These candies are special. | SUGOi

Aya Pastry recruits bonbon master Elle Lei for hand-painted candies that take a week to produce

Aya Fukai’s West Town bakery continues to make moves as one of the finest pastry havens in Chicago. With Halloween around the corner, Fukai is teaming up with another blockbuster talent for a special Halloween pop-up that they’re calling Treat or Treat because there are no tricks at all.

Fukai recruited Elle Lei of SUGOi Sweets to make Halloween-themed bonbons which she’ll sell from Aya Pastry. Starting September 29, customers will be able to preorder boxes of six or 12 for pickup at the bakery starting October 23.

Aya Pastry
Aya Fukai (left) poses with Elle Lei.

Lei will hand-paint the bonbons with cocoa butter to look like spiders, jack o’lanterns, bloody eyeballs, and Mike Wazowski — the green, one-eyed monster from the movie Monsters Inc. For the fillings, she developed unique flavors including ube, pumpkin pie, green apple Pop Rocks, and candy corn. Each batch takes a week to produce, and Lei considers them edible art. Her work was inspired by a period living in Japan, and she took the name of her company from the Japanese word for “amazing.”

Lei and Fukai met in June after they both contributed to Bakers Box, a project developed to support and highlight the work of Asian-American pastry chefs in the face of the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans. Fukai tasted Lei’s contribution, a piece of matcha nougat, and was so impressed that she decided she needed to meet Lei. “Perfect nougat is one of the most difficult things to make,” Fukai says. “To make enough for a package like that takes a certain skill.”

The two eventually met in Chinatown and talked about collaborating. SUGOi, which began in 2019, does not have a storefront; Lei and her partner, Jason Rice, were hunting for a space in early 2020, but the pandemic hit and they decided to continue selling their candies online, at pop-ups, and to customers who made arrangements to visit their commercial kitchen in Naperville. Fukai had been considering an expansion into confectionary, but she didn’t have the space or equipment. Additionally, she didn’t have the staff to make special Halloween pastries. Working with Lei, she reasoned, posed a solution for both of them, while building a sense of solidarity between two female Asian-American pastry chefs.

Aya Pastry
Aya Pastry and SUGOi Sweets are making Halloween special.

Preorders for boxes of bonbons begin Wednesday, September 29, on both Aya Pastry and SUGOi’s websites and go through October 20; there will also be a limited number of boxes available for purchase at Aya, but that may lead to “a fight to the death in the storefront,” Fukai says.

Lei will be onsite on October 23, the first pickup day, to meet customers and talk about her work. Aya will be selling pastries, too, but Fukai has nothing special planned for Halloween besides a pumpkin-carving contest among her staff: she wants the focus to be on SUGOi.

Rice and Lei are grateful to Fukai for giving them the space, but to Fukai, it seemed like the most obvious thing in the world. “Here is someone doing something beautiful,” she says. “Why wouldn’t we pair up? It works for our customers, it works for her, and it works for me.”

Treat or Treat, October 23, Aya Pastry, 1332 W. Grand Avenue

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