At age 30, Rachel Liu Martindale is able to say something few people can: She spends every day doing what she loves most in the world.

As the owner of Q Bakehouse & Market, an Asian-American bakery and market opening this fall/winter offering pastries, cakes and Asian pantry staples, she spends her days frosting wedding cakes, folding dumplings and brainstorming the latest item on her ever-changing, unique pastry menu. With items like black sesame tarts, pandan chiffon cake and miso sweet corn milk buns, it’s easy to get lost scrolling Q Bakehouse’s Instagram and its hybrid world of Asian-American desserts that are at once dazzlingly creative and delicious.

At age 30, Rachel Liu Martindale is able to say something few people can: She spends every day doing what she loves most in the world.

It can seem that Liu Martindale is living the dream, pursuing her passions as her job. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Liu Martindale defined all that she loves about her work.

“It’s everything,” Liu Martindale said. “I love baking. I’m shocked by how many days at work that I still enjoy. I’ll come home from work in the evenings and just bake at home, playing around with stuff.” 

But it wasn’t always like this; just seven years ago, a bakery wasn’t even in the picture for Liu Martindale. In 2016, freshly graduated from the University of Michigan with a materials science and engineering degree, Liu Martindale was working as an engineering consultant, feeling undeniably stuck. 

“I was at my job, feeling miserable,” Liu Martindale said. “I’d work eight hours then go home and think about how I’d have to work the following day. Weekends would be a bit of a break, but then I’d actually have Sunday nights where I’d just cry because I didn’t want to go to work the next week.” 

“Immediately, I was trying to find different ways to cope with the fact that I hated my job,” Liu Martindale said. 

Rachel first discovered her love for baking during her undergraduate years at the University, experimenting with recipes and flavors during her free time. After graduation, Liu Martindale again turned to food and baking for joy. On top of her engineering job, she picked up a part-time job at a coffee shop and started baking during evenings and weekends, posting recipes on a resurrected food blog from college. 

Eventually, Liu Martindale came to a decision point: Should she continue down the corporate road or take an uncharted path? 

“I had to ask myself questions like: ‘What’s my new salary going to be? What does my new budget look like? Am I okay with not being able to buy certain things?’ I was weighing the pros and cons,” Liu Martindale said.

“I realized that, yeah, I wouldn’t have all these things that are kind of nice to have, but I’d be gaining my mental health and joy back,” she said. So she took the plunge: Liu Martindale quit her engineering job and transitioned to working full-time at a coffee shop.

And so began what Liu Martindale calls her “soul-searching period.” She wasn’t sure what the future would hold for her, but she did know one thing — she couldn’t stop baking. 

She started pursuing baking seriously, taking up an internship at a renowned wedding bakery, Sweet Heather Anne. Friends started reaching out to ask Liu Martindale if she could make their wedding cakes. Liu Martindale also ran a homeless ministry with her husband, serving free breakfast to people experiencing homelessness in Ann Arbor.

“We didn’t anticipate how popular it was and how many people it would be feeding,” Liu Martindale said. I thought maybe I’ll make cakes on the side to help fund it.”

And just like that, in spring of 2017, Liu Martindale’s bakery business was born. To make it official, she made an Instagram page with the name “Milk + Honey bakery.”

Milk + Honey took off from there. Liu Martindale started doing weekly pop-ups around Ann Arbor. “It’s crazy how social media does what it does. That’s how Milk + Honey grew in the first place …​​ It kept growing organically from there where I was able to quit the job I was at and switch to baking full time in 2019.” 

Five years after Milk + Honey’s conception, Liu Martindale is excited to open an in-person location in west Ann Arbor as the rebranded Q Bakehouse & Market. The rebranding reflects Liu Martindale’s desire to share her Taiwanese-Chinese heritage and offer more Asian-inspired pastries and pantry items. 

What makes Liu Martindale’s journey remarkable isn’t simply that she pursued her dream, but she did so as an Asian American woman.

“There aren’t many Asian chefs or bakers out there,” Liu Martindale said.

Certainly, being a baker doesn’t fit into the list of traditional “Asian parent-approved” career options, something Liu Martindale had to struggle with.

