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Trent and Rhys Carvolth of Pacific Puffs

Trent and Rhys Carvolth of Pacific Puffs
When brothers Trent and Rhys Carvolth would meet for lunch while working in San Francisco’s financial district, they often talked about wanting to do something they felt passionate about. At the time Trent, 28, was working at Esurance, an online auto insurance company, and Rhys, 25, worked in venture capital for Dow Jones. They were making plenty of money, but cubicle life wasn’t for them. At the time, the cupcake craze was at its peak, and it got the brothers Carvolth thinking about their favorite dessert growing up in Santa Rosa, Calif. – their mother Noreen’s cream puffs. Over those financial district lunches, they hatched a plan to start a cream puffery – but first they had to convince their mom to teach them the recipe. “She wasn’t thrilled about the idea,” Trent remembers. “She told us to keep our day jobs.”

But Noreen relented and taught the boys her secret recipe; and they heeded her advice, at least partly – Rhys kept his day job, while Trent left his to focus on the puff business full time. They found a charming storefront on the bustling corner of Union and Fillmore Streets in Cow Hollow, put a photo of Rhys on his 1st birthday, with Trent at his side and mom Noreen feeding him a cream puff, on the counter and started baking. Though conditions were not ideal: “Our small apartments were not designed for maximum cream puff capacity,” Rhys explains.

They found a commercial kitchen in the Tenderloin that was better than baking from their apartments but not by much, and they eventually settled in a topnotch commercial kitchen at 425 Barneveld Street in San Francisco shared by other bakers, caterers, food truck operators, and chefs. “We were really lucky to get in there,” Trent says. “We’ve met a lot of really cool people, and some of the caterers buy our cream puffs now.”

First choice for a name was Noreen’s Puffs (“Mom didn’t want us to name it after her,” Rhys says), so they eventually settled on Pacific Puffs with a cream puff logo that looks a bit like the ripples of the ocean – which fits, because the Carvolth brothers look more like they should be catching a wave than baking cream puffs. “We started surfing a few years ago ...” Trent says. “We’re not very good,” Rhys chimes in.

What they are good at, it turns out, is making out-of-this-world cream puffs that don’t resemble even slightly the leaden, overly rich concoctions found at most bakeries. The Carvolths make everything, from the pastry to the chocolate, from scratch. The signature puff is a flaky choux pastry shell filled with a delicate, not-to-sweet mixture of vanilla custard and whipped cream and topped with another flaky shell. For added decadence, there’s a puff topped with thick, rich chocolate glaze. Along with classic vanilla and chocolate, there’s a fruit whip – the current one is fresh strawberries and fluffy whipped cream. The brothers also feature special flavors like Meyer lemon cream and creamsicle (with fresh oranges and Nielsen-Massey extract) on the weekends as well as during the holidays (think pumpkin spice, eggnog and peppermint). Regular sized puffs are $3.25, but you can sample a variety with the
$2 minis.

Strawberry cream puff

Vanilla cream puffs photos: Iris Rowlee
When they opened for business in 2009, the Carvolths weren’t sure what the reception would be, but sweet lovers flocked to Pacific Puffs, and on their first day they emptied the glass case of all 200 cream puffs. For the first seven months, Rhys stayed at Dow Jones, rising at 4 a.m. to help Trent bake, then off to work, and back to the kitchen at night to prep for the next day. But three years later, both brothers are making cream puffs full time and business is booming. “We’re doing more wedding and catering gigs,” Trent says. “And we’re going to have a cream puff truck soon.”

Trent’s wife of three years, Megan, stops by the shop with their 6-month-old daughter, Sianna. The couple met at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach, right after Trent moved to San Francisco. A few minutes later, the Carvolths’ parents, Noreen and Rick, arrive – they are taking the baby for the weekend while Megan helps with a friend’s bachelorette party. Asked if she’s now glad her sons quit their day jobs, Noreen beams. “Yes,” she says, “I’m very proud of them. Especially considering they didn’t even make grilled cheese at home.”

Pacific Puffs: 2201 Union Street (at Fillmore), 415-440-7833,

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