Jennifer Edwards is the Assistant Retail Manager of Dominique Ansel Bakery, leading a front-of-house team at Chef Dominique Ansel’s celebrated flagship bakery in the Soho section of Manhattan.
As a child, Jennifer was always interested in both pastry and hospitality. A native New Yorker, Jennifer grew up in the Bronx and, at the age of 12, made a cake from a boxed mix for her mother. Her mother’s reaction to the surprise instantly got Jennifer excited to pursue a career out of making people happy with sweets.
While she was enrolled in culinary classes at Christopher Columbus High School, Jennifer participated in the Careers through Culinary Arts Program’s (C-CAP) Summer Job Training. C-CAP placed her in internships at Union Square Cafe and Fleur de Sel.
According to Jennifer, during these internships she learned basic kitchen and front-of-house skills, gained confidence, and realized that she wanted to continue her training in fine dining operations leading to a career as a dessert professional.
She competed in C-CAP’s Cooking Competition earning a C-CAP/AMEX Education Scholarship and attended The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), where she graduated with a degree in Baking & Pastry Arts in 2011. As a student, Jennifer also trained as an extern in pastry at Bouley, and upon graduating, worked in the pastry kitchens of the EMM Group and Café Talullah.
In 2012, Jennifer and a friend and fellow CIA graduate launched Sweet Euphoria, an at-home business of specialty cakes and pastries. From 2013 to 2015, Jennifer held front-of-house duties at Daniel Boulud’s Epicerie Boulud, with roles ranging from retail specialist to bartender to even shucking oysters at the oyster bar.
Jennifer became Assistant Retail Manager of Dominique Ansel Bakery in February 2015, bringing her experience with pastry and her understanding of both front- and back-of-house roles to help lead the team each day. Rain or shine, you can always find Jennifer greeting guests in the Bakery as well as those outside waiting in line each morning with a smile on her face. I sat down with her recently to find out more about her coveted position.
How is your front-of-house team structured and what are the most important customer service tips and practices that you use to ensure that your guests are having a great experience each day?
I rotate the team on specific stations daily so they get to understand each role and always feel like they are learning something. I encourage them to ask questions and am always happy to show them how to do something if they are unsure. When new employees come on board, we have them shadow senior staff so they can listen and observe, get a feel for the pace and adjust to our constant flow of traffic. It’s also important for our employees to really understand the menu and we make sure that they get to try products so they can feel confident when explaining to guests and answering questions. I really enjoy making people happy and I try to encourage my staff to remember every day that we are making first impressions. How we communicate, act and how we always keep our “house” clean and organized makes for an experience that guests will leave with and remember. It might be early in the morning, but I will always have a smile on my face and am always willing to help a guest. I get a lot of enjoyment from making our guests smile, even with the smallest gesture.
What‘s your favorite part of the day?
My favorite part of the day is the first few hours each morning – seeing that line of guests waiting for the Cronut each day and then opening the doors to welcome our customers gets me excited. I am always happy to offer our guests samples while informing them about the bakery, our pastries and our new baby brother bakery, Dominique Ansel Kitchen. We’ll serve them warm madeleines fresh out of the oven, lemonade during warmer months and hot chocolate during chillier months. I love the feeling of their excitement and energy just to get in the bakery. It makes working there that much more amazing, and I’m proud of that.
It’s been more than two years since the Cronut first debuted, and there are still long lines outside of the bakery each morning. Why do you think customers keep coming back? Do you see the same faces time and again?
Our guests are by far some of the most loyal I’ve seen in my career in hospitality. Guests will wait hours for our pastries and then happily rejoin the line to do the process again. I can’t help but smile and even high-five them! We’ll often see customers who visit the Soho bakery in the morning and then head over to our new shop, Dominique Ansel Kitchen, right afterward. We have several people who come every day, some I know by name that are so wonderful and so excited about our pastries that I feel like asking them to join our team. We make the experience really fun – there are guests who return for their favorites time and again, but there’s always something new to try, too, whether we’re adding new seasonal creations to the menu or spotlighting a new Cronut flavor each month. I believe they continue to come to see what Chef Dominique has up his sleeve.
The menu at Dominique Ansel Kitchen features made-to-order items, and there’s self-serve seating as well. How does the front-of-house staff operate differently there compared to the Bakery?
While I am mainly based at the bakery, the teams have the same standards for service and hospitality at the new Kitchen in that we want to ensure that each guest has a great and memorable experience with us. The Kitchen staff is a bit more hands-on with guests, as the shop offers seating and serves made-to-order items that are brought out to guests as soon as they’re ready, so they get to taste the items at just the right moment. It’s a different experience for the front-of-house staff – from greeting guests at the door, walking them through the menu, to helping them find a seat. At the Bakery, it’s more of a faster pace in that guests in line already have what they want in mind so our staff is at the ready to answer any questions and has a constant flow in mind. We take every moment to ensure their experience is unlike any other bakery, whether it’s at the Soho shop or the Kitchen.
What advice do you have for students who want to pursue a front-of-house management position?
Having a culinary background, I have a great respect for this industry, because so much passion and skill gets put into making our bakery run each day. My advice to students is to ask questions, speak up and remember no matter what happens, try your best and always smile.
“Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted a career in culinary and hospitality, and I am so grateful to C-CAP for helping to provide me with the guidance and opportunity to get to where I am today. They truly care about their students every step of the way, from helping with scholarships, educational guidance, career development and beyond.” –Jennifer Edwards
“I first met Jenn 10 years ago at a C-CAP event. I didn’t remember it until she reminded me. We spoke for less than a minute back then, but the fact that I could recall her smile and personality immediately is proof of what an amazing spirit she is. Very few people can make that kind of impression, and Jenn does it everyday here at the bakery for our guests. I know they will remember her as well.” –Dominique Ansel