Mochi doughnuts — chewy, colorful rings of fried dough in a range of fun flavors — are finally available in Austin thanks to the new pickup bakery Bom Bakeshop from wife-and-husband co-owners Teresa Kwon and chef Anthony Kim. While the treats are delightfully simple and sweet, the story behind the bakery is more complex.
At the beginning of the year, the couple had no intentions of opening a bakery anytime soon. Kwon, a business consultant who’d grown up in Houston, had her hands full consulting for various businesses while Kim worked full time as a chef at a North Austin Japanese restaurant. Then, when the global pandemic and a series of national- and local-level racial reckonings brought the hospitality industry to a screeching halt, the couple found themselves stretched thin financially and emotionally. What they needed, they’d thought to themselves, was joy.
Bom started, really, because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In March, Kim was laid off, and Kwon, a business consultant, started working from home. In light of the pandemic-spurred grocery shortages, Kim began using his free time to bake gluten-free versions of various goods for Kwon who has Celiac disease, which prevents her from eating gluten. It revived an old dream they’d stopped chasing: opening a bakery specializing in gluten-free baked goods.”
The couple decided to start small. In March, they began selling to neighbors through their neighborhood Facebook group, even though they were “scared and unsure if now really was the right time,” Kwon says. At first, there was a limited amount of gluten-free baked goods, from bread to giant cookies (they thought that Twinkies would become their best-seller) at first as they experimented with recipes and figured out the right production and service models. Then, the duo quickly found success, selling out their first week, and then doubling their first two weeks of sales the next month. By April, they’d already expanded their service outside of their neighborhood.
Bom paused in early June during the widespread protests against police brutality and anti-Black violence sparked by George Floyd’s death. “Being people of color, having racial trauma of our own,” Kwon explains — especially as Asians and Asian business owners during the pandemic — “our hearts broke and cried out because of the injustice.”
As the couple processed their emotions while being mindful of the state of the world, they waited until mid-June to expand with mochi doughnuts. “We returned to the way we have journeyed through pain: joy,” says Kwon. And what’s better at radiating happiness than the bouncy chew of a mochi doughnut? The stunning, tasty baked good isn’t readily available in Austin, so Kwon and Kim decided to fill that gap. “We knew the world needed a little joy during such a time and year of grief,” she says.
“Mochi doughnuts are about the happiest food that exists,” continues Kwon. The pon de ring-style flower-shaped doughnuts are made with sweet glutinous rice flour that results in a Q texture (similar to boba), adorned in colorful, flavored icings.
At first, Bom offered the doughnuts to their existing customers, selling just two orders that initial day, and then expanded to the public through Instagram. As word spread about the gleeful mochi creations, within a month sales really began to ramp up to the point where the bakery sold out of the doughnuts two or three weeks in advance.
As Bom continues to grow, Kwon and Kim still strive to have fun with their offerings, increasing the number of flavors, quantities, and even putting together themed boxes, the latter available through the bakery’s newsletter. A recent Halloween special included decorated doughnuts (black cats with candy corn ears, Frankenstein’s monster) in flavors such as ube and pandan; the Harvest Moon Festival box came with sweet red bean and black sesame seed. There are plans for Christmas and New Year’s sets.
For other mochi products, there are also mochi dots — essentially doughnut holes — served with dipping glazes, as well as mochi churros. Then there’s the entire array of non-mochi, gluten-free baked goods, from cakes to whoopie pies to tiramisu to bread.
Kwon and Kim are also continuing to finesse their production systems in order to increase the number of quality doughnuts they can make in a day, increasing from 12 doughnuts to about 150 to 200 nowadays. The couple is thinking about expanding outside of their home kitchen so they can safely hire additional staff. They’d want to make sure the eventual space is safe for baking completely gluten-free items, so there are no worries about cross-contamination
As Kwon and Kim hitting their stride, they still want to remember the feelings that gave birth to the bakery. That drove them to regularly donate a portion of the proceeds from their sales to a variety of local nonprofits that aim to support the homeless, refugees, and the disabled. The couple also packages and distributes surplus baked goods to the homeless throughout the city. “It’s not much,” says Kwon, “but sharing from our overflow is just something we love to do.”
Because both Kwon and Kim are considered high-risk individuals for contracting COVID-19, they are being very careful about their distribution plans in light of coronavirus safety measures. Currently, Bom accepts preorders through Instagram and payments through Venmo. There are designated pickup days from their home in Highland: Tuesdays and Saturdays for mochi doughnuts and Fridays for everything else. The menu and ordering methods are posted in their pinned Instagram stories.
Although the couple’s interactions with customers are brief and align with social distancing guidelines, the short exchanges and opportunities to aid their community make the work worth it. “What began as a stop-gap financial solution,” says Kwon, “has surprised [and encouraged] us to dream beyond what we ever have before.”