Bin Chen, Co-Founder of Boba Guys

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Bin Chen, Co-Founder of Boba Guys

Name: Bin Chen 

Title: Co-Founder of Boba Guys

City: San Francisco, CA

Passion: Boba + building community

Website: www.bobaguys.com

Boba Guys, located in the Mission district of San Francisco is doing something different. Homebrewing tea, mixing it with local organic milk, and topping it with the chewy boba we all know and love. Bin Chen, and co-founder Andrew Chau have taken the traditional street treat and surprised us with unique flavors, and an intimate storefront. Bin’s journey is testament to keeping good company, starting small, and dreaming big. With three spaces in San Francisco, and one upcoming in New York, Boba Guys are on a mission. To grow with intention and integrity, all the while breaking down cultural barriers and building community. 

Photos by: Elle Wildhagen

On Passion

How and when did you find your passion?

I definitely subscribe to the notion that there’s a job, a career, and your calling. So, what company would I want to join that would be most ideal for me? From a creativity standpoint, from a career standpoint - as many boxes as I could check off. What company would that look like? As I vetted each one, I found that they didn’t have the entire package. I needed to build it for myself. We began with pop-up events, and I saw the excitement. Which is really awesome, because when you build a digital product, you don’t really see that connection. It’s a lot more visceral and alive when you are doing the physical act of giving someone something. It was so eye opening for me. It eventually led to our store.

Initially it started as a product for ourselves. We liked it, we wanted to see it. We do food and beverage, but since we are from the startup world, we wanted to start really lean. So we started with the pop-ups. It was all a theory. People had to make a mental leap from traditionally paying two dollars for a street food drink, and trust that they were going to have a different experience. We brew our own teas, we don’t use powders, make our own homemade syrups. That was a huge, huge bet that we made. It was a low financial risk, because we did it as a pop-up, but it was a high social risk. If we did it, and no one came, that would have felt terrible. And that’s when people did come, and we began to grow our menu. That’s how we started doing horchata boba, because we are in the Mission. We started doing things that were exciting and different. 

On Transition

Tell us more about doing the transition to doing what you love.

I was at Timbuk2 for five and a half years, the longest I’ve ever been at a company. I’m proud to say that Andrew and I met there. We bonded over ping-pong and foosball. It was one of the few companies that I truly, truly loved. It was because of the culture. Everyone worked really hard, was scrappy, and wore a lot of hats. People had fun, and they enjoyed coming to work. That hadn’t always been the case for me. I knew that when I was soul searching and looking for jobs, I wasn’t afraid of hard work, but I wanted it to be something that I could connect with. Also, for others to connect with.

I'm so proud to say that now Boba Guys is attracting top talent. I thought we would never get to the day where a boba shop would attract someone who’s running an incredible company, willing to give up their own dreams, or maybe they were going to start a company, and they realized they can achieve all of their goals and dreams here. To think that Andrew and I build and that is mind-blowing. 

On Mastery

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How did/do you hone your skills?

It’s important to align yourself with good people, hire the best talent, honor your employees. Factor in what they care about. We help grow them into their passions, and if they graduate, we’re happy for them. They make an imprint on you and your company, and help you to keep growing. I hone my skills through my community.

We have an employee, Kalen, who is into podcasts. We are all podcast junkies. We were like, “Hey, you know what would be great? If you had your own podcast!” We bought him all the equipment he needed, and he just ran with it. This little place that just started a boba shop is able to open doors in all these different avenues. It’s really special.


On Failure

Tell us about a time in your earlier transition to living your passion when you failed. How did you feel? What did you learn?

I use failure almost as a certainty. We have a very stable core business. It allows us to fund the rest of the things that we care about. Retaining good employees, treating them well, paying them above industry standards. Doing things like the podcast. The tea is just a medium for the change we are creating in our community. Down the road we want to throw events. We’re even teaming up with Ankit Shah, founder of Tea with Strangers. In our new Hayes Valley location, we want to create a space where strangers can meet and have a dedicated place to come together and foster community. That’s always been the goal, to foster community. 

On Fear

What has been your biggest fear about living your Passion?

