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Amanda Nguyen Transcript

Amanda Nguyen: The Baker Behind the Quarantine Cakes

Kerry Diamond: Hey everyone. Welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe, the podcast about women, food and a whole lot more. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond. On today's show I'm talking with Amanda Nguyen, the founder and baker behind Butter& in San Francisco. I found out about Amanda and her bakery when her quarantine cakes started popping up on Instagram. You heard that right, quarantine cakes. She came up with the idea for these mini cakes decorated with a PSA when all of her wedding and celebration cake business disappeared overnight. It not only saved her bakery, it started a movement across the country.

Before we get to our conversation let's do a little housekeeping. Today's sponsor is the Wines of Rioja. Thank you for supporting today's show. You folks are the Bombe, and thank you for sending me a few bottles of Rioja wine. That was very kind of you and I think I'm going to open the Gran Reserva 2009 this weekend.

And, do you know about the Cherry Bombe cookbook? We have a great cookbook if I say so myself. It features more than 100 recipes from some of the most interesting and creative women in the world of food, including Vivian Howard, Kristen Kish, Joy the Baker and Mashama Bailey. The most popular recipe in the book is definitely the pink spaghetti from Elettra Wiedemann. The spaghetti is tossed in a mixture of red beets and ricotta that literally stains the spaghetti bright pink. then it's topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano, chopped basil, toasted walnuts, and some lemon zest. It's fun to make and delicious to eat.

You can get the Cherry Bombe cookbook online or from your favorite local bookstore. And to all of you tagging us on Instagram when you cook from the book, thank you. Now, here's my conversation with Amanda Nguyen of Butter& in San Francisco.

Kerry Diamond: When did you start baking?

Amanda Nguyen: So, I started baking when I was, I don't know, still in elementary school. I was the girl that brought the brownies to all of the class parties, that triple chocolate Ghirardelli box mix was my signature. Yeah, my love for baking started young.

Kerry Diamond: Do you remember how it started?

Amanda Nguyen: It started off really with that Ghirardelli box mix. I just remember making it with my mom, who didn't have that much free time either, because she was an immigrant from Vietnam, started her own salon, so we were always cooking because we didn't have that much money, didn't have that much time. She didn't grow up making traditional American treats either, so that was kind of like, "Oh, brownies, we know what that is," and we would just mix three ingredients together in a bowl and I remember just thinking it was like magic. Just dry brown powder turns into dark brown lava, turns into delicious brownies. I just remember thinking this was magic.

Kerry Diamond: There is definitely a magic element to it. I do remember feeling the same way as a child, and I think box mixes are definitely the gateway for a lot of us into the baking bug.

So, you did not see that as a career path, however? You wound up going in a different direction.

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah, data analyst. Yeah, at Facebook. Totally different from what I'm doing now. It seems like a lifetime ago. But yeah, I always enjoyed baking in my free time. I think this was probably due to my upbringing as like a first generation immigrant family, my mom busted her ass off to pay for mine and my sister's private schooling because we didn't live in the best neighborhood either, so the public school system didn't have a very good reputation. It was nicknamed Mount Pregnant. And so, my mom worked really hard to get us a good education, to get us into good colleges, to get really stable desk jobs. That was the goal, and so that's what I did.

Kerry Diamond: Your mom didn't want you to take over the hair salon?

Amanda Nguyen: No, no. Yeah, she did not want me to do that.

Kerry Diamond: How and why did you wind up coming to the San Francisco area?

Amanda Nguyen: My mom's side of the family, they were based in South Vietnam, and so when the south fell after the Vietnam War my mom and her entire family had to flee for political reasons. So my grandma, who is amazing, she was a merchant and she dealt with fine jewels and gold, and she was just like a very well respected, well trusted merchant. In her career, I think she observed the political turmoil and started saving in preparation for the worst, which was really awesome because when the south fell she had saved up enough gold to buy fake Chinese passports for her seven children and some other cousins and boyfriends and girlfriends. Each person's passport was I think like 14 gold bars or something like that. But she was able to successfully smuggle everybody out of the country. They all ended up in Maryland actually, and then my mom met my dad there in college, and then they came out to California after. So it's kind of like a long story, but yeah, that's how. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Your grandmother sounds formidable. Did you get to meet her?

