Inspirational Asian American Businesses in San Francisco
San Francisco has always attracted the bold, the beautiful, the smart, the quirky and the ambitious. The world’s biggest brands – Google, Twitter, Samsung, Sony, Saleforce, Uber, Levi’s, Gap, Dolby, AirBnB – either are headquartered or have city offices in San Francisco. The city is also home to some really cool, game-changing local businesses.
In this installment, we want to give a big shout-out to five San Francisco companies founded by super talented people whom we’ve had the pleasure to know as friends.
We are very inspired by their passion for their craft, the manner in which they are turning their own industries on their heads and gaining meaningful successes driven by innovation and community. Coincidentally, all five also share the resilient and resourceful Asian entrepreneurial spirit.
They are our heroes. Not only are they brilliant, they are all super awesome human beings too!
Join us and support them!
The Boba Guys - Andrew Chau and Bin Chen
We met Bin, one of the co-founders of Boba Guys, many years ago through a mutual friend. He was still in his regular job while trying to get this start-up idea off the ground from his apartment. He left a great first impression – a super nice guy who is highly intelligent and very driven in his passion for this new business he had in mind.
Five years later, we were not surprised at all with the booming success of Boba Guys across the country. With 12 locations nationwide and counting, it continues to push the envelope of what a Boba shop is all about. What makes Boba Guys different from other traditional Boba shops is the attention to quality ingredients and a fastidious dedication to doing things differently, getting it right.
Instead of using powder and non-dairy creamers, they steep loose-leaf tea (sourced through their own company Tea People), use real fruit, and offer a choice of premium milks – Straus Family Creamery cow’s milk, Califia Farms almond milk, and Oatly oat milk. They make own brown sugar syrup, almond jelly, grass jelly and now, even producing their own tapioca pearls from their newly opened factory in Hayward!
Hats off to Bin and his crew! We’ve always believed in him, we are eager to see what he has cooking up his sleeve for the next big thing.
GOOD MEDICINE PICTURE COMPANY
Good Medicine Picture Company - James Q. Chan
We first met James at his family’s Vietnamese restaurant Pagolac on Larkin Street. It was a night out with friends and we wanted to introduce them to this little eatery that served up the best Bò bảy món (seven-courses of beef in Vietnamese) in the city. The food was great, the music playing that night even better – a selection curated by James. We quickly bonded over our love of food and indie music.
Over the years, we discovered that James has an illustrious career in filmmaking with producing credits on History Channel’s 10 days That Unexpectedly Changed America (Emmy Award; Outstanding Non-Fiction Series), Howl (Sundance Opening Night 2010; National Board of Review Freedom of Expression Award), and Istinma (Best Short, American Indian Film Festival; Smithsonian Institute Native Showcase), to name a few.
James is the founder of Good Medicine Picture Company, an accomplishment recognized recently with the Emmy® Award Nomination of his directorial debut Forever, Chinatown. The film is an beautiful love letter to self-taught 81-year-old artist Frank Wong’s exquisitely detailed dioramas of the Chinatown of his childhood, and served as portals to the past in a rapidly changing San Francisco. Frank had spent the last four decades recreating his fading memories by building romantic, extraordinarily detailed miniature models of the San Francisco Chinatown rooms of his youth.
Watching the film is an emotional experience, a “meditation on memory, community, and preserving one’s own legacy”. Through James’s thoughtful eloquence as a gifted filmmaker, the film is a treasure to behold, a time capsule of the history and culture of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Chinatown Rising is his next project in the making. We can’t wait!
Alite - Tae Kim
Tae is quite the legend in the soft goods business. We met him at a dinner party in Palo Alto amidst the first dotcom boom of the mid-nineties. Now we are neighbors in the creative Mission neighborhood, often bumping into each other at the local Vietnamese joint or corner café.
A former design director at The North Face, Tae started Alite to make getting outside easier and more fun, by designing accessible and easy-to-use gear for casual camping and outdoor adventures.
Alite targets urban-dwelling Millennials with little to no early exposure to camping. Tae once said in an interview that he is “designing products for people who hate going camping.” But these are the consumers looking for ways to connect with the outdoors, as well as the local community. They also tend to like riding bikes, are devoted to local, organically-grown food and nostalgic for heritage trends of a foregone era. To appeal to that sensibility, Alite makes it their business to support organizations that share their values of protecting the environment by volunteering with local conservation groups and donating a portion of their sales to organizations that help urban youth and students connect with the outdoors.