Our biggest fear had already passed. Our biggest fear was that we left something incredible on the table, and we didn’t have the guts to cash in that lottery ticket. That we were not willing to give up our high paying corporate jobs. That we would see this done and executed by someone else. It would have been infuriating and frustrating for me. Now the biggest fear is losing sight of what we set out to build. My fear is, as we grow, that we lose sight of what we did in the first place. If we stop doing what makes this so rich. If it becomes something that I was trying to leave in the first place. If it were to become any other copy-cat corporation. We did something novel, and we are seeing that bear fruit now. 

How do you overcome your fears?

We know we shouldn’t take any of this for granted. There will be others who do what we do, but we want to be the model of how to do it best. 


On Money

Was there a time when you were running out of money? Did you need to give up a lifestyle to pursue your passion? Tell us more about that and how you coped.

And we’ve been bootstrapping this. We’ve never taken any outside investment. We kept our full-time jobs. It’s because we didn’t want to owe anyone anything. We also didn’t want anyone else’s influence early on. We are so mission and culture focused that we wanted to make sure it was done right, even if it scarified some growth.

On Support

Is there a community that supports you? Who are they?

I have a lot of them. We would be lying if we said we did this on our own. Everything has been on the backs of giants. Timbuk2 taught us a lot about culture. Patagonia and Chipotle still have such alignment with their vision. I know Andrew looks up to Howard Schultz. John J. from Wieden + Kennedy. I can send hims an email and he will get back to me. And Amit Gupta from Photojojo has been really helpful. These people really see it. They aren’t deep in the weeds like I am. Ahmed can dissect things very intelligently. Pascal Rigo from La Boulange is a big proponent of Boba Guys. Every time we talk he has something illuminating to share. 

On Self-Love

What is self-love to you? And how important is it to your journey?

I think an entrepreneur, by definition, tends to give a lot to the company. Between time, resources, and mindshare, it’s like running a marathon. That’s not unique to me. I happen to be in San Francisco, this magical place where it doesn't take long to get to the redwoods. It doesn't take long to get to nature. I can go on a walk or a bike ride, even this afternoon. And Boba Guys works a different side of my brain. When I rode my bike to the pop up, was engaging with people, and making things with my hands, I was working a different skills set. It wasn’t exhausting. That’s not work. So I was able to flip-flop that and make it my day job. You find what energizes you and that is your calling. It’s the best tell-tale sign you can find for self-love. You would be happy to do it even if you weren’t getting paid for it. Until I find myself getting detached or burned out, which hasn’t happened yet, I’m having a blast. I build self-love and care into work. 

On Advice to the Community

Please share a piece of advice with our community of men and women who are looking to leave their traditional jobs and live their passions.

Follow your dreams, but don’t be an idiot about it. Start so small, that it achieves a tiny win. A lot of people do all this planning, and think they need all these resources, or time. Give up some of your weekend or evenings. Start today, start tomorrow. Go buy some of the raw ingredients and start doing what you’re doing. Many people keep kicking the can down the road. Few people realize it takes very little to start. It takes time, but you can start scrappy. 

For our readers, get 10% off Boba Guys teas and tea ware by using code: LAUNCH10



Interested in pursuing your own passions? Apply to the Winter Passion Program today!

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Ziyad Hermez, Founder of Manousheh

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Ziyad Hermez, Founder of Manousheh

Name: Ziyad Hermez

Title: Founder of Manousheh

City: New York City, NY

Passion: Baking

Website: www.manousheh.com

Manoushe is a delicious, affordable and hyper local Lebanese breakfast baked good. As soon I land in Beirut, the first thing I do is eat a manoushe. I still remember when I baked it for my friends in San Francisco, they devoured it in minutes asking for more. I wondered, what if this tasty baked good were to be made and sold in the US? And then I stumbled upon Ziyad. He was making every Lebanese living abroad dream come true. He was bringing our culture and delicious flavors to the most incredible place in the world: NYC. Ziyad's story is one of a brave, passionate soul, who stops at nothing in following his dream with graciousness and joy. Just watching him prepare the manoushe for the customers with his big charming smile, is sure to make your day if not your tummy too. 

Photos by: Ruby Yeh

On Passion

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How and when did you find your passion?

By chance, and by necessity. I had been saying for 12 years, someone should do this. At the 10 year mark, I couldn't take it anymore.

