Gram Cafe and Pancakes, one of the most famous chains from Osaka, Japan that is known for its souffle pancakes, opened in Monterey Park on April 5. The 1,600-square-foot space, previously a Ten Ren, has been revamped into a blush-colored, photo-worthy brunch space in the Atlantic Times Square plaza, which has seen many businesses shutter in the last two years.
The all-day brunch restaurant chain, which has more than 60 locations in Japan, Canada, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Australia, and Thailand, is focusing on expanding in California. Dorothy Wong, a pastry chef by training, spent two years flying to and from Japan to learn about souffle pancakes before securing the rights as the California franchisor for the U.S. Wong is also the franchisee of the ever-popular San Francisco location, the first stateside location known for having lines wrapped around the store. Together with business partner Eason Chen, Wong has opened the second U.S. location in the San Gabriel Valley. Although Gram Cafe is not the first to carry Japanese-style souffle pancakes in the area, it is definitely the most well-known brand to make its foray into Los Angeles.
Gram’s souffle pancakes are a cross between pancakes and a French souffle. They taste lighter than a traditional pancake and have a custard-like texture. The Monterey Park location currently offers the original pancake, along with flavors such as durian, matcha, and strawberry. More offerings will be added in the future.
The process for making the souffle pancakes is labor-intensive. The batter is made with egg whites rather than whole eggs, and is whisked consistently throughout the day for up to 24 hours, which adds extra air before the pancakes slow-cook on low heat. The process helps to produce the ultimate jiggliness. Compared to other souffle pancakes, the whipped egg whites create more of a steamed pancake texture while allowing them to remaining airy and fluffy. All pancakes are paired with house-made milky whipped cream and maple syrup. Once the batter is prepped, each order of souffle pancakes takes about 30 minutes to make and up to an hour on the weekends.
To properly experience the pancakes’ fluffiness, Wong says customers need to begin eating within five to 10 seconds after the pancakes are set down on the table because they begin to deflate right away and topple over. This means servers must do a balancing and running act to bring the pancakes quickly.
Timing is imperative when it comes to souffle pancakes because the pancakes are filled with air. Dorothy explains that even if the chefs are one or two seconds off, the pancakes will be ruined. The cakes are steamed under individual lids on a special griddle with a layer of water underneath to eliminate hot spots. “We make and serve them with the same strict rules set by the Japanese chain,” she says.
Takeshi Takata, the founder of Gram’s, flew in from Japan to supervise the opening of the new location and ensure quality. “We use a special griddle that takes up much of the kitchen. It ensures that it is the same temperature throughout to evenly cook each pancake. You’ll never have a bite that is cold or not cooked the same as the rest of the pancake,” Takata says.
In addition to souffle pancakes, the restaurant also serves many other brunch items like thinner American-style pancakes, takeaway desserts, and even Dalgona coffee on the menu. But the souffle pancakes are a priority.
“Our entire kitchen is set up dedicated to the souffle pancakes. The cooking really takes the entire 30 minutes. People have accused us of faking the time it takes as a gimmick to create lines, but if you watch the chefs at work, you can see it really does take that long to make,” says Wong.
Wong says that the LA location has started off with a limited menu for now, with more additions to come, including potential dishes exclusive to the Monterey Park branch. “Our SF store actually has a lot of flavors that are not available on the international menus. I came up with about 70 percent of the menu. You can expect seasonal souffle pancake flavors to rotate in and out. There’s currently a durian as well as a hazelnut flavor.”
Although the San Francisco location serves California wines and Japanese beers, the Monterey Park location will not serve alcohol for the time being. Nonalcoholic beverages include lattes and other espresso drinks that are made with coffee beans from the popular San Francisco coffee roaster Sightglass, which also has a local cafe in Hollywood.
Gram Cafe and Pancakes is at 500 North Atlantic Boulevard, Ste 179, Monterey Park, CA 91754. They are open from noon to 8 p.m. during their soft opening phase, and are closed on Wednesdays.