Last month, we celebrated Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). APAHM is a month-long celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. It’s celebrated in May to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843 as well as to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869.
We dedicated our Meet The Owner series to featuring great local Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) business owners on our social media channels for the entire month of May. To keep the celebration going, we are sharing their stories below.
1. Tell us about yourself and your business.
“I have a passion towards culinary journey. We serve southern style low country boil seafood with a twist of our Asian signature garlic butter sauce packaged in a bag with five special flavors to choose from. We also serve a special Asian base rice wine cocktail package in a traditional capri pouch with LED ice cube.”
James Yang, owner of The Pirate’s Boil in Smyrna, GA.
“I am a Japanese native who grew up in Atlanta. I travel frequently and love Tsukemen and Ramen in Japan so I wanted to bring the same quality and experience to the USA. Everything on our menu is made from scratch.“
Naoki Kyobashi, owner of Okiboru Tsukemen & Ramen in Sandy Springs, GA.
“My parents owned a restaurant through my early teens and it took everything to chase me out of the kitchen. Fast forward ten or so years and you’ll find a 20-something year old me in culinary school learning how to bake bread and all the science behind it. Fast forward another ten years or so and you’ll find me having worked in some great restaurants and bakeries in NYC and Boston and now living in Atlanta with my own private chef business, specializing in pop ups, prepared meals, and in home catering.“
Vivian Lee, owner and chef of Foodcation Forever in Atlanta, GA.
“I was born and raised in the suburbs outside New York City and moved to Atlanta in 2014. At the time, despite the Atlanta food scene’s quality and diversity, Filipino cuisine felt under-represented. Since then, I’ve seen a rapid growth in Filipino food and culture in the community and wanted to find a way to contribute through my passion for cooking. I started Adobo in 2019 to showcase the flavors of Filipino food in new and exciting preparations to celebrate the culture and values of Filipino-Americans.”
Mike Pimentel, owner of Adobo in Atlanta, GA.
“I have been with Maji since they opened in June 2017. I was incredibly lucky to find a Taiwanese connection and have a community to help it blossom to which I can share it with others. Maji Tea Bar is a Taiwanese based drink cafe. We highly value our personal connection with our customers and the community that we as a store are advocating.“
Grace Kuo, Social Media Director of Maji Tea Bar in Johns Creek, GA.
“It’s always been my dream to own my own boutique… I choose each and every item for sale in my store and try to think of who my customers are with each buy. I love being able to cater to this community. It is my vision to make sure every customer leaves a little happier than before they arrived.“
Lisa Hartley, owner of Apricot Lane Boutique in Alpharetta, GA.
“I come from Southwest China where the food is very flavorful, usually made with fresh herbs, unique spices and other regional flavors. When I moved to Georgia to coach tennis while managing a restaurant, I realized the lack of authentic Chinese restaurants around me… That’s when our passion to promote real Szechuan and Hunan cuisine, drove us to open Fire Stone Chinese Cuisine over a year ago.“
Wei, owner of Fire Stone Chinese Cuisine in Kennesaw, GA.
“Syndesi Desserts (pronounced Sin-Des-See) is a licensed and insured home-based bakery that specializes in fresh, custom designer cakes, macarons, cupcakes, and other sweet treats in modern and chic designs. I offer handcrafted from-scratch sweets for any occasion, from intimate gatherings to grand-scale events… My initial motivation for this business was to connect with people to help them create an anchoring piece to their celebrations, something that is stunning to look at and delicious to eat, and that desire remains the same today.“
Vy Howard, owner and baker of Syndesi Desserts in Lilburn, GA.
“Our business isn’t a one woman show, our family and the entire community pretty much backed us up from the get go. Everyone understood what it entails and that Kamayan ATL is more than just a food pop up. It’s a representation of all the Filipinos here in GA. “
Amor Mia Orino, owner of Kamayan ATL in Atlanta, GA.
“My parents have both been chefs for over 40 years. My father got hands-on training from a Master Chef in Chengdu whereas my mom graduated from culinary school. Gu’s Dumplings serves authentic Szechuan cuisine which is known for spicy and bold flavors. Our specialty is our dumplings, which is an ancient recipe over 150 years old.“
Yvonne Gu Khan, owner of Gu’s Dumplings in Atlanta and Alpharetta, GA.
