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Inspiring Conversations with Ziwei Li of Wei Good Food

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ziwei Li.

Ziwei, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
My road to starting my own business has been less than straightforward, but it truly couldn’t have happened any other way.

I immigrated to the US with my parents at the age of 3 and grew up in Virginia. As a child, I never quite felt like I belonged in either Asian or American culture. I had the “lunchbox moments” at school where the delicious food my mom lovingly packed for me was made fun of, or thoroughly questioned as I sat with my cheeks burning with embarrassment. I had to learn about American snacks at friends’ homes, where I’d gawk with amazement at things like Dunkaroos or Ritz Cheesy Dip (that red plastic stick had the sharpest corners in the world). These experiences made me strain to be more traditionally “American,” and I slowly built a firm wall between being Asian at home, and being American in public.

The wall remained up as I graduated college, but as I navigated my 20s, I developed a kinship with others who had similar experiences. I realized our stories deserve to be told. Between seeing Asian-Americans increasingly represented in media and moving to Los Angeles where I witnessed communities of Asian people thriving, I’m enjoying every second of my journey to reconnect with my whole self!

I founded Wei Good Food with the goal of showcasing how two co-existing cultures strengthen each other. Our products are defined by our unique Asian-American identity – and most importantly, proudly celebrate the very feeling I used to avoid.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Has anyone ever said yes to this question? (laughs)

It definitely has not been an easy road. Succeeding with Wei Good Food is my dream, but in the meantime, I’m still working my full-time job and pursuing my MBA at UCLA Anderson. My husband is also my co-founder, and he’s been a huge help in getting the business off the ground. Starting a business is exhilarating, and I’ve loved applying my skills to something that’s my own. Our business is bootstrapped, so after tuition, we invest almost everything into Wei Good Food’s growth.

The most challenging part is learning every single piece of running a business on the fly. I started my career in management consulting, so I have a lot of the necessary business skills. Nonetheless, it’s incredibly humbling to suddenly need to figure out accounting, legal, PR, marketing, and more, often all at the same time. It’s like drinking out of a fire hose – equal parts exciting, terrifying, and a real eye-opener.

We’ve been impressed with Wei Good Food, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Wei Good Food produces snacks and condiments that showcase and celebrate the fusion of Asian and American cultures. When you visit Asian grocery stores, you see aisles full of snacks and foods by category, but somehow in traditional grocery markets, Asian products are still relegated to the “ethnic aisle”. My goal is to bring the new generation of Asian-American food into the spotlight where we belong!

Everything we make is rooted in our identity of coexisting across cultures. As Asian foods become mainstream, I thought it would be fun to reverse the trend and apply Asian flavors to traditionally American snacks.

Our Matcha Buddies are matcha-flavored muddy buddies, made of crispy rice cereal covered in white chocolate and organic, premium-grade matcha. The other fan favorite is Coffee Buddies, which are a play on the smooth, sweet, and roasted flavor found in Vietnamese coffee. Keep an eye out for our newest flavors as they roll out!

We also produce our OG Chili Oil that I swear some of our customers are drinking (they go through it so quickly!). Instead of the pour-over method that the vast majority of chili oil recipes use, we use a unique micro-brewing method to extract maximum flavor from a special blend of different chili peppers found all over Asia. It makes a huge difference that you can taste! Pro tip: Costco dinosaur chicken nuggets are a perfect vehicle for the chili oil.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
Being open to asking for help & support.

Before starting Wei Good Food, I was terrible at asking for help whether at work or home. I’m very independent by nature and feel like I’m bothering others when I ask for help. It’s something I was working on, but this business very quickly made me realize I would fail in a week if I didn’t change my mindset.

Opening up for help has made a world of difference and I’m still surprised on a daily basis at how kind others can be. From my immediate network repeatedly buying out our stock to colleagues sharing their connections, so many people have come through with their support. I’ve even had complete strangers emailing me out of the blue to proactively offer help.

The networks I previously built and have since found in LA are incredibly supportive. Every day I’m shocked at how willingly people help me with Wei Good Food and that support is the number one reason for our success.

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