bannerFranchisee Stories

Single Mom's Sweet Success: Lan Ma Brings Paris Baguette to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Inspired by her children and the support of her local community, this dedicated single mother is excited to bring people "laughter, enjoyment and pleasure" through the neighborhood bakery café franchise.

By Victoria CampisiStaff Writer
SPONSORED 8:08AM 06/18/24

Lan Ma was motivated to purchase a Paris Baguette* franchise due to a combination of personal experiences and a desire to contribute to her local community in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. After raising her two oldest children, Ma decided to have two more children in her 50s; this life-changing event prompted her to reflect on her future and consider new possibilities. As a single mother, she wanted to prioritize her family and find a career that aligned with her values. However, it was her involvement with Lehigh Valley Women of Adventures, a local women's outdoor group, that brought Ma face to face with the value of community and the positive impact it can have on individuals.

Recognizing the lack of a quality bakery in her area, Ma saw an opportunity to create a gathering place where people could connect over delicious pastries and coffee. Drawing on her family's love for Paris Baguette, she decided to pursue a franchise with the brand and is now looking forward to bringing its unique offerings to Bethlehem.

1851 Franchise spoke to Ma about her franchise journey with Paris Baguette and her plans for the future. 

1851 Franchise: Frame your personal story for us. What did you do before franchising, and how did you decide franchising made sense for you?

Lan Ma: I am a project management professional — I've been working for IBM since 2000.. During that time frame, I was also a single mom. I raised my two oldest children on my own. My son is 22 years old and graduating from college soon; my daughter is 20. As a single parent, I prioritize my children's life — they're my primary focus and my purpose — so my career has always taken a back seat. The reason I work is to provide for my family. 

That changed in 2018 when we were planning — I'm a project manager, so I plan. In 2018, when my son was planning for college and my daughter was just two years behind, we talked about their college, what their interests are and all that. Then they started asking, “What are you going to do, Mom? Are you going to create a new career or climb the corporate ladder?” I started thinking, “What should I do after my children go to college, and I become an empty nester?” I have always been the only breadwinner and their total support system. 

I'm very health conscious. I thought I would go into health coaching and try to help other people live a healthy and vibrant life. I got my health coaching certificate, but I never developed a strong passion for it. So I told my children, from this year's experience, “It seems that the primary motivator in my life is to continue to be a mother.” My son said, “Mom, I know you've sacrificed a lot for us and whatever you want to do, just make sure it is for yourself, not for somebody else.”

I got pregnant [with my two youngest children] via double donor IVF. I gave birth to my son and daughter in 2019 and 2021, at age 51 and 53.  They’re now five and two and a half. I continued my journey to be a single mother. 

I had gestational diabetes during both pregnancies, but with no other complications. I didn't have any discomfort, like morning sickness. The first time, after the C-section, my gestational diabetes went away, but not the second time. A year postpartum, my blood sugar was still high. I was in the pre-diabetic range.  I got concerned. My doctor wanted to put me on Metformin and Ozempic but, being health conscious, I didn't want to take that path. I told my doctor that I'm going to try natural ways. Instead of taking medicine, I researched and saw what people are doing. For diabetes, the recommendations always focused on diet and exercise.

I never had success with dieting because I get bored easily. Plus, I’d been working from home since 2004 and, with the pandemic, I had little chance to go outside and was not active. So I searched on Facebook and found a local women's outdoor group called Lehigh Valley Women of Adventures.  I joined in February 2023. It took no time for me to discover a totally different person in me. I found out that physically I was capable. I started walking regularly. I ran a half marathon last September without ever running in my life, except for middle school PE classes. My two older children were taken aback by the new version of me. We can now go hiking together. They joined me for the half marathon because both of them are very active; one of them is a competitive dancer and the other  a basketball player. Through this experience with Lehigh Valley Women of Adventure, I discovered the value of community. Through volunteer hosted outdoor events, the members encourage and support each other. 

In January, I had a conversation with an acquaintance about the Asian cultural influence in my local community. We have Lehigh University, DeSales University and Penn State Lehigh Valley — there are a lot of Asian students and more Asian people took residence in the Lehigh Valley. The point came up that we do not have a good Asian grocery store — we should have an Asian plaza with a grocery store, a bakery, and other oriental themed stores. A light bulb went on in my head: If I have a bakery, after the walk, we can stop by and have coffee and a pastry. I remembered my two children when they were growing up, we absolutely loved the Paris Baguette in Edison, New Jersey. We'd drive 50 minutes to go there to pick up a birthday cake because we didn't want a cake from any other place.