2. How does your identity play a role in what you do?
“Being Asian, we have stereotypes in certain industries. Operating restaurants is definitely a popular industry chosen by Asians. Seeing my parents and other relatives owning restaurants definitely played a major role in my getting into the restaurant industry after graduating college.” – James Yang
“My Japanese background has definitely helped with the authenticity of our products but at same time it raised expectations for many which is a great challenge and motivation for us.” – Naoki Kyobashi
“I cherish my Korean heritage and find that I am very heavily influenced by Korean cooking styles and flavor profiles. I am also influenced by Japanese and Chinese cultures as the three countries have such an entwined history. Some of the challenges I’ve faced regarding my ethnicity is fighting certain stereotypes regarding my cooking of non-Asian foods.” – Vivian Lee
“Growing up in America has shown me that Filipino culture is just one part of the larger Asian-American community. While I’ve been fortunate enough to feel generally accepted in my community as a Filipino-American, there’s still a need for more equal representation of Filipino cuisine in both Atlanta and the country as a whole.” – Mike Pimentel
“As a Taiwanese American, I have experienced discrimination of all sorts, especially after starting college. I attend alongside Maji Tea Bar members, annually in the Atlanta based Taiwanese night market to spread cultural diversity. We represented Taiwan with our authentically made Boba tea and proudly share its origins.” – Grace Kuo
“Being a woman, especially a minority woman it is always just a bit harder for your voice to be heard. I believe in speaking up, standing out, and saying what’s on my mind.” – Lisa Hartley
“Being Asian, the language barrier was an obvious challenge. Communicating with customers is something I absolutely love to do but at times, it can still be challenging… I want to convey my cultural background with a hardworking and responsible attitude, hence I put a lot of pressure on myself to excel in everything I do and everything we do as a team.” – Wei
“I was born in Vietnam and moved to the states when I was three years old. As an immigrant kid, I was so enamored with all the cool snacks that the other students brought which I never had because my family didn’t buy those “American” snacks, but I guess that’s where my appreciation for American sweets began… I try to marry classic American desserts with a slight Asian touch to it, which means the flavors are going to be recognizable to the average American but also enjoyable to the Asian taste buds which tend to prefer less sweet desserts.” – Vy Howard
“My identity has played a key role in starting Kamayan. And I believe growing up in a third world country has made a huge impact on me and made me resilient and able to face whatever challenges I encounter head on whether in business or life in general.” – Amor Mia Orino
“Selling ethnic food is more challenging because sometimes it is hard for people to try things out of their comfort zone. We sell a lot of vegetarian dishes, but some customers cringe when we mention the word tofu. We faced a different challenge when we opened at Krog Street Market in March 2015, we thought we were prepared but the response was overwhelming.” – Yvonne Gu Khan
3. What does Asian Pacific American Heritage Month mean to you?
“Being Asian American in America, I take great pride and not forget my cultural roots… I love celebrating my heritage and want others to learn more about my culture through the food we share.” – James Yang
“It is a great cause to recognize our local Asian Pacific American and to showcase their talents in all kinds of business.” – Naoki Kyobashi
“It means visibility. Asian Pacific Americans walk every path under the sun. We’re not just doctors or lawyers. We’re chefs, librarians, teachers, etc. APAHM is important because it celebrates these different walks of life.” – Vivian Lee
“Being an Asian-American allows me to identify with both Filipino and American culture. This month gives everyone a chance to reflect and recognize the diversity of cultures that we have in our country, and to celebrate the contributions we have made to society. I feel proud knowing that Asian Pacific Americans have shaped our country’s history, and that I have an opportunity to make an impact in my community by spreading awareness on the culture and cuisine of my Filipino heritage.” – Mike Pimentel
“When I think about APAHM I am reminded of our camaraderie, and the community we formed despite our cultural differences. No matter if an individual is Indonesian, Japanese, or any other ethnicity, they all deserve a spot in this movement to spread awareness and speak up.” – Grace Kuo
“I believe we are a woefully underrepresented group and our contributions should be highlighted not just this month, but year round.” – Lisa Hartley
“I’m proud to be Chinese American and I am honored that we celebrate our heritage this month and our contribution to this wonderful melting pot we call America.” – Wei
“I think it’s really neat to showcase the diversity of the food industry here in Atlanta. This is what makes Atlanta so great!” – Vy Howard
“APAHM means respecting our roots, honoring the past and the Filipinos who paved the way for us, the trailblazers. It means making a concerted effort in making sure that the younger generation understand and embrace our rich heritage, that being Filipino-American is something we can all be proud of and we ought to celebrate it!” – Amor Mia Orino
“My whole family is proud of being from Chengdu, Sichuan and we love sharing our food with our customers in America. We are proud of Sichuan’s food, panda bears, and culture and you can see some interesting facts about Sichuan on our menus at our locations.” – Yvonne Gu Khan
We are grateful to be able to share these great, local AAPI business owners and their stories with the community. We encourage you to follow them on social media or follow our collection here.