One-hit wonders are a thing of the past for many creatives and Doris Hồ-Kane is no exception.
In addition to having the booming bakery Bạn Bè, she recently collaborated with the magazine Cherry Bombe for limited-edition sweets, is working on a book about the Asian diaspora and aims to open a noncirculating library to extend her research to others. Several years ago Hồ-Kane started 17.21 Women, a photography curation project about Asian women.
But her role as founder of New York City’s first Vietnamese American bakery has her extra busy. First up there is a waiting list for 12,000 tins of Vietnamese cookies to tend to. “It’s intense but I love it. It’s liquid capital that has been keeping me afloat,” she said.
Before starting Bạn Bè bakery at the end of 2019, her career path included a 15-year run in fashion design. Apparel and textile design were her areas of study at FIT. Immediately after graduation, Hồ-Kane became the senior visual merchandiser for Steven Alan’s TriBeCa store and later cofounded a screenprinted men’s clothing line with her husband, Mark. That label Beard & Bangs was carried in more than 40 stores including Barneys in Tokyo, United Arrows, Steven Alan and others. Hồ-Kane also had her own store at one point called DOMAHOKA, which carried Rachel Comey and other labels. She also worked in public relations for a SoHo showroom that represented Kim Jones, Stussy, Karen Walker and Lover.
While pregnant with her child in 2013, she became more cognizant of what she was ingesting and made the switch from fashion to culinary pursuits, which was a sphere she was familiar with. Growing up in Dallas, her family had a restaurant. Much like fashion, food is a creative field and one that revolves around a specific calendar.
“There are seasons for fashion, and seasons for cookie tins, for weddings, for birthdays and other celebrations. I feel like my work flow and process is similar,” she said. “Also, fashion is a basic need. You’re dressing someone for protection but it’s also beautiful. For food, it’s for nourishment and to stay alive. But I try to infuse my aesthetic into that. Everything is very beautiful and just cute.”
When the pandemic took hold in early 2020, she put plans for a shop on hold and started working as a private chef, catering and wholesaling. About a year ago, she moved into a Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, location that is more of a production studio that is not yet fully open to the public. Once the weather warms up she hopes to open on the weekends as a grab-and-go place. Eventually she plans to renovate the front of the space to make it more of a retail space.
Hồ-Kane is currently at work on her book, “Asian Women: Trailblazers and Luminaries” and is busy archiving and researching for that. The manuscript is due in March and Penguin plans to publish it in 2023. The book will cover the Asian diaspora, including Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and South Asian countries like India. West Asia could be a second edition, Hồ-Kane said.
She has spoken with potential investors about opening the noncirculating library, where people could see these faces that have been buried throughout history or marginalized.
“This bakery is an extension of my archives. I’m working within my cultural roots. Vietnamese food hasn’t really had its shine especially desserts on the East Coast, specifically in New York City. I felt this was a way to expose people to Asian culture, specifically mine. It was an offshoot of that but it’s taken over with the wait list for the cookie tins,” she said. “But I definitely want a space to encompass my archives, the research and get these women’s stories out while feeding people, as well.”
Having had a lot of discussions with male investors, Hồ-Kane hasn’t yet found the right fit. “I would love, love, love for it to be a woman. But I have had a lot of men approach me, and I feel we don’t see exactly eye to eye on things. I know it’s a partnership that is basically forever and I want to be friends with this person and have a good vision that will enable both of us to thrive and grow instead of someone who is just interested in numbers,” she said.
With Lunar New Year approaching in February, she is cooking up something artistic to offer. As for future collaborations, Hồ-Kane said, “I have friends in fashion who are like, ‘Whenever you’re ready, just let us know.’ But I have this book to do and this bakery to keep open.’”