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah, yeah. She actually lives with my mom now. My mom and my grandma live in San Jose. So yeah, that's kind of where I grew up is in the Bay Area and San Jose, but now I live in San Francisco.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. You have to write about your grandmother. What an incredible story.

Amanda Nguyen: She is amazing. Yeah, I definitely want to record her telling her story someday. Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: We would love to hear that. We would love to know more about her. Tell us how you wound up at Facebook.

Amanda Nguyen: So, I ended up at Facebook after trying really, really hard. I remember when I was in college I was a Facebook user. It was fun. Lots of photos and comments. It's so strange, I barely use it now. I aspired to being in tech because I grew up in the Bay Area and my dad was an engineer. I wanted to live near home and that was one of the biggest industries where I grew up, and it was known for what tech companies are know for, treating their employees well. They give you free food. You can invite your mom to work and she can eat with you for free. That was like a really big draw for me. And then, yeah, the stability of it, that was just kind of like a goal of mine. When I was in college I applied and got rejected the first time, and then I ended up getting a job.

My first job out of college was at the Federal Reserve in their research and statistics department studying consumer finance. That's like student loans, credit card loans, auto loans, and mortgages, like studying the house price. After getting that job, I gained a lot of skills that made me very qualified for the job that I failed to get at Facebook, which is like a data analyst job. Because when I was at the Fed I had to learn how to program in various languages and manage databases and move and manipulate data into certain ways for research purposes. So, after two years in D.C. I was pretty homesick and intent on coming back to the Bay and that's when I tried reapplying again to Facebook.

I didn't end up getting the job, but it was okay. I got a different one at Eventbrite, which is another tech company in San Francisco. They do ticket for small to large events. I became a data analyst there. I supported product and marketing there for a year, and then after that year Facebook actually reached out and recruited me for the job that I ended up getting. So you know, third times a charm. You've just got to keep doing your best. Sometimes you're not there yet, but hopefully you get there at some point.

Kerry Diamond: The whole time you're baking for fun?

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah. Actually, when I was in Washington, D.C., that was my first job out of school, and I remember being so... It was kind of like a culture shock, because when you're in college, at least for me, I was on all the time. If you're not in class, you're in extracurriculars. If you're not there, then you're studying. If you're not studying, you're probably partying. I feel like every hour of my day was occupied, and then when I started at the Federal Reserve I remember it being a very regular 9-5 job and I was like, "What do you do when you're done with work?"

That's when I started baking really intensely. That's when I started learning how to bake with yeast and sourdough breads, and I was obsessed with perfecting my cinnamon buns because there's another shop out in Berkeley called Cinnaholic. Just made these beautiful cinnamon buns that also happened to be vegan but were so delicious and I couldn't find one that compared in D.C. at the time. So I started making that.

That kind of just exploded my adventure into baking and pastry in general, and so after cinnamon buns I think I started... I Googled hardest thing to bake or something like that, and that was during the age of macarons, and so that was my next project. I conquered that and I was like, "What's next?" It's croissants and laminated doughs, and so I just kind of... One thing led to another and I realized that I was using all of my extra time and money on baking and just kind of tackling one product and moving on to another. So much so that I actually got a part-time job while I was at the Fed at a bakery called Paul, which is like a French patisserie sandwich shop.

Kerry Diamond: One thing that's coming through is you definitely seem like a woman who loves a challenge.

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah, that's a fair assessment. I love a challenge for sure.

Kerry Diamond: Until you got the job at Paul, where you self-taught?

Amanda Nguyen: Yup. Yeah, self-taught in that I used YouTube and read a lot of blogs and books, yeah. A lot of resources out there.

Kerry Diamond: So you're back in the Bay Area. You're working at Facebook. How long were you at Facebook until whatever popped in your head where you're like, "You know what? I think I want to open my own bakery."

Amanda Nguyen: I think about maybe a year and a half. Probably a year, and then it took me a long time to leave because I'm actually very risk averse, and it was such a hard decision. But yeah, I would say about a year in I was considering it.