“My parents were not supportive (when I first started Milk + Honey),” she said. “They couldn’t understand why I’d leave such a career for something that pays a lot less and is a lot less stable … I’m an only child, so it was really hard for them to swallow the fact that I didn’t want to follow the path they had laid out for me.” 

Not having a role model to look up to in her industry pushed Liu Martindale to find other Asian-American bakers she could relate to.

“As I’ve been baking more, I’ve been able to find more bakers and chefs around the country. We kind of had to find each other on social media,” she explained. “Because there’s not many of us, we’re very nice to each other.” Liu Martindale mentioned one example of a pastry chef friend in the Bay Area whom she often reaches out to for help when recipe testing.

While seeing celebrity Asian chefs like Roy Choi or David Chang is more common nowadays, the fact that there’s not much everyday representation of the average Asian baker or chef only motivates Liu Martindale to work harder. 

“I think the mindset that keeps me going honestly is the fact that there’s not so much representation of Asian American people in this industry. It’s like okay, I need to do this because I want to make sure that there are more people out there who look like me, so that if people are interested in pursuing an alternative career path, they feel more comfortable doing what they want to do.” 

Liu Martindale seeks to increase cultural representation through her bakery rebranding. The “Q” in Q Bakehouse & Market pays homage to the Taiwanese term “QQ,” used to describe foods that have a supple yet springy texture like mochi or rice noodles. To describe something as “QQ” is the highest compliment.

Liu Martindale said that she’s come a long way in valuing her heritage. When she was growing up, she didn’t want anything to do with her Asian heritage.

“I would dye my hair just so it wouldn’t be black … I think there was a lot of me that wanted to be seen as white,” she said.

Especially after COVID-19 and the #StopAsianHate movement, Liu Martindale said she wanted to go all-in with empowering her culture.

“I want to make the food I want to make, the food I grew up eating,” she said.

With Q Bakehouse & Market soon opening, she’s particularly excited to offer items like pineapple buns and scallion pancakes as well as a pantry section where customers can pick up grocery staples like soy sauce or chili oil.

“It would be amazing to me to see people learn more about a different culture and enjoy food from that culture,” Liu Martindale said.

Just as Milk + Honey was born out of a desire to help others, Q Bakehouse will continue to give back to the community, donating 10% of its profits to charities. Rachel is honest about the struggle to do this, especially as a small business in the bakery industry —bakeries, on average, have very low profit margins of 4%.

“Every single year when I’m calculating how much to donate at the end of the year, I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s a lot of money you could just be keeping,’ ” Liu Martindale said. “But then I’m always brought back to why I started this business in the first place. I want to be able to give back. My intention is not just to accrue wealth. And so that keeps me humble.” 

For U-M students who are considering an alternate career path, Liu Martindale had a few words of advice. 

“A lot of people reach out to me who don’t like their jobs and want to pursue something creative but are terrified because of their parents and don’t know how to leave that comfort zone,” she said. “I always tell them to do it. It’s really hard but I tell them to do it because if you hate your job or don’t feel fulfilled, it just feels like your whole life. You work so much of your life and it feels like you’re wasting your life away if you don’t enjoy what you do every day.”  

She also adds insight on making a gradual transition to pursuing creative endeavors full-time.

“You don’t have to take the plunge right into a brand new career,” Liu Martindale said. “I quit my job and chose something I liked a little better, not the exact fit. I did Milk + Honey on the side. I started out slow and switched to full-time. A lot of people pursuing more creative endeavors can totally do it part-time — on evenings and weekends — or already do it part-time. If you’re already doing it, you’re doing it already.” 

Looking back at her younger self, fresh out of college and terrified of the unknown life ahead of her, Liu Martindale would offer reassurance.

“I would tell her that everything will be okay. Everything will fall into place somehow. There will be ups and downs and challenges, but that’s life,” Liu Martindale said.

“Keep pushing through,” she said. “Eventually, you’ll work through it and find all that you wanted and were dreaming about at the time.”

Daily Arts Writer Allison Wei can be reached at