How This Home-Kitchen Cheesecake Bao Business Soared High with the Support of Community

It was in November 2020 when Jina Kim first posted in the AHN Community about a dream she had.

By Hannah Liza Tapan

May 1, 2023

Back then, Jina had recently just lost her job due to COVID and had just started a small cheesecake business in Los Angeles called Blend Sweets.

The idea she had about this is to blend different cultures, ingredients, and ideas into scrumptious desserts. She was able to combine all her favorite childhood Korean desserts into cheesecakes, and came together with her current business partner, Britney Wang, and created Cheesecake Baos.

Without hesitation, the AHN Community rallied together to support Jina and her business. The responses she received were overwhelming, with hundreds of people placing orders, offering catering, and even providing professional services to help her business grow.

Fast forward to today, Jina posted in the group once again, sharing her business’ successes. Through hardwork and determination, she was able to bring Blend Sweets into different pop-ups in multiple cities across the United States, and their cheesecake baos are now available at TE’AMO Boba Bar shops in Chicago..

“I couldn’t believe how strong of a community AHN was and how much it motivated me to work harder to improve my craft,” she said in her post, “This would have never happened without the AHN community. It all started here. With the people in this Facebook group. The reason I’m writing to you today is to say thank you for changing our lives and lifting us up when we were at one of the hardest moments of our lives.” 

It’s the stories like this that remind us that no matter how tough things may seem, there’s always hope and support available. Jina’s story is not just about starting a successful business, it’s also about the power of community to lift us up during difficult times.

WHAT I DID HAVE WAS A WILL TO SUCCEED AT ANY COST

Before I moved to Los Angeles, I was on a journey to find my identity because I always felt that I didn’t know who I was. I lived my life based on how my family and those closest to me expected me to live and, for reasons I now understand, I constantly felt unfulfilled. In my short 3 years in LA, I learned more about myself than I ever had in my life.

Due to COVID, I lost my job, and being pushed into this corner helped me take a risk and do something I never thought I’d be capable of; start my own business. At the time, my mother and I were not speaking as she didn’t agree with some of my life decisions, but somehow this falling out between her and me kickstarted my motivation to prove to myself and everyone else that I could succeed in something I was truly passionate about. 

Despite our differences, I love my mother dearly and I wanted to create something that paid homage to the love I had for her. Like many traditional Asian households, our relationship was built on the notion of discipline and responsibility and lacked aspects of love and friendship that are commonly expressed in American families.

One thing I do remember about my mother that always seemed to bring me back to a place of longing nostalgia was her love for cheesecake. My mother was never the type to indulge in sweets but for whatever reason, the rich and decadent taste of cheesecake was always able to put a smile on her face; something I always dreamed of being able to do for her. I didn’t have any refined skills that I felt would aid me in cultivating a successful business, but what I did have was a will to succeed at any cost. 

Hotteok Cheesecake Baos

BLENDED ASPECTS OF EASTERN AND WESTERN CULTURES

I chose the name “Blend” because I’ve always felt like a very versatile person who acclimated well to different situations and I wanted my brand to always retain that same level of creative expression. A blend of everything that made me who I am. Like the ingredients to an ever-changing recipe that continues to grow with time.

Shortly after coming up with the idea, I scrambled with my fiance to purchase the bare essentials to start baking, and Blend Cheesecakes was born. I started baking and selling cheesecakes from home and would be working in the kitchen from 6 AM-10 PM every night, experimenting with different shapes, flavors, textures, and ideas. I reached the point where I was doing well enough to take the next step and collaborate with other businesses to help me and my company gain exposure, and that’s when I reached out to my now business partner and sister from another mister, Britney Wang.

Jina and Britney

Britney was developing a savory dumpling business at the time and I felt that if we put our heads together, we could come up with a fun collaboration concept for a pop-up. The obvious question arose in our heads during our first meeting, “how can we combine cheesecake and dumplings?” And that simple question led to weeks of experimentation until we arrived at what you all now know as the Cheesecake Bao! These delicious treats were flying off the shelves during our pop-ups and we knew we had stumbled on to something that “blended” aspects of both Eastern and Western cultures in an adorable little ball of steamy and creamy goodness. Since then, we’ve done pop-ups all around the US with the goal of sharing Cheesecake Baos with the world one city at a time.

Cheesecake Baos captured by @misspiggieeats on IG

LEARNING WHAT IT TAKES

We have accomplished a lot in the past two years — from traveling around the US, collaborating with well-known companies such as Yelp and OurPlace, and even being acknowledged by one of the most distinguished food blogs: EaterLA.

But it remains that one of our biggest accomplishments was finding ourselves, our confidence and learning what it takes to operate and grow a small business.

HOW THE ASIAN HUSTLE NETWORK COMMUNITY HELPED GROW HER BUSINESS

I’m so thankful to the photographers/videographers from the Asian Hustle Network Community that offered their help to take professional content for us to help us in the beginning, graphic designers that asked to help grow our brand, foodie influencers that wanted to make videos with our cheesecake baos, companies that wanted to order our baos for catering, and entrepreneurs that wanted to give us advice on our business plan, and so many others. 

It all started with a simple post on AHN which helped us find our direction. We are nowhere near our goal, but we’ve created momentum thanks to AHN’s support and we’ll never stop working hard in order to continue moving forward.

THE PLETHORA OF LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE PUSHING TO MAKE SOMETHING OF THEMSELVES

It’s all in the name — Asian Hustle Network.

I grew up in Chicago and I never grew up around a strong community or even family. I went to private schools my whole life, so the people I grew up with never understood me or even knew what ‘Korea’ was. No one knew about my culture, food, or anything related to Asian culture.

I grew up thinking that it was normal to live two lives: one Korean life with my family and then another life where I hid who I was so that I could fit in easier in America.

I never understood the importance of friends, community, and being around people that appreciated my culture until I moved to Los Angeles. I befriended people that I now call family and through that family, I was able to find the courage in myself to start my own business.

I was recommended to the AHN community by a good friend, entrepreneur, and mural artist, Kent (Neurogum). Kent and I met at a mutual friend’s birthday party and he kept telling me amazing things about the AHN Facebook Group and how supportive the community was. I immediately joined and felt so inspired by the plethora of like-minded people pushing to make something of themselves.

In November 2020, I built up enough courage to write to AHN to talk about my story and product to see how people would react to the concept, and I was blown away by the level of support. The most shocking part of it all was that all of these people were strangers with no incentive to reach out to me and offer their help. It was those gestures of selflessness and support that helped me push myself to work harder and believe in myself. 

I grew up thinking that it was normal to live two lives: one Korean life with my family and then another life where I hid who I was so that I could fit in easier in America.

jina kim

THE FUTURE FOR BLEND SWEETS

We recently stepped out of being a “pop-up” concept and have been lucky enough to have someone believe in our product and invest in our business.

We’re now available in Chicago in 4 locations of the renowned local boba shop, TE’AMO Boba Bar. We are ecstatic to see our dessert being offered in stores, but our future plans entail something bigger. A plan where we bring people into the world of Blend Sweets and give them the full experience in our own brick-and-mortar.

BLEND SWEETS x TE’AMO

The Asian Hustle Network community just needs to keep existing! This community has brought so much inspiration and people have shown nothing but support and kindness to us. We continue to work hard to hopefully reach the success we read about so often on the platform. 

CONNECT WITH JINA

TikTok: @jinabaobina

Instagram: @jinabaobina

Blend Sweets Instagram: @blendsweets