I had a need for mnaeesh, I just wanted to eat them. I couldn't wait around for it any longer, and so a friend of mine gave me my first baking lesson. He had been a franchise owner, and wanted to do his own thing because he didn't like all the rules. One day, while over at my house, we were talking about wanting to open a manousheh place, but first we needed to find out if we could get the right ingredients here in the US. and what it would taste like. We looked online for recipes and videos. We tried to make one but it was just not right. The flavors were there, but the dough and the end product were horrible. This intrigued me. I wanted to know what had happened, so I researched. I found out that dough was delicate and alive. I practiced and did more research, videos, books, articles, and more recipes. 

I tried it all and still I just couldn't get it right.  The dough was good but the end product was not something I could sell. I wanted to know why. Along the way I realized I love this process. Baking was something I, someone who had always thought he would never find a passion, developed a passion for. I didn't just stimulate my mind, but all m y senses. 

On Transition

Tell us more about the transition to doing what you love.

I graduated with a Masters of Science in Information Systems Technology from The George Washington University in DC.  I moved to NY wanting to start something in Technology, but ended up here.

I wanted to take it further and train in a firin (bakery) in Lebanon. So when I went during the summer, I searched for a place that would teach me but no one was open and cared. Until one day a friend of mine shared a blog with me. It happened to be the blog of Barbara Massaad the author of "Man'oushe". Her book had been the starting point of my baking success. I contacted her and she loved my idea, of course, because she loves mnaeesh. She introduced me to the first firin where she had learned. 

Fares Isaac owner of Mouajaneit Gardenia, in Hazmiyeh was the one to take me on the journey. I learned from Fares what it means to be a farran (baker). He opened his bakery when he was 16 and has been there ever since. He knows almost all of his customers by name and interacts with everyone who comes into his bakery. Mnaeesh are fast street food, yet when you get one, you feel like you walk into someone's home. People talk to the baker about their day, share about their family, often end up speaking to other customers, and sometimes spend even up to an hour just talking and having coffee. Others, just exchange warm greetings, get their order and get on with their days.  I loved that about the manousheh, it isn't just about food, it expresses a part of the culture.

I wanted to replicate that in New York.  I wanted a bakery where people come in and would either leave having learned something, even want to visit Lebanon, or feel like their cravings are satisfied.

When I finally learned all the skills, and gained enough experience, I baked one more manousheh and decided it was time.  So I began searching for a location.  It was difficult, extremely difficult.  Until one day I came across a pop-up location.  I rented the space, and there I tested the brand, food, and concept - the reaction was remarkable.  Growing up with the spice, Za’atar, I thought it might be an acquired taste for people who didn't know it, but to my surprise I have not yet met a single person who doesn't like the taste!

The pop-up was rented out during the month of December, so I had to close and decided to go back to Lebanon.  While there, I asked my cousins where I could learn how to make a great lahem bi ajine (a thinner, crispy, ground beef option).  They said why don’t we just go to the best one, the guy we’ve always gotten ours from.

So we did, we went to Firin Abou Daoud and I asked if he would train me.  He opened his arms and welcomed me.  I learned a lot from Daoud and Jean, the two brothers running the bakery.  On some days, their wives and children would even come and help out.  They ran the place like a family and treated people as their own, its like the bakery was one big, long, family breakfast every day.

I knew at this point I wanted to open my own firin in NY, to share the amazing food, but more importantly the experience.

On Mastery 

How did/do you hone your skills?

I’m mostly self trained on the equipment, but Fares, Daoud and Jean all taught me important skills.

I wanted to make saj, so I bought a chinese wok and turned it upside down on my stove.  That worked nicely, but there is nothing like having a real saj, even heat distribution is very important. I eventually got a real gas powered one and used it for the first time at Smorgasburg Jr, in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

I watched plenty of videos of people making dough, saj, and oven baked mnaeesh.  I read books, articles, posted on forums and took baking classes to learn as much as I could.

I just keep baking, tasting, and asking people what they think.

On Failure

Tell us about a time in your earlier transition to living your passion when you failed. How did you feel? What did you learn?

I’m constantly failing, every day, the important thing is to learn from failures.  I’m not afraid of failing, because it leads to success.  Experimentations hardly ever begin with success, and I personally had no experience in this industry before that day my friend and I baked our first manousheh.

That first failure though could have easily turned me away.  I tasted the right flavors, but didn’t know how to make bread.  Instead, the science fascinated and persisted me to learn.