Kerry Diamond: Isn't that crazy? Because you wanted that job so badly and then you're there for a year and you're like, "I'm going to do something else."

Amanda Nguyen: It's just so insane. I was so scared to tell my mom about it, about my decision and about my thought process. I was so afraid of disappointing her, but she ended up being really supportive.

Kerry Diamond: Do you remember that moment though, when you were like, "This could be a career for me?"

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah, I remember... I'm trying to think back because I debated it so hard. There was a moment, I guess, when I was sitting in my apartment trying to decide if this is something that I would commit to, like this being Butter& a career change, starting my own cake shop. I remember thinking about my future in two different scenarios, one just continuing my career in data at Facebook, and then the other being cake, and I remember thinking I can see my future very clearly if I stay in my lane as a data analyst at Facebook, but it wasn't that exciting. But it was nice. I felt so lucky to be there. It was a privilege to have such a stable and secure job with awesome coworkers who are amazing people, but then there was this whole other adventure that was a huge question mark, and it made me think about what the point of life is for me.

Kerry Diamond: That's pretty profound. What did you decide?

Amanda Nguyen: I decided that now is the time to do something a little risky, just because at that point in my life I didn't have any children. I had just started this career that seemed to be a good one, but I wasn't so established that the opportunity cost of leaving it would be so high either. And then the more basic answer is I think the point of life is to experience it and to relish the adventure in it, and Butter& was the bigger adventure that I was more excited to do.

Kerry Diamond: So you decided to do a custom cake business, as opposed to opening a brick and mortar. Why did you make that decision?

Amanda Nguyen: I made that decision because I think a part of it was just due to serendipity and luck, and then also just personal interest. I found cakes to be a really great hybrid of the technical aspects of baking, but then also this artistic self-expression of what is design. There are so many cake makers out there, but there are very few who I think have an aesthetic that is very them, if that makes any sense to you. There are tons of trends, but there is something really exciting to me about bringing design into food in this way, through this medium of buttercream cakes specifically, that was just really interesting and exciting to me. It was validated by this demand that I was seeing. It was really easy to sell these cakes out of my apartment because I think they look really nice and they look kind of different.

Kerry Diamond: You wanted to do cakes that looked modern and that tasted great. I mean, I think we've all had those cakes that are fun and look great and they're just basic buttercream and just basic white cake, but you wanted to get away from that.

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah, that's so important to me. I'm so obsessive about the texture of our cake at the temperature that they're being served at, because there are so many factors that play into what is a good experience when it comes to cake, and I'm sure when it comes to many other things. But one of our chefs, Liz, she just recently redid our cake recipe and I'm so obsessed with it. It is the most delicious cake ever. We actually replaced the butter in the recipe with sour cream, and I think that's probably the secret ingredient for this specific cake and why it's so good. Sour cream is amazing. I think anything fermented is amazing, and sour cream is like... It's just a delicious thing.

We actually use it in our caramel, too. There's something about that slightly tanginess to it that makes you want to take a second bite or take a second serving of whatever it is. That's like-

Kerry Diamond: That's so interesting.

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah, yeah.

Kerry Diamond: So even though the name of the company is Butter&, there's no butter in the cake.

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah. Isn't that ironic, Kerry? Don't tell anyone. Just kidding. We use a lot of butter in our buttercream so I feel like the name is still okay, and it's kind of open-ended with that ampersand, so I feel all right about it. But yeah, our cake is technically not a butter cake, it has sour cream for the dairy portion of it. But we make up for that in our buttercream, don't worry.

Kerry Diamond: I'm very much team buttercream. I love buttercream cake so much.

Amanda Nguyen: Oh, me too.

Kerry Diamond: What kind of buttercream do you do?

Amanda Nguyen: We use a Swiss meringue buttercream. I love Swiss meringue buttercream. I'm also really anal about our buttercream and the butter that we use, specifically the temperature. We found that at a certain temperature butter has, basically its peak flavor is around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Any warmer, and what we call it in our shop is out-of-temper butter, which means basically greasy butter. I'm sure you've experienced this before where it's like if you are sitting down at a restaurant and they give you some bread butter, and it's really busy that night or something and you can tell the butter has been sitting out, it has kind of a glossy sheen on it, it's a little bit more yellow. If you put that butter on your bread and you eat it you probably only taste salt and you probably only taste the salt if it's salted towards the end of your chewing, your bite, and yeah, I think there's something to it.

