UPRISERS | Small Business Saturday
by Kari Okubo·
In honor of Small Business Saturday, we wanted to honor a few of the small businesses within our community that are absolutely killing it. We spoke with the masterminds behind Cropsticks, Cafe Dulce and The Things We Do and learned about their philosophy behind their businesses and why it is important to support small businesses.
The whole mission of Cropsticks is to leave behind a greener environment for future generations. Cropsticks are sustainable chopsticks made out of bamboo and are then upcycled to create flooring, tables, and art. Founder Mylen Yamamoto came across the idea on a flight to Asia when her chopsticks kept rolling off her table and through more in-depth research discovered the current flaws of the chopstick industry. “80 billion chopsticks are used every year and thrown away. Out of those 80 million, 45% are made from trees which equates to 20 million trees that are chopped down every year for a product that we throw away.”
A main hurdle for Cropsticks has been a matter of scaling the business and the ability to get larger volumes of products out, as well as introducing new products while doing it all in an ethical and sustainable way. In order to scale, Cropsticks raised capital through investors, but a large part of convincing investors is by people supporting the small business. “It runs the economy. When you support small businesses especially when it is part of your local business, then it contributes to the entrepreneur being able to hire more employees and then that contributes to more tax dollars into the state. With small businesses, every cent matters and I feel like the appreciation will come directly from the founder.”
Cropsticks has collected over 5,000 pounds of chopsticks so far and is a certified B Corporation which means that they meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. They have also launched a new product, a bamboo straw, which doesn't get soggy and it is compostable. You can support Cropsticks by shopping on their online store or dining at any of their distributor's locations.
The Things We Do
The Things We Do is an East Meets West beauty bar located at ROW DTLA that takes a different approach to beauty. Founded by Vanessa Lee in 2018, The Things We Do offers classical western services that you would see at a med spa but also has a holistic beauty menu inspired by Lee’s Filipino roots. Additionally they have a full retail area with beauty products, beauty tools and an in house line - The Things We Do Beauty. With a philosophy of natural intention beauty guidance, The Things We Do is focused on beauty both the outside and the inside. With their patients, “We don’t sell you on your insecurities. We ask you what your favorite feature is and we add to that. Sometimes you can tell that a patient is hurting on the inside and might be trying to fill some kind of emotional or mental health need with our services and when we pick that up, our providers are very familiar with referring out to licensed therapists.”
The business is completely self-funded which Lee said was one of the main hurdles in the beginning. All while having two young children, she invested a large portion of her savings into the business and applied for a small business loan. “I really did not want to answer to anyone. I wanted to be self-funded and run the show exactly how I wanted to run it.” Operating a small business has definitely not been easy but it has definitely paid off for Vanessa which is why it is important now more than ever to support small businesses. “It is a way to vote every single day and where you put your money and what businesses and ethos you back. When I go shopping I like knowing that a family, a businesswoman or someone that I really stand behind is benefitting for this and it is a legacy that I am contributing to.”
The Things We Do is opening their second store in Chino Hills by the end of the year and will be expanding their current space in DTLA providing more services and longer hours. They are also expected to open two more locations in New York and Hawaii.
Cafe Dulce is one of Los Angeles’ most well-loved cafes boasting quality beverages and delicious food items. Founded in 2011, owner James Choi decided to help his mother accomplish her dream of having a bakery in Little Tokyo and against all adversity, opened Cafe Dulce. Although their premium coffee selections and delectable donuts are amongst the best in Los Angeles, to Choi, it isn’t only about the product. “I tell our staff, the food and drink that we serve is only as important as the people we serve them too. We don't serve food, pastries, and coffee... we serve people.”
Owning a small business has brought much success, but it has also brought a couple of setbacks. Everything from the regulatory environment to rising labor costs has been squeezing small businesses in general. “Personally I think it's important to support small businesses because small businesses are the backbone of any community and economy. The money that you spend at your local small businesses will more than likely stay in that community because small business owners often live close by and even if they don't probably spend a lot of time in and around the community in which their business lives. Also, in this time where people are finding it easier and easier to disengage with the people around them, a small business is a place where personal interactions and relationships can still happen and that's a beautiful thing” Cafe Dulce is all about interacting with the community and providing the best service possible.
Cafe Dulce has four locations across Los Angeles and is expected to open its 5th location on Los Angeles Street & Olympic by the spring of 2020. Make sure to go in and experience Cafe Dulce for yourself.