On Fear

What has been your biggest fear about living your Passion?

Hurting or disappointing others in the process of achieving mine.

How do you overcome your fears?

I try my best to treat people the way I would like to be treated.  I try to teach this to the staff that is going to operate each and every store.

On Money

Was there a time when you were running out of money? Did you need to give up a lifestyle to pursue your passion? Tell us more about that and how you coped.

I didn’t think about that, giving up of a lifestyle.  I mean, I wanted to do this, it was just the next step I wanted to take.  It was fairly simple, but most importantly the support I received from my family and friends made it much easier. Running out of money, when are we not?  It's running faster than me right now but I’ll catch up!

On Self-Love

What is self-love to you? And how important is it to your journey?

Self-love to me is confidence and appreciation for what I have.  It's important for me to want more, to strive to be better, but also to recognize who I am now.

On Inspiration

Who inspires you and why?

This is an extremely tough question to answer. I have many friends and family who inspire me, I have public figures (live and dead) who inspire me.  In relation to the topic, I will choose Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle.  He commercialized a brilliant model, and was able to replicate his delicious concept with high quality ingredients.  Chipotle owns and operates every one of their stores, maintaining consistency.  I would love to see Manousheh nationwide, and even internationally, while maintaining consistency in product and service, firin style.

On Support

Is there a community that supports you? Who are they?

My friends and family have supported me through this all the way, from helping with sweat, to helping financially.

On Advice to the Community

Please share a piece of advice with our community of men and women who are looking to leave their traditional jobs and live their passions.

It can be as hard, or even harder than you fear to leave your job to live your passion, but it will definitely be worth it.  If you’re going to set goals, why not put your passion at the top of the list? Be certain, and be smart!

 

 

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Anna Derivi-Castellanos, Co-Founder of Three Babes Bakeshop

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Anna Derivi-Castellanos, Co-Founder of Three Babes Bakeshop

City: San Francisco

Passion: Building a food system that protects the environment, promotes better health and creates American jobs. And pies.

Website: http://threebabesbakeshop.com/

It started with the meeting of two unique minds, Anna Deirvi-Castellanos and Lenore Estrada bonded at an early age at choir practice. Raised to respect the environment, their community and quality, sustainable ingredients, they grew up baking delicious pies, and the seed of an idea was planted.

Anna always knew she would work in the food industry and was determined to educate herself on everything there is to know about it. She worked her way up from the bottom at a small chain of natural food stores before going to culinary school and attempting to open her own Mexican eatery.

Few paths are simple and things didn’t go as planned, but fate intervened and her best friend Lenore - who recently shared her story with us - moved back to California from New York, excited to start a new venture.

A brainstorming session prompted them to try to bring their childhood dream, to start their own food business together, to life. Eager to share their talents, principles and values with the rest of the world through pies made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients, they started Three Babes Bakeshop in 2010.

Written By: Aoife Anderson

Photo Credit: Nina Menconi

What's Your Passion?

Looking to pursue an idea and don't know where to begin? Our Find Your Passion Program will give you the structure and support to take your first step. Contact us if interested hello@thepassion.co or check out the program here

 

 

 

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Lenore Estrada, Co-Founder of Three Babes Bakeshop

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Lenore Estrada, Co-Founder of Three Babes Bakeshop

City: San Francisco

Passion: Building a food system that protects the environment, promotes better health and creates American jobs. And pies.

Websitehttp://threebabesbakeshop.com/

After graduating from Yale, Lenore Estrada worked for many Fortune 50 companies (Google, Blackstone), in a myriad of industries. The road to finding and living her passion has been challenging to say the least. Lenore survived Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of Lymph tissue cancer, the deaths of her parents and a divorce with great strength. Every painful experience has propelled her to create a wholesome enterprise that has a positive impact on her community and makes her happy. Today, you will find Lenore in her Three Babes Bakeshop, a bakery company specializing in pies made from seasonal, organic ingredients. She started it with her business partner and best friend, Anna Derivi-Castellanos, in 2011 (who’ll be sharing her side of the story next week).

What's Your Passion?