We're not scientists, so I can't really speak to exactly what's going on and explain it on a molecular level, but I think at a certain temperature the butter gets more greasy and it doesn't carry as much flavor, and so whenever we're making our buttercream we temper it actually, to make sure that it never goes above 72. We've rigged all of these coolers so that they can maintain that 72 degree temperature, and that's where we store our buttercream while we're using it so that it never goes above that.

Amanda Nguyen: That's kind of like yeah, the secret to why it's the creamiest, most delicious buttercream. There's no air bubbles. Yeah, we're really intense about it. I never realized how strange that was until we started hiring some people and they were like, "Wow, you guys are really weird about your buttercream."

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For more, visit Back to my conversation with Amanda Nguyen of Butter&.

Next, I want to talk about these amazing flavors. You have a flavor guide on your website, and they sound beautiful. So, the first one you have is the whole cacao pod, and that's a cacao chocolate ganache paired with tangy cacao fruit and crunch cacao nibs, and you use Dandelion Chocolate for that.

Amanda Nguyen: Yup.

Kerry Diamond: They're that fantastic San Francisco brand. How did you come up with that?

Amanda Nguyen: So that was actually made in collaboration with Meredyth over at Dandelion. She's their head of R&D. I remember I reached out to Dandelion a couple of months ago when I was diving back into our sourcing and our supply chain. I wanted to find a source of chocolate that I felt good about buying, basically. We actually don't have vanilla on our menu, and I think it's kind of a controversial thing because vanilla is such a beloved flavor, for good reason, it's delicious. But it's a beloved flavor that doesn't exist on our menu yet.

It's because there are certain flavors that have a very ugly supply chain. Vanilla is one of them, chocolate is another. I'm sure you're aware of this Kerry, but it's just rife with taking advantage of the human capital that is required to make it. A lot of times the farmers are the ones that get the short end of the stick. The merchants are the ones that get the profits, and it's just not great. I think that when I started Butter&, I started it because of my passion for baking and for design, but then I realized very quickly that being an ethical business or just being ethical in general is compounded. The responsibility is very, very big when you own a business because all of your decisions are bigger than yourself. And so as an owner of Butter&, I want to make sure that the businesses that I support are ones that also are in line with our principles that we have.

So Dandelion Chocolate is amazing for so many reasons, because they make beautiful chocolate. It is delicious, delicious chocolate, but on top of that they have a very transparent supply chain. They publish, I think every year, where they get their chocolate, how much they paid for it, and they have a very nuanced, like they don't have a blanket we do direct trade only, because they understand that not every farmer wants to deal with 20,000 separate small accounts. Not only do they have to farm, they also have to manage their sales. So they work with every farmer to see what makes the most sense for them. Some have direct trades, some don't and they go through a middle person, but they're so thoughtful and I think it's really inspiring to consider them a peer in the food industry to see what they do and emulate what we can, too.

It's nice. I get to support them as a business through my business, I get to work with some of their people to develop this flavor that uses and celebrates the entire cacao pod and pays homage to where chocolate come from, all of the different processes and steps that it requires, and it gets presented in this cake form.

Kerry Diamond: Well, it's very inspiring how thoughtful you are about everything you do, and we're going to learn in a little bit how that thoughtfulness extends all the way to your employees and your customers. But let's stay on this for one more minute, because I didn't even know you could use the fruit of the cacao pod. You said it has a light tangy apple and lychee flavor.

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah, yeah. It's amazing. It's such a unique flavor. It's very tropical. The reason why it isn't as popular or as prevalent, I learned this from working with Dandelion is that the chocolate actually requires the fruit for the fermentation process of cacao making. So when you're actually eating cacao fruit, that's at the cost of chocolate. It's like that's taking away from the chocolate that could be basically. I'm not sure how they decide what chocolate cacao pods get to turn into cacao pulp versus the ones that get processed and fermented into future cacao, but yeah, it's a really delicious flavor. I think it might be getting a little bit more popular maybe. I've seen it in some juice shops and things like that, too.

