The ever-busy Joanne Chang has plenty of reasons to celebrate. Her Flour Bakery +
Cafe empire continues to expand; she opened a fourth location on Clarendon Street in the Back Bay on Jan. 11. Her second book, “Flour Too,” is due out in May, featuring recipes for the cafe’s sandwiches, soups, salads, and various specials. And as she gets ready to ring in the Lunar New Year on Feb. 10 at Myers + Chang, the pan-Asian restaurant she operates with her husband, Christopher Myers, Chang, 43, reflected on her latest projects and on past holiday celebrations growing up in a Taiwanese family in Houston, Denver, Tulsa, Okla., and Dallas.
Q. Is there anything different about the Back Bay Flour location?
A. It’s going to be a new neighborhood for us to suss out and see what they’re interested in. Each location does its own dinner specials and usually the chefs get a good handle on what the guests like [who] happen to live in that area. So we’re curious to see what they end up liking in the Back Bay.
Q. How long does it take to feel out the tastes of a neighborhood?
A. Probably four or five months, just to get a sense of what everybody really likes. I mean, there’s immediate things that you notice, like I remember that when we opened Farnsworth Street [in Fort Point Channel], immediately we were struck by how many people ordered the chicken sandwich, the chocolate chip cookie, and banana bread. And when we opened Cambridge, within a couple weeks it was like, “Oh my gosh, we’re selling so much lamb.” In this [Back Bay] location, we’ve been really surprised at how many salads we’ve been selling — we have a couple specialty salads — and then how many egg sandwiches we’ve been selling. That was something that caught us all off guard.
Q. You grew up in a Taiwanese family. What were some of your Lunar New Year traditions?
A. There’s all these superstitions that go with Lunar New Year and how you’re supposed to start the year, so we would always eat noodle dishes. The noodles are not supposed to be broken. So you know when you cook spaghetti sometimes you break it in half so it will fit into the pan? You can’t do that because then you’re breaking your lifespan. Long noodles mean long life so you’re supposed to have a noodle dish that’s got a lot of long noodles in it. We always got a little red envelope with some money, never that much, like a dollar, maybe some coins, but that’s so you start off the New Year with money, which then will lead to prosperity. We always went to these dancing community get-togethers. When I was younger, I used to dance in them in costume.
Q. How were the noodles served?
A. Each family probably does it differently. My mom would make a noodle stir-fry, often with pork and vegetables and these Shanghai noodles, which are wheat noodles. She would make sure she had something like that on the table.
Q. How will you toast Lunar New Year at Myers + Chang this week?
A. We’re offering our regular menu and then a bunch of different specials. Every year we try to offer three or four different things for the New Year. This year, we’re doing a spicy lobster-fried rice, a ginger cake with a sherry semifreddo, and some other things. It’s the Year of the Snake so we’re hoping to decorate the tables. We’re thinking about gummy snakes. We thought that’d be kind of fun.
Q. Do you see a different clientele for your Lunar New Year specials?
A. Sort of. In Chinatown, it’ll be huge. There will be a ton of people celebrating the Lunar New Year. We’ll have some people that will come out and celebrate, but honestly Myers + Chang isn’t usually where they’ll come for the most part. I don’t know why. I think because we’re just not in Chinatown.
Q. You’re always juggling a lot and you certainly have plenty going on right now. But do you have designs on opening any more restaurants?
A. I’ve learned to never say never. I’m infamous with my staff and the contractor for saying, “I’m never going to do this again,” and then, of course, I do it again.