We had the good fortune of connecting with Angela Sun and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Angela, how do you think about risk?
I’ve noticed that the older I get, the more methodical I am with taking risks. I am less inclined to take a risk for the thrill of it. Instead, I’d do my research, talk to experts/mentors, map out the plans before making the moves. The truth is, it feels more scary taking a risk in my 40s compared to when I was in my 20s. A lot more things are at stake (at least it feels like it) and a lot more caution and planning are required to ease my anxiety in risk-taking. That said, looking back, every major leap/risk I’ve taken in the past, landed me in an abundance of self growth and career satisfaction. It’s almost as if the need for change and growth is so strong, it outweighs the fear of risk and the only option to move forward is to take the leap. I find myself plotting and scheming every time life and/or company growth plateaus and feels stagnant.
While it still makes me uneasy thinking/talking about risk-taking, I’m learning to have a healthier relationship with it. Risks are everywhere and risk-taking is inevitable in life and in running my own business. I try not to focus on the risks but the tools and lessons I’m gathering along the way.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Q: Tell us more about your business. What do you want the world to know about your brand and story?
We sell frozen, New Zealand style pies at farmers markets around LA. These are puff pastry hand pies of meat and vegan varieties. But because we have a thing for desserts, we also have a small selection of dessert pies on rotation.
Our flavors are influenced by the diverse cultural upbringing of myself and the team, and we are on a mission to wrap our childhood food nostalgia in a pocket of flakey puff pastry. These are flavors familiar to many and we find great satisfaction in knowing our food has the power to take people back to those happy times and places.
Q: What sets you apart from others?
We all have seen the “cooking for 2 hours just to eat for 10 minutes is the biggest scam in the world” meme by now. This meme, while funny to some, is the life of many home makers like my mother who struggled to find much humor in it. At Hemera’s Bench, we believe you can enjoy a home cooked meal without feeling like Cinderella (or Cinderfella). We see ourselves as the extension of a home cook’s kitchen, providing a helping hand to an easy home-cooked meal. The take-and-bake nature of our products puts the meal preparers in the driver seat, giving them the ability to turn out freshly baked gourmet pies, when they want it, where they want it (camping trip anyone?). Our sales team (a.k.a. pie concierges as we call them) are also trained to make pairing suggestions, further empowering our customers to find creative ways to serve their pies; pair it with mac and cheese for a kid friendly meal, or with a side salad for a balanced plate. Homage to the home cooks! Whether you are cooking for the entire family or just for one, you earned the A+ in effort and we are here to help.
Q: How did you get to where you are today business-wise. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way?
We initially set out to be a farmers market pie shop/bakery, serving hot pie meals with sides and drinks. We made plans to launch at South Pasadena Farmers Market on April 02, 2020, little did we know it would’ve been the third week of safer-at-home mandate due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All prepared food businesses at the farmers markets were closed by the health department, while our farm and prepackaged neighbors were allowed to operate as essential businesses.
We had no choice but to make the ultimate pivot, to prepackaged frozen pies, before we even launched. I vividly remember debating and arguing with my SBDC (Small Business Development Center) adviser, agonizing over the fear of being associated with TV dinner and potentially cheapening our brand. My adviser, God bless his heart, kindly and patiently reminded me, “Angela, the sooner you accept this IS the new normal, the easier it becomes for you to focus on solving the right problem.” I’m glad I listened.
Hemera’s Bench has since been accepted into 10 farmers markets around LA, expanded its take-and-bake products to include sausage rolls and quiches, and has sold over 55,000 pies since April 2020. In retrospect, the pivot was less about baked or frozen pies, but more about whether to operate as a bakery or a gourmet food manufacturer. And in all honesty, we wouldn’t have scaled so rapidly should we stayed the former. The lesson here? Well, I try to remind myself that sometimes, something may appear to be an obstacle and an inconvenient detour, but really it’s just another opportunity to evaluate the situation so I can stay on the right path. I am in charge of my own path after all.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Since I love food and work in the food industry, it’s only natural for me to take visitors on a food tour and give them a taste (literally and figuratively speaking) of my life in Los Angeles. My regular diet in LA consists of a few humble food items: pies (I thought we’ve established that), fish & chips, tacos, donuts, boba tea, ice cream, dumplings, rice, noodles, and more noodles. Here is a short list of places I frequent:
Pies: Hemera’s Bench, Ponsonby Cafe
Fish & Chips: Tangaroa Fish Market
Tacos: CaCao Mexicatessen, Chuy’s Tacos Dorados
Donuts: Dōnatsu Doughnuts, Tony’s Donut House
Boba Tea: Why Thirsty, Oinkmoo
Ice Cream: Magpies Softserve, McConnell Creamery
Dumplings (& Dim Sum): Lunasia, Din Tai Fung
Rice & Porridge: Mama Musubi, Ricebox, Lu’s Garden
Udon: Marugame Monzo
Ramen: Ramen Tatsunoya, Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle
Pasta: Blair’s, Kneed Noods Pasta Bar
Beef Noodle Soup: Corner Beef Noodle House, Noodle Street
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
It takes a village in the food industry and teamwork truly makes the dream work. Hemera’s Bench will not be where we are at in such a short period of time without the support of our incredible kitchen and sales team. Forget about what you see on TV about celebrity chefs, it’s a lot of repetition and hard physical work, and oftentimes in less than ideal working conditions (small space, hot room temp, etc.). And behind the professional presentation of our cute tents at farmers markets, there is the setting up in the dark, the 50 lb deadlift of coolers and the sometimes extreme weather conditions (oh the heat waves in Los Angeles).
To our entire kitchen and sales team: I appreciate you to the moon and back. Your work ethic, dedication, kindness, and the always positive outlook in life inspire me everyday.