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GANG GANG: A Bread Love Story

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In an age where five-star eating establishments abound, each trying to outdo each other’s glitzy presentation, it’s rare to find a restaurant which is defined by its smell. At Ganggang, the smell of fresh bread hits your nose before you even enter the store. Ganggang, named after its two gregarious founders,缇芥繁鍒氬織 (Habuka Takeshi)  and 鍐堢敯淇′竴 (okada shinichi) , succeeds on the principle that good food sells itself. There are no massive billboards, no loudspeaker advertisements and no one standing outside to force coupons on unsuspecting pedestrians. Both the bakery branch in Olympic Mansions and the restaurant branch on Chengdu Dao emanate with activity and noise with bakers and servers going about their business with diligence and vivacity. This, along with the pungent smell of fermenting yeast and flour draws one’s eye and nose more effectively than any advertisement. 
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“High-quality baking” is the motto. The pair initially relocated to Tianjin in 2002, spurred on by this one idea, rather than their actual abilities. At the time they made their decision, neither had studied culinary arts nor could they speak a word of Mandarin. Driven by a common goal, they immersed themselves in their new craft. Within two years, okada shinichi had mastered the essentials of bread making while Takeshi familiarized himself with Western cuisine. They spent their first year in Tianjin singularly focused on language study which they knew would be key to the success of the new venture. Armed with their basic linguistic and culinary skills, they opened their first bakery in 2005 and haven’t looked back. Today they employ over 30 staff between the two locations as business continues to grow along with their reputation. 
 
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“Store-bought bread won’t kill you. I just can’t stand eating it” says okada shinichi, the mastermind behind Ganggang’s baking operation. He prefers not to lecture on the benefits of his all-natural bread, noting that people will invariably eat what they like regardless of nutrition. He refuses to even label mass-produced store-bought bread as “bad”, rather insisting that everything is a matter of personal taste. His one concession speaks of his connoisseur’s eye for baked goods: “After eating fresh natural bread, it’s hard to go back to eating those others”. 
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The depth of his dedication to the craft of baking is hard to miss: okada shinichi arrives at the store at 5:00 a.m. most days, helping his staff to get the first morning goods in the oven. He’ll instruct staff on the finer points of rolling out a baguette, decorate some pastries and discuss ideas for new products all at once. By midday, loaves of fresh toasting bread, delicately sliced sandwiches and mouthwatering 茅clairs occupy the shelves in such number that walking through the store can be a challenge. Yet this only represents a small portion of the day’s production. okada shinichi and his highly skilled team will continue baking well into the night, preparing orders to be shipped out to local markets and remote customers who can order any item in the store via an electronic delivery list. 
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At Ganggang’s restaurant branch, the menu of a 5-star restaurant meets with the cozy environs of a sidewalk caf茅. Prawn cream croquettes, red wine braised chicken and baked turban snails are just several of the delicacies available for less than 50 CNY. Organic coffee and a massive selection of fine wines complete dining experience. Wines, Takeshi says, are a longtime personal hobby of his that he is just now beginning to extend to customers. He hopes to turn the restaurant into a destination for fine wine-tastings for both Japanese and Chinese customers. Below the restaurant is a miniature supermarket, brimming with goods: Italian cuts, German sausages, fresh organic vegetables as well as dry goods from a variety of countries stock the shelves. As with baked goods, any item in the store can be ordered and is delivered remotely. “Local food here is lovely, but they prefer strong tastes” Takeshi says, “it is up to us to find the middle ground”. He explains that natural and lighter tasting foods are quite popular in Japan and that China’s ever growing outflow of tourists there will help to popularize the trend back home in Tianjin. 
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“Eating is the path to understanding”. Both owners intone this phrase frequently in conversation. Their easygoing nature and quick smiles provide ample proof of this; one gets the sense that their enjoyment of eating and making food far exceeds any personal profit they may acquire from it. Similarly, their humble demeanor and attention to detail projects them to be more artists than salesmen. “Good food is what tastes good. If you like it, eat it.” says okada shinichi. 
 
Indeed, this bit of philosophy suggests that following one’s stomach is the real path to happiness. And if instead you follow your nose, you may just end up at Ganggang’s door.
 
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