We had the good fortune of connecting with Sandee Hong and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Sandee, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
My sister, Zinah, and I grew up in a small town in Michigan. Both our parents worked full-time jobs and ran a small business on the side. They hustled long hours to provide us a stable, comfortable upbringing.

Since our parents were busy working all the time, we had a lot of freedom as kids. We learned how to do a lot of things on our own. Looking back, our parents got lucky that we didn’t get into more trouble than we did!

I’m sure learning to be self-sufficient as a young kid probably has something to do with my sense of stubborn independence. For the most part, I’m grateful for this. But it also can make it hard to ask for and accept help when it’s offered. This can be a real impediment when you’re figuring out how to sustain and grow a small business for the first time.

What should our readers know about your business?
My sister and I started Gogoma Bakes out of a shared love of two things: our dogs and food. We wanted to celebrate both in a way that reflects who we are and offers dog-parents a fun and different way to show their dogs love.

We grew up in a Korean immigrant household. Food was kind of like religion. Our parents weren’t churchgoers, unlike many of the other first-generation Korean immigrants in town. We also didn’t have extended family or relatives living close by. Food, particularly Korean food, was our family’s way of bonding and staying connected to our culture. Plus, preparing deliciously healthy food is a Korean mom’s ultimate expression of love.

Once my sister and I became dog-moms ourselves, we discovered most store-bought dog food and treats didn’t smell or look like anything we’d want to eat. Since we’re instilled with this idea that food is an expression of love, we wanted to feed our own dogs only the very best. So we started making food and treats for our dogs using fresh, healthy ingredients we love eating ourselves.

Because of Lucy, goguma immediately came to mind as a great treat for dogs. Goguma is kind of known as diet food among Koreans. It’s packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber, so it fills you up without a lot of calories or fat. Plus it’s delicious – so much tastier than the orange sweet potatoes more commonly found in American grocery stores.

The thing with fresh roasted goguma is that it doesn’t travel well. So we thought, what if we mixed it up with other healthy ingredients and baked them into something that we could easily take on a hike or on the road? That was the idea behind Gogoma Bakes.

A Different Kind of Dog Treat

What makes Gogoma Bakes different from a lot of other treats is that you can see the ingredients that are in each treat. A lot of the baked dog treats you’ll find in pet supply stores are a uniform shade of gray or beige. Our treats look like they’re made with real, whole foods. You can see flecks of kale, kelp, and parsley or chunks of dried cherries in each treat.

We came up with each recipe to reflect a balance of protein, carb, and fruits or veg. We wanted them to be well-rounded snacks you can treat your dog to while out on a hike or to tide them over until mealtime. Our dogs go with us everywhere, so sometimes we’ll be out for a long day. We’ll give them a few Gogoma treats to keep them happy until they can get a proper meal at home.

Four Recipes

Our treats are based on foods and flavors we love eating ourselves. Each recipe has its own distinct flavor, aroma, and a story behind it:

Dashi celebrates our Korean roots and love for Asian food and flavors. Dashi, of course, is a flavorful and nutrient-rich stock used in a lot of Japanese and Korean dishes. Three ingredients in some combination make up dashi: kelp, mushroom, and dried fish. Our Dashi dog treats incorporate kelp and dried tuna, both of which are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Solid Gold is another fun, savory flavor that also incorporates dried fish. We call it our inflammation-fighter because it contains fresh turmeric and Manuka honey, along with anchovy and parsley. One of our dogs is a 12-year-old boxer-mix, so he’s in his golden years. This recipe is a popular one among our customers with senior dogs, our faithful Solid Gold companions.

Power Smoothie is inspired by the nutrient-packed smoothie we try to drink every morning. This one is an antioxidant powerhouse. Kale and Hawaiian spirulina give it a deep green color. Coconut, banana and chia seeds make it smell and taste like a tropical paradise!

PB& “G” is like a dog-friendly fruit-and-nut bar. The sweetness of goguma makes it a great companion to peanut butter. I’ll sometimes jazz up a fresh roasted goguma with a generous spoonful of peanut butter and fruit preserves or honey for a tasty breakfast or a hearty snack.

