The pandemic has disproportionately impacted Asian American businesses, with nearly 90% of them reporting losing revenue last year—a rate higher than that of other ethnic groups. This comes on top of reports of increased discrimination, violence and anti-Asian sentiment that rose sharply with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A study from UC Santa Cruz shows that these factors caused Asian American businesses to be the hardest hit of all last year, with the number of working business owners falling by 20% from February to December.
Asian Americans have, undoubtedly, a profound influence on the United States by contributing to the overall economic success and well-being of this country. As the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic group, the Asian population grew 81% from 2000 to 2019, from about 10.5 million to a record 18.9 million. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were nearly 2 million Asian-owned businesses in the country in 2012, representing roughly 6.9% of all businesses in the U.S., and that number has likely grown since then.
Today, we are sharing the stories of some of these trailblazing Asian American businesses—and clients of East West Bank—whom you can support, patronize and celebrate.
The CEO of Huy Fong Foods Inc., David Tran, is no stranger to taking risks. A refugee who escaped from war-torn Vietnam on a freighter ship in 1967, Tran left behind his life as a chili pepper farmer to face an uncertain future on the other side of the world. When he got to the U.S., Tran started making his own chili sauce, hand-spooning it into recycled baby jars and delivering them to customers. He named his company Huy Fong after the name of the ship that brought him to freedom. Today, Huy Fong Foods and its iconic red hot chili sauce, Sriracha, has fans all over the world. Read more about Sriracha’s CEO, and learn how his business decision sparked a movement at How Sriracha Sauce Founder Turned Crisis into Opportunity.
At first, a bearded chef from Connecticut and a buttoned-down historic preservationist architect from China seem like an unlikely business duo. Yet together, Christian Page and Jingbo Lou revived one of the most beloved classic American diners in Los Angeles, Cassell’s Hamburgers, and then kicked off their restaurant empire by expanding to several satellite locations.
Located in Koreatown’s historic Hotel Normandie, for which Lou put everything on the line to buy and renovate, the flagship restaurant takes customers back in time and serves a classic 1950s menu with burgers, milkshakes and patty melts. Learn more about Cassell’s Hamburgers and the business partnership behind it at Burgers and Business – The Cross-Cultural Duo that Revived an American Classic.
When Dayton Ong came to the U.S. as a refugee with his family from war-ravaged Vietnam, he had nothing but the American dream. Starting from the very bottom, Ong began working as a dishwasher and later decided to open his own traditional herbal medicine store in the mid-80s. He named the store Wing Hop Fung, which translates to “Together, Forever, Prosper” in Cantonese. Thirty-six years later, Wing Hop Fung is now one of the biggest retailers of Asian herbs, teas and products in Southern California and has several locations, as well as an online store. Read more about how this family-owned business that came from humble beginnings has expanded its businesses empire and carried on the family legacy at A New Generation Takes Traditional Herb Shop Wing Hop Fung to the Next Level.
Back in the mid-90s, Eric Cheung and his friends were typical young people obsessed with playing video games. Realizing that the internet and personal computers were the future, they brainstormed ideas about what products they could sell online to get in on the action. Shortly after, they came up with offering customized computers to hardcore gamers that could be built in the U.S. to their specifications and sold online. Fast forward to over 20 years later, CyberPower PC is now one of the most established PC manufacturers in the U.S., with annual sales reaching $330 million. Learn more about how this once-small business is shaping the future of PC gaming and staying ahead of the competition at CyberPowerPC: How to Beat Big Competitors to the Market.
The House of AN is a culinary dynasty four generations in the making. When Helene An, nicknamed the “mother of fusion” and the culinary mastermind behind the House of AN restaurants, fled the Communist takeover of Vietnam with her entire family in 1975, she settled in San Francisco, where she later opened her first upscale Vietnamese restaurant, Crustacean. Nowadays, the House of AN restaurant group is headed by Elizabeth An, the daughter of the matriarch and now the CEO. The group now operates several restaurants, including a recently remodeled location in Beverly Hills and a catering company, all featuring the House of AN’s signature Euro-Asian fusion cuisine. Learn more about how the family behind Crustacean is taking success to new heights at The House of AN: California’s Culinary Dynasty.
Peli Peli is a popular South African restaurant in Houston that, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, went from fine dining to a takeout-and-delivery model, becoming one of the first restaurants in the area to take on delivery before it was required. Having heard what other states were experiencing with COVID-19 and about the measures China had taken to contain the disease, Thomas Nguyen, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Peli Peli, knew that they had to act fast. So, they created a takeout- and budget-friendly menu and partnered with the supermarket chain Kroger to sell their premade meals in select stores. Read more about how this popular Houston restaurant pivoted to a more affordable concept to cater to more customers during a pandemic at Pandemic Pivots: How Peli Peli Went from Fine Dining to Pocket Friendly.
Growing up, childhood friends Jeff Prasatarporn and Vincent Chen often talked about being business partners. The opportunity finally presented itself when one of them came across Menya Hanabi, a soupless ramen chain that originated in Japan and quickly gained popularity in Asia. Prasatarporn knew that the broth-less ramen would become a hit in the U.S.—and sure enough, it did. Having gotten the necessary business financing, the duo opened the first stateside Menya Hanabi in their own hometown of Arcadia, California, which quickly became a hit with ramen enthusiasts. Learn more about how these two young entrepreneurs successfully opened a famous soupless ramen restaurant from Japan at Menya Hanabi: Millennials Bring New Ramen Concept to the US.
When young Alan Yu visited Taiwan in 1999 and saw that the boba tea business was beginning to take off there, he decided to bring the concept to the States. He opened his first boba shop, Lollicup, in Southern California the following year. Boba, or bubble tea, is an iced drink made with a tea base and often mixed with milk and other toppings, such as tapioca balls or fruit jelly. Over the years, Lollicup grew from just selling boba to becoming one of the largest manufacturers of paper and plastic cups in the country. The company also became a one-stop-shop for the food service and hospitality industries by providing a wide selection of food, beverages and other products. Read more about how one boba shop turned into a multi-million-dollar business at Lollicup: From Boba to Business Empire.
After switching her career path and going to Paris to study at a prestigious culinary school, Kei Okumura decided to open Sugarbird Sweets and Teas, selling her tea blends and specially flavored scones. Wanting to incorporate her Japanese background, Okumura came up with her signature matcha white chocolate scones, which are loved and sought out by many customers. In the 10-plus years since its founding, Sugarbird has evolved from a simple stand at the farmers’ market, to a full-fledged catering operation that now distributes to hotels, cafes and restaurants nationwide. Read more about how Sugarbird’s founder raised capital to expand her LA bakery and turned her business into a success at Sugarbird: Raising Capital to Take a Sweet Business to the Next Level.