Cute decals of animals fill the windows, catching the eyes of those passing by while the wafting scents of vanilla, honey, and cream invite people in. On any given day, you might see people line up to stock up on the treats, and for good reason. They are simply delicious.
Located next to the scenic fountain at the heart of the Irvine Spectrum mall, Honey & Butter Macarons is a specialty dessert shop featuring a wide array of unique flavors of French macarons. Owned by Leanne and Pawel Pietrasinski, Honey & Butter Macarons is a product of years of hard work since day one.
From selling these treats from a small trailer to operating fully in a brick-and-mortar store, the couple started from scratch, fueled by passion, perseverance, and support to keep them going. Now residing here at the Spectrum, they have become a beloved stop by many local and out-of-town customers, as patrons stretch around the block to taste these treats.
Upon entering, the shop’s abundant pastel decor and liveliness jump out — there’s a swing set with a lush flowery background, adorable bakery-themed murals, and thematic plushies dotting around the store ready for pictures. These decorations change with the events, as Honey & Butter works with games, tv-shows, and other brands to collaborate on special occasions.
However, the stars of the show are tucked inside the sparkling glass cases in neatly stacked rows behind the counter. Dotting the display are macarons of every color, with placards naming each flavor. These macarons are in constant circulation from morning to night, filling up the cases when the team bakes throughout the day.
Baking macarons is no easy feat — not to mention hundreds and thousands of them every week. The macaron can be a finicky dessert, but Leanne Pietrasinski and her team have adopted a well-regulated schedule to ensure that they can provide the best quality macarons in astonishing numbers.
These macarons are not the flimsy discs you find in the freezer section of the grocery store, but rather, they are baked fresh and have high quality ingredients and designs that make the macarons pop.
As such, making and piping fresh macarons takes work and time along with all the other responsibilities within the store. Redesigning thematic decorations inside the store, collaborating with merch lines, and hosting large-scale events are all things on their plate, but Honey & Butter seems to deliver all of these and more with ease.
However, behind the scenes of every day is hard work, grit, and perseverance for Leanne and Pawel Pietrasinski, and the rest of the team. Often coming in at dawn to prep and leaving late in the night after closing, it is not easy work for the faint-hearted. However, the team has settled into a flow that feels comfortable for them, dividing prep and baking using a set schedule.
“The prep work goes around the clock,” Leanne Pietrasinski said. “We prep on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday … then we come in on Wednesday and Thursday to start baking.”
Using six years of experience at the shop to her advantage, Leanne Pietrasinski regularly reflects on what worked and what didn’t work, leading her and her team to adopt a well-regulated and fast-paced schedule to operate smoothly and meet the quotas.
“At the beginning we had no idea what we were doing … so I learned from my experience and made sure that we are really well prepped with everything that we need so when it comes to production, we are not stuck on something because we don’t have something,” Leanne Pietrasinski said.
A tight schedule in hand, the team also works alongside a rotational system for flavors, setting 12 designated flavors weekly. On their Instagram, they update every Thursday with a comprehensive macaron guide showcasing the flavors on their Instagram.
Using this system, Honey & Butter is able to combine both classic flavors that can always be found along with introducing unique flavors.
There are many familiar names such as Oreo, Chocolate, Vanilla Bean, Fruity Pebbles, and Birthday Cake which are all staples in the rotation, but customers always keep an eye out for the seasonal and limited flavors that pop up from time to time. These include flavors such as Hot Cheetos, a variety of Panna Cotta style macarons, or Leanne Pietrasinski’s personal favorite, durian, whenever she can get her hands on the elusive fruit.
Focusing on a multitude of Asian inspired treats, Honey & Butter is unique in its focus on Asian cuisine-inspired flavors. A unique spin on classic Asian treats and even foods, flavors such Vietnamese egg coffee, taro milk, matcha, mango sticky rice, pandan coconut, hojicha, black sesame, and strawberry daifuku are all recurring flavors that have become the favorites of many customers.
These macarons are Leanne Pietrasinski’s passion, with her working alongside her team to integrate their creativity and experiences into a sweet cookie for everyone to enjoy.
“The flavors usually come from my personal connection with my Vietnamese roots,” Leanne Pietrasinski said. “I grew up in Vietnam…and I’ve been exposed to a lot of desserts as well. So, anything Asian-inspired, I take great inspiration from it and try to recreate it in macaron form.”
However, in terms of new flavors, there’s no time for Leanne Pietrasinski to experiment. Oftentimes, the new flavors that introduce themselves into the rotation are created without a trial-and-error period, slotting into the cases as they are made. Not all flavors were successful; sometimes, they needed to be tweaked, whether it was less of an ingredient, tricky combination of textures, or just an imbalance of flavors. But Leanne Pietrasinski learned to adapt quickly, taking into consideration customer reactions and priming the next batch closer to perfection.