Challenges

The biggest challenges so far have been figuring out how to scale production and learning social media. Before Gogoma Bakes, my social media experience amounted to setting up a Facebook account while in law school 15 years ago. Just figuring out the language of social media – in addition to creating reels and other content – is a steep learning curve! There’s a massive, engaged community of dog-lovers on Instagram, so we know it’s important to build visibility there.

Right now, we sell mainly at farmers’ markets and pop-ups around LA. We’re starting to see more orders come through our website, and we have our sights set on retail stores next.

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.
I’ve lived in nine different cities in three countries since college, and LA is where I’ve lived the longest. I visited Zinah in California for years before deciding the west coast was the best coast! LA itself is so diverse and multifaceted. A weeklong trip to the city would have to highlight three aspects: food, entertainment, and outdoor adventures.

Food

There are so many great places to eat all over LA. A few that immediately pop to mind: L&E Oyster Bar in Silver Lake for the best-shucked bivalves in town and an awesome wine list. Bestia in DTLA for the salumi plate and roasted bone marrow and any pasta dish on the menu. Tacos Delta in Silver Lake for enjoying no-frills Mexican on a relaxed outdoor patio right along Sunset.

But in my opinion, the city’s greatest concentration of food bliss is in Koreatown. There’s always something new to eat or drink. Or a new way to party. A few longstanding favorites:

KBBQ at Soot Bull Jeep or Chosun Galbee if you want a little more upscale atmosphere. These are spots you go to when you just want a delicious, traditional galbi-and-soju meal experience. You’re not going to get craft beers or corn-and-cheese dipping sauce. (No shade at either. Quarters is great place for the previously mentioned cheesy dip with your KBBQ.) Order the kimchi chigae at Soot Bull Jeep and the naengmyun at Chosun.

Who doesn’t love a bowl of noodles? They’re a perfect meal to cap off a Korean spa experience (back in pre-covid days). Two noodle joints that always hit the spot are Hangari Kalguksu for knife-cut noodles in a steaming anchovy-and-clam soup or Yuchun for buckwheat noodles in a spiced-up chilled beef or radish broth.

Sometimes eating tasty food is a way to facilitate drinking, another pastime perfected by Koreans. There’s even a word in Korean that specifically refers to food eaten with alcohol – anju. The Prince and Dan Sung Sa are fun Koreatown bars to take out-of-town visitors for a night of anju-ing.

For cocktails and fried chicken in a retro-Hollywood setting, go to The Prince. If you want to feel transported to a 1970s street food stall in Seoul, then Dan Sung Sa is it for makgeolli and all the anju you could ever desire.

Should I go on?

Entertainment

• Pack a picnic basket and wine for a concert at the Hollywood Bowl
• Live music or standup at the Largo
• A flamenco show and dinner at El Cid in Silver Lake
• An LA Phil performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Outdoors

• Bike ride along the Strand. Start at Playa del Rey and ride through South Bay to avoid the congestion of Venice and Santa Monica. Maybe a stop in Redondo for some seafood at a spot along the pier.
• Hike with the dogs in Griffith Park
• Take a breather at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades. One of the most beautiful, serene places in LA where you can clear your mind and forget you’re in a city of nearly 4 million people.
• Visit a farmers’ market. There are so many to choose from in L.A. They’re great places to discover different kinds of artisanal goods and meet your neighbors. Gogoma Bakes is a regular at the Torrance Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays, Altadena Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays, and the LA River Farmers’ Market on Thursdays (starting May 26).

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
A nine-pound Maltese named Lucy is the original inspiration behind Gogoma Bakes. Lucy was our parents’ dog who passed in 2021 at age 17. She was the pickiest eater ever and would often go days without eating. But she loved Korean sweet potato, or goguma. Our parents would mix in freshly roasted goguma into her kibble to get her to eat.

We’re also super grateful for our early supporters and customers. In those first few weeks and months, we’d hear from complete strangers about how much their dogs loved Gogoma Bakes. It was always super exciting and encouraging – it still is!

We started by passing out free samples to people walking their dogs or while hanging out at dog-friendly spots like cafes, breweries and wineries. We’d occasionally hear from people about how their dogs are super picky eaters or typically don’t go for treats but that they really loved the samples they got from us.

Hearing all of that was really motivating and convinced us that maybe we were on to something. We’re really thankful to everyone who’s taken the time to reach out and encourage us. It helped keep us plugging in the very early days.

Website: www.gogomabakes.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gogomabakes/

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.