from ube, a yam from the Philippines. Vietnamese coffee. Thai tea.
“She has the patience to make everything, including tricky stuff like French macarons,” Phan says of her mother. “My strength tends to be in finishing and decorating all the delicious things she bakes. In terms of the business, she is constantly coming up with great ideas about how to improve and grow, so I do my best to make it happen on the administrative side.”
Their focus is on keeping the shelves stocked with freshly-made breakfast items, cakes, and the macarons that have become one of Britton’s specialties. But it’s a good idea to come in early, because many of the most popular offerings sell out.
“One thing that makes us different is we do things in very small batches,” Britton says. “I don’t freeze anything. So the great thing is everything you get is going to be fresh.”
The bakery is among Phan’s many interests. Britton remembers when her daughter dreamed of becoming a surgeon.
“Then she really got into music—she was a drum major for her high school and was in the jazz band—so we thought maybe she would do something with science and music, you know?” Britton says. “And then all of a sudden she wanted to do math.”
Phan was studying math at Northeastern when she enrolled in a philosophy course in her second year.
“After talking to professors and taking more classes, I realized it was a passion I couldn’t set aside anymore,” Phan says. “I’m glad everyday for making the decision to commit to philosophy.”
Says her mother: “She has a very curious mind, and she gets very involved in it—she dives in and is passionate about everything she does. She doesn’t dabble. She goes full all-in.”
Which helps to explain why their family business is doing so well.
“There’s a lot to juggle,” Phan says. “But working at the bakery and being a philosophy student is very rewarding.”