Kerry Diamond: I've had cacao juice.

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah, that's probably the same. It comes in a pulp form, because they can't import I think the whole pod in large masses for some reason. I'm not sure.

Kerry Diamond: So, you are clearly passionate about the cacao flavor.

Amanda Nguyen: I just went really deep, Kerry. I went really deep on that one, but.

Kerry Diamond: You've also got sweet cream and roasted berries, which sounds gorgeous. Then you do a salted caramel and chocolate, and you do that with our friend Amy Guittard's chocolate. Do you know Amy?

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah, I don't know Amy personally, but I am a big fan. I've been snacking on a lot of Guittard chocolate lately. It's probably my way of coping with COVID-19.

Kerry Diamond: She graciously sent me some Guittard chocolate last week and I was like, "Who needs the Easter bunny when you have Amy Guittard in your life?" She sent me the unsweetened chocolate baking bar and I put one of small squares in some chili that I made last night, because I always loved that, I don't know, that flavor that a little bit of unsweetened chocolate adds to chili. We're talking about cake.

Amanda Nguyen: Oh my gosh, that sounds delicious. Oh my gosh, a chocolate chili? Oh, that sounds so good.

Kerry Diamond: It is good, yeah. Okay, speaking of delicious, you've also got matcha and strawberry. It's organic matcha buttercream paired with roasted strawberry filling, which sounds amazing. You do a hazelnut and chocolate, and then you do a pistachio and rose. How did that flavor come about?

Amanda Nguyen: That one came about from my travels to Turkey, actually. I went to Turkey a couple of years ago with my now fiancé. It was a really quick trip. It was just like a 30-hour layover, but it gave us enough time to walk around and eat. I just remember seeing a lot of pistachio. Just delicious, delicious ... It's kind of like their version of baklava. That's just kind of one of the things, but there were so many little treats that incorporated pistachio and rose there, and it's just one of the flavors that kind of transports me back to walking around on the streets over there.

When we were designing our menu I'd say maybe like a year ago now, that was one of things that we incorporated. It's not really a popular flavor, but for the people who appreciate it, they're really big fans of it.

Kerry Diamond: All right, so let's jump ahead to the reason you came to our attention. You started doing these quarantine cakes that you call PSA cakes. How did the idea come to you to do these cakes?

Amanda Nguyen: The idea came by necessity basically. It was we needed to figure out a way to survive this. Only because Butter& prior to this period, our core product was party cakes. 50% of our business was wedding cakes, the other 50% were milestone birthday parties and engagement parties and baby showers. So it's like 50th birthdays, 60th birthdays. Everybody had at least 10 people, if not more, up to 100, 150, 200. In light of the need to socially distance, to quarantine ourselves, all of this business just disappeared in like a day. It was just so fast, Kerry. It was like really creepy. I remember on Monday's, Monday's is usually the day where we get a flood of orders in, and I think this was probably the first or second week of March on a Monday, nothing came in.

In addition to that we had a flurry of emails coming in requesting their orders to be canceled, and so not only were we not making any money, we were having to pay back some money. And because Butter& is also a very new business, we haven't had that much time to build our reserves. A lot of my resources were getting put into investing in teammates and investing in other things for the future growth of the business, and so we only had like three weeks of runway before Butter& was bankrupt, basically. That's three weeks of paying our team, of paying rent and things like that.

So I just realized this is not going to work, it's not going to work. We have to do something. I don't want to lay anybody off or furlough anyone, because how are they going to pay for their lives? People are relying on Butter&. I'm relying on Butter& to pay my mortgage, to feed myself, and so to shut down was just not an idea that I wanted to entertain unless I really had no other choice.

Kerry Diamond: It was definitely a gamble on your part, because you didn't know that people would want these cakes.

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah, it was definitely a gamble. I didn't know if it was going to work. I was hoping that it would just help us cover some loss. The goal for quarantine cakes was to lose money less quickly, and what actually happened was so far from that. I mean, it's amazing how quarantine cakes have helped us grow in a time where a lot of companies are cutting-

Kerry Diamond: So walk me through it. So you had the idea to do this. Did you just put it on Instagram? Was that how you got the word out?

