Written by Sophie X. Song
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Diana Chang, Adriana DiBenedetto
Story shared by Kathy’s Choice, a partner of the Very Veggie Movement: “I thought it was great how the Very Veggie Movement is working to promote a healthy and vegetarian lifestyle, and of course, Kathy’s Choice has the same philosophy.”
For Kathryn Tang, baking had always been a source of joy, but after entering the hospitality industry, however, Kathy discovered she was unhappy with the field. Her passion was better enjoyed at her own pace with more creative freedom, she’d realized, and left to seek a nine-to-five job at a large company instead. Following her marriage and having three wonderful children, Kathy also invited them to share in her hobby. Together, they baked a wide assortment of delicious goods over the years.
Kathy celebrated her 50th birthday in 2020, the year the COVID-19 pandemic began its surge across the nation. And whether it was her birthday, or the pandemic, it suddenly struck Kathy that life is too short not to pursue her passions further.
“If I don’t do it now at the age of 50, when will I?” Kathy said. “When I’m 60 or 70?”
And so “Kathy’s Choice” was made a reality. Taking the pandemic’s impact on the restaurant and foodservice industry into consideration, Kathy opted to bake bread and desserts in her own kitchen and then sell them through the internet, bakeries, and at the local farmer’s market. This had sounded much easier than opening a bakery with a physical storefront, but once she began, Kathy quickly realized how much she had to do.
Kathy first had to apply for various licenses with the state of California. Then, she set out to search for the best suppliers to provide her business with the ingredients she needed. She also had to look into getting a stall at the Princeton Plaza Farmer Market in San Jose, design all the promotional materials, and take photos of her products for the website. All this kept Kathy busier than she’d ever been, but the feeling was immensely fulfilling, just the same. She takes her creative process very seriously, and it never occurred to Kathy to trim time or costs by cutting corners.
Inspiration From Her Daughter
When she bakes for her children, Kathy naturally chooses the best quality ingredients, and aims to serve natural foods without any additives. Therefore, as she made plans for Kathy’s Choice and considered what to make for her customers, she also opted for natural ingredients.
“A loaf of bread with preservatives can be kept for more than a week, but it’s not good for our health,” Kathy explained. “Even if not using preservatives means that my bread can only be stored for three days, I still decided not to add any.”
Kathy has also received inspiration from her youngest daughter for the direction of Kathy’s Choice. At just twelve years old, Kathy’s daughter has offered plenty of insightful ideas for her mother’s business. She was born and grew up in the United States, and is more familiar with American snack foods than her mom. Oftentimes, she’s the one who develops new products that are more in line with the Western palate. And because she follows a mainly vegan diet, she also insists that what they eat at home be healthy and nutritious. Even though Kathy doesn’t know where her daughter’s rather strict standards come from, she appreciates them all the same: “Maybe she’s getting these ideas from her friends,” Kathy had said. “Anyway, I don’t know when it started, but now she keeps a mostly vegan diet for herself.” She also encourages Kathy to use plant-based milk and oil when she bakes, and Kathy always gladly keeps her daughter’s valued advice firmly in mind.
Meeting Tzu Chi
As it turned out, Kathy’s open-mindedness has proven a significant factor for her success. Since Kathy sells her products at the farmer’s market, she can collect first-hand feedback from her customers every week, allowing her to adjust and improve as needed swiftly. As guests sample and grow to love her baked goods, some also ask her to recommend more vegetarian or vegan products, or place custom orders with her directly. Kathy always seeks to fulfill her customer’s special requests with the utmost care, treating them each as unique and creative challenges that can only help her refine her skills.
“I spend a lot of time looking for the right ingredients I need to bake custom products that my customers request,” Kathy said. “Some of them are vegetarian, while others may be allergic to gluten. Anyway, I like to experiment and try my best to meet their requirements.”
In fact, this was how Kathy met Tzu Chi volunteers and later joined the Very Veggie Movement. In addition to Western-style bread and baked goods, Kathy also bakes Chinese desserts, particularly those she enjoyed in Taiwan as a child. Rachel Lin, a Tzu Chi volunteer who lives in Northern California, had found some of Kathy’s baked goods at a local bakery and bought them for fellow volunteers to sample. They all loved them, so Rachel decided to contact Kathy directly for future purchases. Rachel told Kathy that many Tzu Chi volunteers adhere to a vegan diet, and they were thankful that Kathy made products that corresponded with their philosophy. When Kathy made a batch of baked goods, she would many times deliver some to Rachel’s house for volunteers, and even included samples of her latest creations for everyone to taste-test.
“Last time, Kathy brought a new Chinese dessert she’d made; a crumbly cake with a sweet filling, and we thought it was delicious,” Rachel said. “It’s similar to mooncakes. Since it’s almost time for the Mid-Autumn Festival, I thought Kathy might be able to make some Taiwanese mooncakes for us, so I’ve ordered a large batch with her and can’t wait to taste her creation.”
Approximately six months after they met, Rachel brought up the Very Veggie Movement and invited Kathy to join, and Kathy agreed without hesitation.
“I thought it was great how the Very Veggie Movement is working to promote a healthy and vegetarian lifestyle, and of course, Kathy’s Choice has the same philosophy,” Kathy said.
Kathy had only started Kathy’s Choice less than a year prior, but already business was booming. Aside from her own hard work, Kathy said that she owes much of her success to helpful friends and loyal customers. In the beginning, when the brand was no more than an idea, the first person who had helped Kathy was one of her neighbors, a web designer.
“I’d built a website myself, but it looked horrible. All the photos were ugly, too,” Kathy laughed. “Fortunately, my neighbor and friend helped. You can see how professional my website looks now. She also took all those beautiful photos for me!”
Kathy’s husband has also been very supportive. Wherever he travels for business, he always takes time to look for ingredients Kathy might appreciate. Whenever he finds some tasty baked goods, his first thought is always naturally to buy some for his wife to taste and see if she might find inspiration in them.
After she opened her stall at the farmer’s market in San Jose, Kathy also became acquainted with a Greek American customer. He’d visited Kathy’s booth every weekend and often told Kathy how much both he and his wife love her bread. He also offers helpful suggestions to Kathy. For example, he once revealed that her sourdough bread was less sour than was customary. Kathy was still wondering how she might improve the bread when her customer had sent her a recipe for sourdough bread from a famous bakery in New York, saying that Kathy might like to give it a try. Sometimes, he even brought Greek foods to the market for Kathy to sample.
“I’m always very touched when my friends help out in this way,” Kathy said. “To me, it means my hard work has paid off because someone loves the food I’ve made with love, and in return, he wants to help me bake even better bread in the future.”
Learn more about the Very Veggie movement and join us by transforming your diet into a vegetarian one, or take part as a partner of the movement!