Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Annie Wang, Owner of Annie's T Cakes, located in Oakland, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Annie’s T Cakes is an Asian American, woman-owned business making vegan Asian snacks and desserts in Oakland, CA. All products are handmade and packaged in compostable packaging with a mission to create a more culturally diverse and ecologically sound food space.
Tell us about yourself
I was born in New York City, but growing up, my family and I moved every three years. The towns we moved to in the later years were smaller and more rural than the others. During the time I lived in these states, I saw the harsh realities of how we produce and handle food in America.
In one town in Illinois, my classmates and I had to plug our noses to guard against the toxic smell wafting towards us from a nearby pig farm. When we lived in Arkansas, we lived 15 minutes away from a Tyson chicken factory where runoff from the factory sat in huge silos. Ironically, these rural towns where I got to school by walking through crop fields were the towns where neighbors often struggled the most with unstable access to nutritious and responsibly grown food.
These towns were also where I first learned about the enormous harm inflicted on people and animals by our current agricultural system and decided to adopt a plant-based diet. That decision meant a lot of the staples I grew up eating with my family were no longer an option. After working at environmental nonprofits and food tech companies, I decided to start Annie's T Cakes to help myself and others once again partake in culturally important foods while also helping to improve the food system.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I was the baker that made the cookies for the San Francisco premier of the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once! It was a whirlwind ride, starting with the recipe for the almond cookie I made, which I had been working on for an entire year.
The story: The week before the premiere, I was put in touch with A24. In each of the markets the studio had launched the movie in, they’d worked with local bakers to create the smiley face cookie that appeared in the movie, and they still needed someone for the San Francisco premiere. When they reached out to me, I actually didn’t have my almond cookie recipe finalized yet. I had been working on the recipe for a year at that point and felt like I just had a couple of days to nail it. So, I told the studio I would get back to them, and I cranked out test batch after test batch over the weekend.
After a couple of days, I finally had it done! And just like that, the next week, I took the recipe I had just finalized, made and packed 800+ cookies for the premier. Two nights before the premiere, I had started baking at around 7 am and continued into the night packing half of them. I thought it wasn’t that late but when I looked at the time it was 4 am! Thankfully the next day, my boyfriend and two of our close friends came and helped me pack the other half of the cookies, and it only took us only a few hours.
To see a cookie I made in the hands of hundreds of people, including the cast and directors of a movie that has touched so many lives, was a once-in-a-lifetime event, to say the least. At the premiere, one of the directors expressed his happiness to me. He told me I had been the only baker that had made an actual almond cookie. Remembering that moment and countless others throughout the week, I am so grateful that I got to be a part of such a special event with incredible changemakers.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
As small business owners, most of the time, we’re just running around trying to get products out the door. Compromise happens daily because bandwidth is limited, and nothing ever happens in an ideal way. For instance, I don't have a car. I participate in local farmers markets and have had to either Lyft, rent a car, or find people with cars to help transport things to and from the market. But thankfully, I've always been able to find a way to get things done and deliver products.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Start now. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can reach your dreams! I personally find myself frequently in a state of analysis paralysis. Though it's good to get all the information to reach an informed decision, sometimes, researching can end up hampering your ability to take action. This is especially true if your risk tolerance is generally lower, which, with certain things like money and debt, mine most definitely is. I've found that it's best to do research but also to talk it over with mentors who can point out if there are any flaws or tell me if it's time for me to act.
- Think deeply about the type of lifestyle you want to live in the long term. Are you a frequent traveler and don't want to be tied down to a place? Is there a city you know you want to settle down in? Do you prefer schedules, or do you like a more free-flow schedule? Answering questions like these will also help you decide what kind of business you want to start and how you will grow it. At the end of the day, it's your business, and you should also enjoy it!
- Find all the free resources for mentorship you can and reach out! Check out organizations like SCORE for business mentors, Start Small Think Big, and local incubator programs. Ask other entrepreneurs what programs and institutions they recommend to get free mentorship, skilled volunteers, etc.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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