Amanda Nguyen: Yup, that was how we got the word out. The way that it happened was on that Monday, Ted, my fiancé and I, we sat down when we realized that this was going to be impacting business in a major way. We sat down and we were like, "Okay, we need a plan." So we started writing out a document, and we called it something stupid like Coro-no-you-don't, or something like that, and we listed out the current situation. Here it is, there's a pandemic going. It's going to affect our business. It's really important to do our part in encouraging responsible consumer behavior, but it's also really important to figure out a way to continue to exist and provide value to our clients.

And then the plan was basically to parts, defensive and offensive. Defensive was basically pretty straightforward. What can we cut that we don't need, aside from labor, because those are real people we have made commitments to. So we just figured out where all the fat was in the business. Trimmed that.

The second part of the plan was offensive, and so that was where we had to get creative. What I was observing was people are still having these special moments. Just because the Coronavirus is here doesn't mean that your birthday is not going to be happen, it's not going to pass. It will pass, and you will be sitting by yourself on your birthday because you can't party because it's not responsible, and so that was a part of the thought process.

And the second follow-up question is where are our clients? They're at home. They're scared and probably lonely and anxious, and they're also turning one year older. How do we provide value to them? We probably need to meet them there. All of our cakes serve party cakes and are perfect for a party setting, but there are no more party settings right now. So what can we make that is still delightful and allows people to share joy and love? It's probably a smaller cake. It's probably a little less designer looking. There's no need to peacock so much when it's just you, and that's kind of where the quarantine cake came to be. It was like we need a smaller format cake, because the parties are smaller.

Kerry Diamond: Amanda, how fast did they take off?

Amanda Nguyen: Oh man, we announced it I think March 14 at 4:00 PM or something, and then the next day we covered costs for the week. The response was incredible. We booked up within a day and we had the best revenue on record for Butter& because of them, in history. It's so crazy, and a large part of that is because people were just trying to support. It's because our community is amazing that that happened, because not everyone was buying a cake because it was their birthday. They were literally just trying to support.

Kerry Diamond: Has the level of orders stayed about the same? Where are things today?

Amanda Nguyen: Yeah. So there was a very large spike in the beginning, and then it's kind of levelled off to a normal. So I would say in the beginning it was actually a little too much. We were so unprepared. At that time, we only had like 20 pans for the size of the cake that we had, and so we had to continuously bake. It was stressful for very different reasons. But since then, I think it's kind of like a normal amount of orders. They're mostly just birthdays now, and it's, yeah, the new norm is a lot more manageable. It'd allowed us to hire two more people actually, which is incredible.

Kerry Diamond: That's incredible. So you didn't have to furlough anyone, and you were able to hire two additional bakers. So not only did you launch these quarantine cakes, the PSA cakes, other people started to do these cakes as well, with your blessing. How did that all happen?

Amanda Nguyen: Very organically. We posted about this on Instagram, and then we kind of updated the next day with a thank you to our community. We've already been able to cover costs for the week. There are a lot of bakers and cake makers that follow Butter& on Instagram as well, and a couple of them were like, "Hey, is okay if I try this for my community? Is this okay?" We got a handful of questions like that, and it was just a very obvious, "Yes, you should. Please do this." It's really helpful for us. Everyone should do this if you're trying to continue to support your staff.

So after encouraging a handful of people every day, it's kind of hard to keep track of the direct messages, the DM's on Instagram, and the comments, and so we figured it would be a lot more helpful if we kind of just did our part and blasted it basically as much as we could. On an Instagram post, we're like, "Please copy us. Please do your own version of this, because it's so helpful." A lot of people would ask too, "Hey, do you guys ship to Texas, or do you know anybody in Texas doing this, too?"

With so many questions like that, we decided to consolidate the list of cake shops around the world actually, who started offering quarantine cakes so that anytime someone came to our website looking for a cake, realized they couldn't get one because they weren't in San Francisco, there was this list on our website too with basically a directory of other shops that were still in operation, still trying to support their staff offering quarantine cakes, and it's been amazing, Kerry. Some owners have called us just to say thank you, because they were able to reopen or move back into their normal facilities and rehire some of their team. It's been really awesome.

