Alumnae Akemi Lee ’10 (finance) and Hanayo Martin ’11 (advertising), co-founders of Hapa Cupcakes, are facing both their biggest fear and their biggest dream: opening their own cupcake shop.
Taking on the risk, Lee and Martin both recently quit their jobs in order to focus and work full-time on their business, Hapa Cupcakes.
“When we were working our other jobs, we were working about 60 hours to 70 hours a week in order to have some money to support ourselves,” says Lee. “So it’s good that we can now focus 100 percent, because we really need to commit and develop our business and brand.”
According to Lee, she has always wanted to become an entrepreneur and business owner from a very young age.
Lee graduated from Mihaylo College in spring 2010 and was working at a bank but decided to leave her job to teach English in Korea.
“I love business, but I was not completely happy with the field I was in,” says Lee. “So, I decided to do some soul-searching by moving to Korea for six months to teach English.”
While Lee was overseas, the idea of taking the risk of opening a cupcake shop occurred to her.
“When I was in Korea, I called Hanayo about starting our own business,” says Lee. “So as soon as I left Korea, we began to formulate our business plan.”
Martin was on board, because opening her own bakery was one of her dreams growing up.
Since elementary school, Martin has loved baking desserts in her family’s kitchen.
“Hanayo has been baking since she was in the womb,” adds Lee. “She basically was born with a spatula in her hand.”
Lee and Martin, who are both half-Asian and half-Caucasian, decided to name their business Hapa Cupcakes; “hapa” is an urban term meaning “of mixed racial heritage with partial roots in Asia.”
The business partners agree that they are the perfect team, with Lee’s business background and entrepreneurial spirit and Martin’s passion for baking.
According to Lee, when she and Martin are experimenting with developing their unique alcohol-infused cupcake flavors, they want to create perfection.
“We’ve done our research and tried so many cupcakes at other businesses, and even though they may look cute and the marketing is good, they don’t taste good. So I don’t see why people would want to go back,” says Martin. “Our cupcakes are delicious. We want people to crave them and have our customers to be, ‘oh my god, I want another Hapa cupcake.’”
Martin believes that they have accomplished that, and she says many of their customers are returning customers.
“When they taste our cupcakes, they want more. And obviously, that’s the reaction we want,” says Martin.
Lee adds that in world of entrepreneurship, it is all trial and error. They are learning which things work and which don’t within their business, and that’s how they will achieve the best possible outcome.
Lee and Martin began their cupcake business less than two years ago, and according to Martin, they are basically starting from the bottom. That’s why they are working hard to open up their own business.
The hard-working and determined go-getters are extremely appreciative of their friends, family and donors who have supported their dream, whether it has been financially or by purchasing a Hapa cupcake. They are grateful, so they want to give back to the community.
Martin’s parents were both diagnosed with cancer when she was in high school and college. Their battle with cancer taught her to cherish every day.
Her parents beat cancer, which gave Martin a new perspective on family, love and sacrifice. Since her parents are cancer survivors, it showed Martin that anything is possible. So, following her dream and taking the risk of opening her own bakery no longer seemed impossible.
Hapa cupcakes are cupcakes with a cause. Since March, they have donated some of their cupcake profits to a non-profit cancer center, the FC Cancer Foundation in Huntington Beach.
“We want to do something that’s bigger than us and give back to others, to bring joy to those battling cancer,” says Martin.
Lee adds, “We have a personal attachment to the cause, and it’s perfect because it’s a small local organization in Orange County, so we know where the money is going, and it’s something we can be part of.”
“We have met the guys who began the foundation multiple times, and they’re always inviting us to different events, so it’s like a partnership,” says Lee.
Life also threw Lee a curve ball on January 1, 2012. Lee’s sister was in an abusive relationship and one day came back home beaten up. It was extremely painful for Lee, which led to depression. However, she turned a negative into a positive by realizing that she needed to focus on her dream.
Lee moved forward with Martin, and they continued their creative process by developing delicious recipes.
“Hapa Cupcakes allowed me to focus on something positive, instead of dealing with something that was so depressing,” says Lee.
Overcoming adversity, Lee and Martin are continuing to push their limits by working hard in order to achieve their dream.