Today we’d like to introduce you to Kei Okumura.
Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
For the majority of its ten years history, my store Sugarbird Sweets + Teas has been almost entirely local and reliant on the restaurant and catering industry. I started at the South Pasadena Farmer’s market with our second child (six months) in tow to share my love for tea time and all things sweets to go along with the ritual. Sugarbird grew organically from renting kitchens at Pizza stores, coffee shops to keep costs low while we grew the catering business to individuals hosting brunches, baby/bridal showers and corporate breakfast events with our tea time menu offerings. This included tea sandwiches, mini scones and mini desserts to pair with our line of small-batch blended teas. We began wholesaling our scones and teas to cafes, restaurants and hotels, and continue to set up shop at farmer’s markets twice a week. Some of clients include Mendocino Farms for our ice tea, Viceroy Group, coffee shops like Broome Street General Store, Woodcat in Echo Park, Bricks and Scones for our scones. The pandemic turned that on its head. If I wanted my business to survive, I had to shift to heavy outreach online, learn the ins and outs of digital marketing and become a bonafide expert in supply chains. It wasn’t easy, but it’s certainly been worth it.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It hasn’t been a smooth road at all to say the least. It feels like being in the ocean and you catch great waves to swim along the currents but sometimes, it just feels like constant waves tumbling you across, over and over again and when you barely get up for air you get tumbled again. The experience is familiar growing up in a small seaside village in Japan, called Kamakura learning to swim with my older brothers, then making our journey to another beachside town in Orange County when I was nine spending all our summers in the sand and ocean. The pandemic hit and needed to figure out how to sustain our business, continue to keep our incredible team on payroll. I wasn’t sure what was gonna happen, especially when businesses around me were closing up shop, moving away pretty quickly when the world shut down. I didn’t have a choice but to keep on swimming along and knew it was gonna be rough unknown waters ahead. With the help of my husband with 30 years of experience in film, marketing and event knowledge we started working on revamping our outdated website one day at a time, learning the ways of digital marketing with a great digital marketer who helped us get our brand across the internets.
In the meantime, as the world shut down, the corporate world worked from home, they were looking for something to brighten up their meetings a bit and reached out to us for afternoon tea sets. A big tech company was holding a virtual meeting reached out to see if we could send out 20 individual tea sets to folks doorsteps. It was a fun challenge to manage and with the positive feedback, we started to offer afternoon tea sets to ship nationwide and our official launch was Mother’s Day 2020. The digital marketer was fully engaged and we did the most successful Mother’s Day campaign. Never knew how much we could reach with digital marketing, we were pretty stumped it worked so well. I wondered why we never used it before. But what we weren’t ready for was the massive logistical challenges we were gonna face. This included supply shortages, boxes, tiers, special ingredients were not readily available.
Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Sugarbird Sweets + Teas is a scone bakery and tea shop that aims to acquaint Americans with the quieting, centering ritual of afternoon tea. I specialize in creating scones that celebrate East-West, California-fresh fusion flavors — orange cardamom, black sesame white chocolate, matcha, ube coconut — and all things essential to afternoon tea.
Going forward, we’ll continue fine tuning our e-commerce to offer afternoon tea sets for all types of occasions, teas, teawares, virtual tea platforms to gather people into a place to share and offer tips for afternoon tea, recipe sharing and focus on wholesale with our RTB (ready-to-bake) frozen scone doughs into grocery store bakeries nationwide, and gift box companies. Ultimately expand Sugarbird Sweets + Teas into a lifestyle brand where people can use Sugarbird Sweets in an effort to make afternoon tea more accessible. But I’m also going to take the time right now to make more connections and take a moment to take it all in. We’ve been through a lot. Let’s celebrate how far our world has come. It’s gonna be a time to gather, connect and celebrate in the months to come. So many brides have postponed their weddings, babies are now celebrating their 1st or their 2nd birthdays, corporate gatherings may still be held virtually, but it will all change and want to continue growing Sugarbird to be the go-to company for corporate gifting and for afternoon tea gatherings.
- Afternoon Tea for Two $115
- Afternoon Tea Sweets Box from $72
- Box of Mini Scones $36
- Loose Teas and Matcha from $10
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: Sugarbirdsweets.com
- Instagram: @sugarbirdsweets
- Facebook: @sugarbirdsweets
- Twitter: @sugarbirdsweets
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8x8qYDlHGYzwNZTjoe2-Lg
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/sugarbird-sweets-los-angeles-3