Jennifer Yee spent years working in Michelin-starred kitchens across the United States – think The French Laundry, Jean-Georges and Gilt. In 2018, she returned to her native Los Angeles to become the pastry chef at Konbi, which is now shuttered but was Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant of 2019. There, she perfected her croissant-making skills. Three years later, Yee decided to embark on her own venture, and opened her Bakers Bench to sell pastries – most of them vegan – to a loyal crowd of Cali-foodies.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
How is your business different from others in your industry?
We are disrupting the pastry industry by creating delicious vegan options that help reduce our carbon footprint. My goal is for my business to positively impact the community – and the environment.
Tell us about your biggest success so far.
Bringing my business, Baker’s Bench, from vision to reality. I received funding from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation of LA’s Asset Building for Communities of Color program, which played a significant part in making my brick-and-mortar location dream come true. With support from Wells Fargo, that program is helping diverse small business owners across Los Angeles county to start, scale, create jobs and grow their wealth.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Figuring out new ways to innovate, and to learn continuously. I address this by always asking questions, and by researching. Also, when you’re working in kitchens, you don’t learn the ropes of running a business. One resource that has particularly helped me in that regard is the Chinatown Service Center’s small business department.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Do your research! Learn how to grow, and how to find opportunities. If I had not looked into the matter, I would not have found the funding that helped me open my brick-and-mortar store.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I allow myself to have a good cry, knowing that tomorrow is a new day. I try not to let things get me down for too long.
What is your go to song to get motivated on tough days?
I am a “Swiftie.” Right now, “The Man” by Taylor Swift is my go-to song to motivate me.
Who is your most important role model?
My dad. He taught me a lot about working hard, thinking critically, loving to learn and staying curious. ◼