Looking to pursue an idea and don't know where to begin? Our Find Your Passion Program will give you the structure and support to take your first step. Contact us if interested hello@thepassion.co or check out the program here

 

 

 

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Rabbi Alex Shandrovsky, Founder of L’Chaim Sushi

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Rabbi Alex Shandrovsky, Founder of L’Chaim Sushi

City: San Francisco, CA

Passion: Education

Websitewww.lchaimsushi.com

Video: Fundraising Campaign

When I first contacted Alex, I assumed we'd meet up in a coffee shop to chat more about his passion for sustainability and education. Instead, he graciously invited me to his home in the Sunset district of San Francisco for a multi-course sushi lunch, which was absolutely delicious. He's a Rabbi, dedicated to his faith and his family but moreover he is a full-on community leader who knows that food brings people together. He saw an opportunity and has spent the last few months working in partnership with the A.I. Community, building the world's first Kosher sustainable sushi catering service, L'Chaim Sushi. Meet Rabbi Alex, who's recently returned from a spiritually-rejuvenating two weeks in Israel and is excited about L'chaim Sushi's tremendous growth yet even more excited about his community's budding growth and the chance to educate and inspire.

ON PASSION

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The passion of L’chaim Sushi came out of a desire to build relationships. I lead educational sessions about Jewish spirituality in people’s homes. A challenge I’ve encountered is that I follow a Kosher diet and most of my students do not. They often want to fully welcome me into their homes with open arms, but they can’t feed me. I wanted to be able to form relationships and not have the barrier of kosher standards, so I started making kosher sushi to bring to the weekly classes. My connection with students grew stronger as sushi became the backbone that fostered our relationships. Delicious food is the cornerstone of any social gathering. By sharing food with Kosher standards, my community and I grew closer in equally nourishing our bodies, minds, and spirits.

I realized that beyond providing fresh sushi, I also could communicate educational principles it stands for. The sushi often sparked conversation about it’s Kosher values, and eventually the need for sustainability as well. While sharing sushi began as a social activity, it evolved into an educational tool. I noticed the lack of kosher food options in the Bay Area and the desire for more sustainably sourced products. L’Chaim Sushi began as an enhancement to community gatherings that grew into a business.

The students in the weekly classes really enjoyed the food, and asked if we could start catering their business lunches. They wanted to introduce and share the delicious sushi with their work environments. Through word of mouth, we encountered many interesting catering opportunities from romantic dates to the annual Jewish Family Children’s Services Emigree Gala. It was incredibly exciting to see the great reviews of the sushi, a high demand, and engaged customers that demanded ethically sourced materials.

ON MASTERY

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There’s a concept called “shmuch” in Torah wisdom that the greatest form of learning is through the immersive experience of becoming an apprentice. I am personally not a master, but I am good at becoming an apprentice to masters. I listen and observe how they work. A core value of L’Chaim Sushi is a commitment to constant improvement and mentorship from industry experts.

ON TRANSITION

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I wouldn’t call it a transition, I’d call it an evolution. I see the role of a rabbi as being a social leader, activist: fostering social change. Social business is a powerful avenue for fostering social change. It’s a natural extension of my passion.

ON FAILURE

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The first time we launched to the public eye, three months ago, we were overwhelmed with orders. The failure was that my operations were not able to keep up with the demand. This led to late orders, and not the quality product we wanted to provide. That evening, I remember walking away from the kitchen thinking ‘We are not going to do this. What am I doing? I am an educator, what am I doing in the sushi business?’ What happened is that I had my wife and my close friends who believed, and saw this idea and what it could be, when I couldn’t see it. Their support during that time was crucial. They saw things objectively and and hearing them say, “you need to continue” gave me strength to persevere during that challenge.

ON FEAR

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I personally embrace fear. It’s exciting. If I didn’t have fear, I’d lose everything I love about being an entrepreneur. If i knew the future, it would be so boring. I overcome fear by recognizing that fear is the price we pay for excitement, passion, and the joy of overcoming challenge.

ON MONEY

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I strongly believe that passion is the meeting point between what you love to do and what needs to be done. If a person is in that spot, there will always be money. Additionally, Torah wisdom defines real wealth as being content with what one has. I feel very blessed by all that I have already been given.

ON SELF-LOVE

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There’s one day out of my whole week when I’m totally detoxed from my entrepreneur world. It’s Friday night to Saturday night: sundown to sundown, Shabbat. It’s a weekly commitment to self-love and to my family, my spirituality and acknowledging the fact that ultimately I’m not in charge. That’s very freeing.