Opening a bakery café franchise is very expensive. You need to be totally on board with the franchise’s vision and standard and the initial investment can be speed. But I said, “Hmm, let me look into it and see.” Well, I looked into the financial requirements and luckily I qualified.  I sent in my application on February 13 and the rest, as they say, is history. I was awarded the franchise on March 7.

1851: What was your perception of franchising prior to becoming a franchisee, and what do you want people to know about franchising now that you are in it?

Ma: When my oldest kids were in high school, they had so many extracurricular activities that we had no choice but to dine at fast-food restaurants. Our favorite places to go for dinner were Subway and McDonald’s. I always thought that they were busy and chaotic.  The people were always in a rush.  Nobody seemed happy most of the time. 

Our experience with Paris Baguette has always been very different. My two older kids grew up around it and it's always just so sweet and magical. Every time we step in a Paris Baguette, our eyes widen like we are transported to a magical world.  The interior and the pastries are just so beautiful, it feels like therapy just looking at them. We are very, very biased towards Paris Baguette.

1851: What made you pick this brand? What excites you most about this company?

Ma: Working with the professional team has been a grand pleasure. As a project manager for an IT company, constructing and operating a bakery café is not within my skills or experience. However, from the franchisee evaluation committee to site selection and construction, everyone I worked with has been super professional and responsive.

I've learned a great deal. Despite the costs involved, the experience of being a franchisee for Paris Baguette has been out of this world. It's a great learning process, and I feel very secure and supported through all the different processes. I'm thrilled and excited for the entire project and love the project team I get to work with.

1851: What do you hope to achieve with your business? What are your plans for growth? 

Ma: My goal and my dream for this bakery align very well with that of the Paris Baguette: a neighborhood bakery that services the community. It's that feeling of always being welcomed.  Remember the famous line from Cheers?  “A place where everybody knows my name”. And we, over the years, have lost that, especially for myself. Working from home. I've lost that contact with my community. I basically lost all social connections. Thanks to Lehigh Valley Women of Adventure, I found my community, and it made me want to do something to really build and strengthen and enhance that community experience for my neighbors of the Lehigh Valley. So that's really my goal and dream — to have a sanctuary for my neighbors to gather and enjoy the exquisite pastry and the incredible coffee. 

1851: What is the one thing about your story you want us to know?

Ma: I cannot take any credit for the site selection. It has to be something that God had in mind. I just happened to walk across His path and got His attention. The first site survey gave me a location beyond my dreams, right in downtown Bethlehem. Bethlehem was christened on Christmas Eve and built around the nativity story in 1741. It is one of the most famous Christmas cities in the country and has a pending application to be a UNESCO World Heritage site. Historical downtown Bethlehem is famous for its heavy foot traffic and numerous activities throughout the year, including the nation’s only free music festival, now in its 41st season. It is a community-centered, culturally thriving environment.

The Hotel Bethlehem, the number-one-rated historical hotel in the United States for three years in a row, is only a block and half away. The site is a new $50 million development with two storefronts — a restaurant and a retail space — plus six levels, 205 residential units ready to rent in June. I couldn't dream of a better location.

My goal is to be an integral part of historical downtown Bethlehem and be a landmark for the next generation. I want my younger children's generation to anchor their experience of downtown Bethlehem around the Paris Baguette as it brings people laughter, enjoyment, and pleasure.

1851: What advice do you have for other people thinking about becoming a franchise owner?

Ma: This is really something [where] you have to be hands on, you have to be invested and you have to have the passion for your locality. Throughout my life, I've always said that you have to follow your heart. If you have that passion — that fire in your heart — God will find you. God will find a way for that.

But if you view something as a money making opportunity and you just want to do it to make a living, you might be successful, but you're just not going to build that community around you — that spirit which draws other people in. People might come to you for the product, but not for the spirit. So that's my advice, because Paris Baguette captured my heart and soul.

I absolutely love Paris Baguette … and I sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, I invite all my neighbors, all my friends and all my acquaintances to come and join me and enjoy the presence of Paris Baguette, a sprinkle of tender sweetness, of love, and of shared joy.

ABOUT PARIS BAGUETTE: 

Paris Baguette is a bakery café franchise with more than 4,000 units across the globe. The global brand first franchised in the U.S. in 2015 and has since established over 160 locations in markets across the country, making them one of the premier franchise opportunities in their category. Paris Baguette’s primary mission, executed every day by their expert staff of bakers, cakers and baristas, is to provide guests with a warm, welcoming bakery café experience that creates joy for all. To find out more information on costs to buy this franchise, please visit https://ownaparisbaguette.com/.

*This brand is a paid partner of 1851 Franchise. For more information on paid partnerships please click here.

MORE STORIES LIKE THIS