Tae believes that "bikes, organic food and the outdoor industry is really starting to all merge together”, a lifestyle expression that created the success of Alite. So much so that big corporations like REI took notice too, and developed their own in-house brand called evrgrn that specifically targeted at Millennials. The product line was in the market for two short years and disappeared, never gaining real traction with young consumers.
In all of this, no one does it better than Alite, a pioneer in this path. As urbanites, we enjoy camping a lot more too, thanks to Alite
SEQUOIA SAKE COMPANY
Sequoia Sake Company - Jake Myrick and Noriko Kamei
Jake and Noriko are the dynamic husband and wife team behind Sequoia Sake Company, San Francisco’s first and only micro sake brewery. We met them through a mutual friend who knew we loved sake. And boy, do we love Sequoia Sake!
Borne out of their love for the unpasteurized namazake (raw) style of sake, the couple decided to make their own rather than try to import their favorites from abroad. What started out as a hobby in their garage quickly became a viable business. Having access to fresh, truly unpasteurized sake is a rare treat in the U.S. because sakes imported into the U.S. have to be pasteurized at least once (sake is typically pasteurized twice).
Tucked into the industrial outskirts of Bayview neighborhood, the spacious Sequoia location is a full-scale sake brewery, as well as a venue to host sake tastings. It is right here that the couple brew all six of their nama (unpasteurized) sakes and their new line of pasteurized sakes called Coastal.
Sequoia blends the traditional art of making sake learned from Japan, where it has been brewed for more than 2,000 years, with the enterprising spirit and unique qualities of San Francisco. The company produces small batches of hand-crafted, premium sake with full rich flavors that are enjoyed by customers of top restaurants in the Bay Area and across the country.
Ever the enterprising duo, Jake and Noriko are taking sake to the next level by experimenting with Bourbon Barrel-aged sake, and collaborating with local businesses like La Fromagerie Cheese Shop and Dandelion Chocolate to host cheese and chocolate pairing classes respectively. Currently, they are working with a number of Mexican food purveyors and creative chefs to expand on the palate for extraordinary food pairings with sake.
BiteUnite - Patta Arkaresvimun
Our friendship with Patta spans over ten years and across two continents. From being colleagues at Philips Design to good friends who love food and culture, we are very happy to have Patta in San Francisco to embark on the next chapter of her journey around the world.
Patta started BiteUnite in Hong Kong with a desire to “create an authentic, creative community space that would allow food entrepreneurs to realize their dreams”. She was fascinated with the idea of how food can be the bridge to learn more about other cultures and backgrounds.
The further push to start BiteUnite came from Hong Kong's high commercial rents and limited commercial kitchen space. Noticing that there are similar hurdles in a foodie city like San Francisco, Patta decided to enter the U.S. market and set up BiteUnite recently in the Mission neighborhood.
BiteUnite is a hub that functions as a co-working kitchen, event space, café and online platform for food entrepreneurs and chefs. It offers a state-of-the-art, licensed and insured kitchen to amateur cooks, aspiring chefs, or budding restaurateurs, who want to take their craft to the next level without the enormous risk and burden of starting an entire business. It is also a community space that brings chefs and diners together.
For $25 per hour, members get 24-hour access to the kitchen, which includes fryers, burners, char broilers, a griddle, a stock pot, convection ovens, dishwashers, mixers, various prep tables, sinks, an ice maker, and coffee maker. For an additional fee, they can also use the full walk-in cooler, freezer, and dry storage area. They'll also have access to an online business platform, which allows users to post menus, conduct online food ordering, and more. Chefs will also be able to track personal revenue, book time in the kitchen and publish a personal profile on the site. As a chef incubator, BiteUnite hopes to support those hoping to jumpstart their own independent culinary ventures.
Now that she has moved her whole family to the San Francisco Bay Area, Patta has expressed that she hopes to support and empower Mission residents by hiring locally, sourcing food locally and sustainably, and hosting community events in the space.
In her interview with SF Eater, Patta said this: “One thing I learned in Hong Kong that’s really important is that we have to share values of being social and community-driven. We’re cooking beside each other…we’re not a rental kitchen. It’s a community of chefs.”
She hopes that this same energy can be found here in the San Francisco community. We wish her all the best and we definitely look forward to numerous culinary experiences at BiteUnite!
Banner Image Credit: Ian Schneider on Unsplash