ON INSPIRATION

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My inspiration is my kids. My daughter is 2 ½ and she’s curious, loves life, she’s not cynical in any way: those are the most amazing qualities of being an entrepreneur. She’s totally engaged in every moment. She inspires me to be the person I am in this business.

ON SUPPORT

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“An individual is the sum average of the five people he spends the most time with.” I try to surround myself with the individuals who see and bring out the best in me: my wife, my children, my personal mentors in this business and also, my spirituality: my connection to the divine.

ADVICE TO THE COMMUNITY

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Surround yourself by passionate people, who support each other. The most transformative moment in my life was when my daughter was born and I held her for the first time. I looked into her blue eyes and I saw a reflection of me. Remember that there’s someone in this world who sees you as the most loving, benevolent person in the world. In that moment, I stopped caring what people think. In that moment of seeing myself through her eyes, I felt my best self and saw a greater reflection - this is community.

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Michael Warren Grant & Brandon Bosch: Founders of Brilliant Elixirs

This story is part of the Special Edition series by Souls of San Francisco for The Passion Co.

 

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City: San Francisco, California

Passion: Herbalism

Website: www.brilliantelixirs.com

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/BrilliantElixirs

What inspired Brilliant Elixirs? How did you two connect and come up with the idea?

Michael: I love enjoying social beverages and periodically take breaks from drinking alcohol, but still desire to feel that warm social openness it can give.  I started making an early version of “MoonShine” two years ago with the help of a master herbalist and I was sold from then on!  It was really rewarding to serve these early versions to friends at events and see them have such a good time. Making them on a larger scale was a clear next step.

Brandon: I missed the social drinking experience after developing pancreatitis and having to give up alcohol. One exhausted Sunday evening, Michael gave me a concoction that he had developed with a herbalist named Juris Ahn.  I found myself feeling fantastic and dancing all night.  I walked up to Michael after the party and informed him that we were starting a business!

What were you doing before Brilliant Elixirs?

Brandon: I had recently graduated with a Sustainable Business degree from Presidio, and I was hired as the CEO of Awakening360, a health and wellness web network and marketing platform.  While rewarding, it wasn’t until forming Brilliant Elixirs that I realized I’d found my calling.

Michael: I was engaged in event production as well as the hospitality industry.

How do you go about making the drinks?

Michael: All of our beverages are crafted, brewed and bottled by hand.  Each Elixir is made fresh weekly, allowing us to constantly refine and improve our recipes and techniques.  Our recipes are water-based decoctions combined with various herbal extracts and fruit juices.

What are some of the challenges of being entrepreneurs and what motivates you to keep going?

Brandon: The biggest challenge for Brilliant Elixirs is education.  Most people don’t know that a healthy social beverage exists as an alternative to alcohol, or are reluctant to try something new.

Michael:  We’re also running into the challenge of being able to produce enough elixirs to satisfy all of our weekly orders and events  -  which is a good sign in the end, it means people are catching on!

Brandon: To take Brilliant to the next level, we will need to hire employees, acquire advanced beverage production equipment and, of course, pay for these improvements.

Michael: All of our Elixirs are handcrafted, which can be a long and gruelling process, but each time we arrive to an event with our beverages in hand, we fall in love with the project all over again.  People are blown away by the effectiveness of our drinks, and keep coming back for more - that's all the motivation we need!

What does the future hold for Brilliant Elixirs?

Michael: On a production level, we’ll be investing in new, high-tech methods of extracting effective alkaloids from our plants, as well as further refining our Elixirs’ potency and flavor profiles.

Brandon:  We plan to be stocked on shelves in carefully selected venues, as well as to scale our operation up in size to accommodate our heightened demand.  We’ll be seeking investors connected in the beverage or distribution industries who really feel a passion for our mission: to take social drinking beyond booze with organic, botanical beverages that produce delightful sensations without alcohol.

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Jennifer Cho, Chef

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Jennifer Cho, Chef

City: San Francisco, California

Passion: Food

Twitter: @j_bites 

Website:  Jennifer Cho

Finding our first muse in the food world was not easy especially in San Francisco a quintessential foodie city with so many talent to consider. So I called up a friend who works at a cool food start-up www.kitchit.com and knew most chefs around here. He said I must speak to Jennifer. I shortly was on the phone with Jennifer and what was meant to be a 10 minute conversation lead to an hour talk about her story - she gave up years of PhD and teaching to embrace her passion for cooking. We spent an afternoon at Jennifer’s home: we played with Lola her dog, watched her cook, and lounged in her elegant and sunny living room while she narrated her story and left us inspired and touched by her openness and honesty.