The flavors that do work out can be unexpected at times, such as the Hot Cheetos flavor that many customers regularly demand for in rotations, but for most of the flavors, Leanne Pietrasinski finds that her ideas translate well into macaron form. Honey & Butter also mixes a lot of different textures, incorporating fresh fruit chunks, jelly slices, marshmallow fluff, and even whole candies, which for the most part are successful.
“Even the little things like being able to put out my own flavors and put my own creations out and have people come in and be excited for it and make a purchase, that itself is really meaningful,” Leanne Pietrasinski said.
Evident care, time, and appreciation is put not only into baking these macarons, but for the entire store, with the Honey & Butter team putting in whole-hearted work to provide a robust and delectable experience that makes the shop so successful.
To further their reach, Honey & Butter puts on spectacular events the team puts on almost every month. These large-scale events are a result of partnerships between Honey & Butter with popular brands that can span a weekend or even the whole month. In these events, the main attractions are special “character” macarons which feature macaron-versions of a multitude of characters from anime shows, tv-series, games, and even books. Whether it’s other local food shops, popular video games, video/app brands, or even small custom jewelry businesses, Honey & Butter always hosts events with others to promote not only their macarons, but the work of others as well.
With these events, however, Leanne Pietrasinski does not just stop at the sweets. Honey & Butter puts in the extra work to set up themed photo areas, cutouts, mascots, and fans are encouraged to dress up. Featuring customers on the official Instagram or curating raffles for customers to keep themselves busy during the wait, Leanne and her team make sure to create a sweet and memorable experience while customers wait for their dessert.
Employee Linda Tran says that these events are the highlight of her work at Honey & Butter. “We always have a lot of fun getting ready for these kinds of events,” said Linda. “It’s always so cool to see and interact with the guests waiting outside.”
These events are undoubtedly a massive hit as fans who eagerly wait for their favorite games or shows to collaborate with the shop. With an especially popular event last year with the “My Hero Academia” game, fans lined up at the double doors since dawn, some bringing folding chairs and blankets while the line stretched to the other side of the mall by midday. As a result, Leanne Pietrasinski and her team needed to work extra hard as sleeves of macarons made their way into the hands of eager customers by the dozen, but they were rewarded with the sight of happy customers.
However, during the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns in 2020, things looked grim for Honey & Butter. At one point, Leanne and Pawel Pietrasinski said they contemplated closing the store for good, as they could not open their business to the public and customers deserted the once busy mall.
“We couldn’t meet rent.” Leanne Pietrasinski said. “It was dead every single day for four months…We struggled of course, and I had to significantly change the way that we do business. We didn’t open for in-store purchases anymore, everything was done online or curbside.”
And with moving online, there came other challenges, such as people who would claim fraudulent charges or transaction reversals after picking up the macarons or lie about not receiving their order.
“There was no way to verify if the customer picked up the order…so now we have a log of people picking up their order,” Leanne Pietrasinski said. “We still face those transaction reversals, but it’s not as common anymore as it was during the pandemic.”
Coupled with navigating the ups and downs of pandemic life, these aggravations added to the difficulties that Honey & Butter were already facing.
Yet amidst these obstacles, Leanne and Pawel Pietrasinski continued to pursue hope and put all of their faith into their business. Encouraged by overwhelming support from friends, family, and even customers, the duo decided to persevere despite the doubts.
And their decision paid off. Honey & Butter has blossomed after the pandemic despite the hiatus, and the store is thriving today. Opening seven days a week and having plans to go up from here, Leanne Pietrasinski wants to focus on honing events and continuing to branch out with new ideas with more and more brands. While there are no solid plans for expanding their business yet due to logistical complications, the idea is not off the table.
“The biggest struggle for us is finding people who can do what we do.” Leanne Pietrasinski said. “That’s why we haven’t been able to expand as much, because if we expand, we would have to go to the new store to make sure it is running okay, but who’s going to take care of this store?”
With these worries in mind, Leanne Pietrasinski wants to focus on expanding where she could take Honey & Butter in the present, looking towards bigger and better things to come.
“I have so many ideas for myself and things I want to do, but in the immediate future we still have events going for another year or so, and that’s the kind of model that I see ourselves pursuing.” Leanne Pietrasinski said.
With their achievements, however, Leanne Pietrasinski still wants to acknowledge the trials and tribulations she and her team overcame to get to where they are today. Choosing to brave through these struggles is what makes Honey & Butter continue to see their success grow upward.
“You have to really love what you do in order for you to tough it out and not burn out. People see a lot of our success in the articles…but we struggled. Ever since the beginning, getting here from our apartment until now, we are still struggling with keeping up with the production, finding capable and committed employees, and also warding off malicious people who want a piece of our success.”
Not only an outlet for Leanne Pietrasinski’s passion for baking and creating, Honey & Butter also represents the challenges and hardships she and her team faced. As Honey & Butter grows stronger each day, seeking new opportunities and goals, Leanne Pietrasinski and her team will not forget the sheer hard work, day in and day out, along with perseverance through challenges are what ultimately created and continues to create the story of Honey & Butter.