Our Small Business Snapshot series features photos that represent, in just one image, what the small businesses we feature are all about. Andrew Ly, CEO and co-founder of Sugar Bowl Bakery, a business founded in 1984 that makes and distributes baked goods, explains how this image represents his business.
This photo was taken in Malaysia, on Pulau Bidong Island. Pulau Bidong Island was dedicated to housing — in tents — more than 40,000 Vietnamese refugees, known as the "boat people." Our family left Vietnam by boat in 1978, and many were children. Two of the children pictured currently work at Sugar Bowl Bakery — Michael Ly and Hieu Ly. Sugar Bowl Bakery is a family-owned and operated business, and this photo represents the hardship our family endured before coming to America, a land of opportunity, to grow our successful business.
When we came to America, none of us knew how to speak English, so our employability was pretty low, but we also needed jobs. To support our large extended family — with many young children — we decided to start a business to create jobs. In 1984, my four brothers and I scraped together $40,000, our entire savings, to purchase a small neighborhood coffee shop named Sugar Bowl Bakery in San Francisco. Now, we have two manufacturing plants with around 120,000 square feet, and we sell our products nationwide to large retailers and warehouse clubs in 10 international countries. Our core products are our Petite Brownie Bites, Madeleines, Petite Palmiers, and Duet bites, and we also have seasonal products and organic versions of our products. We've also recently launched a new product, Batter Crisps, which are thin and crispy cake-flavored cookies that come in four different flavors.
As a closely held family business without outside investors, we’ve faced challenges financing our growth. We have to manage our growth with business profit, which can slow us down significantly. For example, we are projecting a future East Coast presence in order to better serve our existing customers, to expand our customer base, and to cut our carbon footprint, but this project will take some time. We have to be sure that taking on projects of such scale allows us to continue to serve our customers and employees well. We’ve seen family businesses cease to exist by trying to grow too fast or taking on outside investors without thinking it through, and we don’t want that. Another challenge is talent management. It is not a challenge to hire qualified people with strong skill sets and good energy, however it can be a challenge to find people who fit our company culture of teamwork.
We founded our family business as accidental entrepreneurs. Our goal at the time was to make a decent living for the family, but we have always been driven to make our decent living a moving target. We have always embraced hard work as our business value. We may not be big, but we know that everything on this earth started as small. We understand that in order for us to grow and sustain ourselves, we must hold our integrity high by treating our internal and external partners fair and focusing on what we do and want to be.