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On Passion

I discovered my love for cooking over time, particularly when I was in grad school pursuing my PhD. I grew tired of abstract texts and theories and craved something much more tangible. I’d wax poetic about a meal I shared with my boyfriend or the produce at the farmers’ markets, and then go back to pulling my hair as I tried to finish my dissertation...something was off.
Pursuing cooking didn’t happen in one fell swoop- it took a lot of thoughtful introspection and weighing of pros and cons. I heard my family and my graduate school professors and friends, urging me to follow the professional path I had spent years cultivating, but I realized I had only imagined these voices. They were only reflecting my own fears and insecurities about switching careers.

On Transition

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My parents, who are first generation Korean immigrants, were less than thrilled to learn I was trading in my books for a chef’s coat. For them, it seemed like I was moving backward professionally, both in terms of respect and success. But I soon won their support when they saw how firmly I stood by my passion.
Transitioning from teaching to cooking didn’t happen overnight but over several years. For a while, I had one foot in academia and the other in the culinary world, and as much as I tried to excel in both fields, I often felt like I could do neither well. It was head splitting at times.

On Mastery

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Culinary school helped refine my craft. It’s true you can learn what you need to know by working in restaurants but I needed an expedited plan. I also completed an externship at a restaurant whose chef and cooking philosophy were inspiring. She scaffolded for me a life of passion - especially since she was a female chef who had made it.
I try to test new recipes on my days off, and maintain an inquisitive spirit. I’ll also flip through cookbooks and other food literature for inspiration, and I eat for the sake of research! It’s always refreshing to get out of your own head or palate in my case, and experience someone else’s culinary perspective.

On Fear of Failure

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I can’t think of one exact moment where I failed, but I felt like I often experienced failure when I worked at this really intense kitchen after I moved to San Francisco. Everyone was so seasoned and experienced there and here I was, a newbie taking baby steps. I lived in fear of messing up or getting yelled at. It was a humbling wake-up call for me - I thought I had worked hard in the past but this was the first time I realized what it meant to bust my ass.
I try to avoid the language of failure: of course, it’s hard since I am my own worst critic and highly competitive with myself. But if I can see a not-so-perfect experience as an opportunity for learning and growth as opposed to “failure”, that helps me move on.

On Money

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Cooks are known to be paid paltry sums for their labor so when I left teaching full-time for restaurant work, my salary was cut by ⅔ and I no longer had benefits. I definitely experienced a lot of anxiety about living check to check but my live-in boyfriend was extremely supportive and understanding.
When I first started my business, I was barely breaking even and during that time I wondered if it was even worth it. I returned to teaching part-time, driving all the way to Santa Cruz and Monterey a couple times a week. Teaching paid the bills and expenses until I could build a client base for my business. I was exhausted and felt like I was living dual lives, but it had to be done; now, I’m fully committed to j-bites, my catering business, and while there are lulls here and there, I’m able to support myself doing what I love.

On Self-Love

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If there’s anything I’ve learned along the way, it surely is lessons in self-love. To me, it’s about respecting yourself (both the strengths and the imperfections) and honoring the choices you’ve made. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt untalented and useless along the way, especially when you’re a novice pitted against masters of the craft. It’s difficult to love yourself when, at your lowest, you feel like your performance level doesn’t measure up to the standards you’ve created for yourself.

On Inspiration

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Powerful, entrepreneurial and creative women inspire me - women who have made choices for themselves in the face of naysayers and critics.

On Support

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I can’t single out one mentor, but I have had a few along the way. Certainly the established chefs I’ve worked for: Anita Lo and Daniel Patterson.
I didn’t always have a community, but I’m a firm believer that if you stand by your passions and choices, they will come.

Advice to the community

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Prepare to be pleasantly surprised! There is immense fear, of course, that comes with changing careers but there will be a time when you look back and are surprised by the breadth of your accomplishments. and growth. Don’t let anyone belittle them - especially yourself.

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