Kerry Diamond: I want to talk about one last thing that is so key right now. You have a section on your website where you talk about ethical employment, and what you learned working in the tech industry, how so many people were classified as contractors and they weren't really workers that a lot of protections, and that's something that is so apparent today with everything that's going on. But this is something you've been thinking about for years, and when you launched Butter& you wanted to do it very differently than what was the standard in the tech world and what was the standard as you understood it in the restaurant and bakery world. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Amanda Nguyen: I didn't realize that this was going to be such a big thing for me, but when I left tech to go into food, I met so many hard working people who worked arguably... Being in the food industry is so just so physical. There's no way to get around it. But I just got to meet so many hard working people barely complaining. For me it was like a shock, but for them it's normal, and I didn't know if it was okay, basically. Kerry, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, but it's really to take advantage of people in the food industry, and a large part of that is because they're made up of a large portion of our society that don't get as much protection as others do. And as a business when you expand, when you plan for that I think you have to decide early on how much you want to invest in your team and how much you want to pay basically, for the human labor that your product requires so that when you scale your business, you scale it sustainably.

That's kind of why I decided earlier on I don't want Butter& to work off of contract labor. I want all the hands that touch a Butter& cake to be gainfully employed. I want the people to be making enough money not just to survive, but to thrive. I want to make sure that the economics of our business pays for health insurance. As a contractor you don't get health insurance normally, so I don't know, it was just important that I baked all of that stuff into our business model and into the prices of our cakes because it's really easy to not do it and it's hard to change that once you have already established that as your cost, basically, of making your product.

Kerry Diamond: You know, the whole COVID-19 crisis has sort of pulled the curtain back from this industry, and the practices that go on and how many workers are completely unprotected. Not just workers, but owners too, are just completely unprotected. What would you like to see moving forward? A lot of people have spoken about the industry having this opportunity to kind of rethink itself and become a better place for everyone involved, and that includes all those things you talked about. A living wage, healthcare, etc. What are your thoughts on the way forward?

Amanda Nguyen: I think on the way forward what I would like to see more of is just a little bit more generosity, care, and respect to the people who power the food industry. I think that was probably the most shocking thing for me when I became a part of it, and I know it's really hard. It's really hard to do. Butter& is not perfect either, and there're so many areas of improvement. I think when you look at it in aggregate, it seems like an impossible problem to solve, but I think the key with solving large problems is you've just got to start immediately with little improvements basically. This is kind of like my mindset for Butter&, too. It's so easy to get overwhelmed with how things are not working well, how everything is broken, but focusing on how hard that is and how big of a problem it is, is I don't think as constructive as just narrowing down really achievable things that you can do in smaller steps.

So, things like maybe if you are a business that already is structured to work off of minimum wage employees, like maybe for the next person that you hire, figure out how you can afford this person if you were to pay them as like you wanted to, like with the principles in mind. So creating those kinds of forcing functions to see what needs to change in this business in order to be able to afford to pay somebody this much might be a good place to start. And it's not even fixing it on a systemic level, but I think that's a whole other conversation, too. It's really easy to blame systems, but systems are also made of humans, and I think we just all need to kind of do our part and remember that us doing our part just in small ways add up to an aggregate of big difference later in the future.

Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you to Amanda Nguyen for taking the time to chat with us. Be sure to follow Butter& on Instagram, and if you're in the Bay Area, consider ordering a quarantine cake for a friend, a loved one, or just for yourself.

Thank you to the Wines of Rioja for supporting our show. Learn more at Radio Cherry Bombe is edited and produced by Jess Zeidman. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala. Hang in there everybody, and thank you for listening. You're the Bombe.

When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.

Emily Carter: Hey, my name's Emily Carter, I lead communications and partnerships at Imperfect Foods in San Francisco. Do you want to know who I think's the Bombe? Dana Gunders, executive director at ReFED, and founder of NRDC's initiative to reduce food waste. Deemed the woman who helped start the waste-free movement, Dana's work has sparked conversation and change across the food system. She inspires me to ask hard questions, think bigger, celebrate the little wins, and cook with my broccoli stems. Thanks Dana.