For Jean Shim and her daughter, Elia Min, practically every day is a family bake sale.
“I always made these at home. My mom had the idea of selling them, and they were popular,” said Min about the chocolate chip cookies she bakes for Rubies + Diamonds, the glamorous cafe located in the Columbia Square development in Hollywood that her mother, Jean Shim, founded.
So when Rubies + Diamonds opened in December near Sunset and Gower, Min’s cookies were included in the food inventory, along with the range of coffees and teas, and unique specialty drinks. In addition to the usual espresso offerings, pour-overs and brews on the Rubies + Diamonds menu that also notes a specific caffeine rating system for each drink, customers from surrounding production companies and offices show up craving nitrogen-treated beverages (matcha, turmeric, coffees, ginger ale) and the caramel sea salt latte (made hot or cold). There’s also a case containing cold pressed juices, sandwiches and baked goods.
On Sunday evenings, Min preps enough dough for 40 cookies so that batches can be baked daily. They always sell out, and Min can’t keep up with demand.
That’s because she’s 12 years old. Intense rigorous schoolwork, extracurricular activities and a typical pre-teen social life take up most of her time.
Shim is a former co-owner of La Mill in Silver Lake and has a professional background as a creative director in the branding and marketing industries as well as a commercial and film director. Min’s father, Craig, still owns La Mill and runs its wholesale coffee and tea operation. Shim created Rubies + Diamonds to offer a serious coffee and tea program in a design-forward environment, with blush and soft turquoise walls, gleaming metallic details, original art work (yes, that’s a Murakami), and custom low banquettes that are glam yet comfortable.
“We were looking at sourcing cookies from different vendors,” Shim said about the process of selecting the cafe’s baked goods from locals such as Sugarbird and Larder Baking Company. Staff members told her: “These aren’t as good as your daughter’s.”
So she approached Min about figuring out a way to make the dough weekly while teaching her daughter entrepreneurial and practical skills in the process. “If you’re going to do this, you have to take it on like a real job,” Shim told her.
The pre-teen works out her food costs and has learned the mundane yet essential tasks of invoicing and collecting payment for her product. She’s saving most of the profits to donate to charity. Mother and daughter have incorporated other community service efforts into Min’s micro-enterprise, such as bringing cookies to families staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Pasadena.
As for the cookies themselves, Min uses Valrhona 71% dark bittersweet, which she decided on after extensive testing of various chocolates. She smashes the discs before incorporating them into the dough, then sprinkles each cookie with Maldon sea salt — a trick also favored by pastry chefs considerably her senior. Min’s cookies have that ideal combination of slightly crisp and caramelized on the outside, and still soft on the inside. Customers have taken notice, and the cookies usually are all gone by the afternoon. “She has real pride in what’s selling,” Shim said.
Min said she watches TV cooking shows “all the time” and mentioned “Cake Boss” and “Cupcake Wars” as favorites. Baking, rather than cooking, is her preferred activity in the kitchen, and she dreams of becoming a pastry chef. This coming summer, she’s going to Paris, where visits to classic dessert meccas Pierre Hermé and Ladurée top the itinerary.
Newer to Min’s small product line are dog biscuits she first baked for her family’s pet and have since become a regular staple for sale at Rubies + Diamonds. She’s also added oatmeal currant cashew cookies to the lineup.
Why this one in particular? “My mom always loved oatmeal cookies,” Min said.
It always helps to try to please the boss.
The Family Kitchen
Mothers and their children have been working side-by-side in food businesses ever since the dawn of small-scale entrepreneurism. Many kids, frankly, have no choice but to work with their families. But for others,
however, it turns out to be a calling. Here are a few examples in Los Angeles of how both young children and adults collaborate with their parents in the industry , and how those relationships continue to evolve.
Valerie Gordon and Stan Weightman
, Jr.’s kids, GeeGee, 4, and August, 8, are regulars at the Valerie Confections’ Hollywood Farmers Market stand on Sundays. For now, they’re just getting to see the fun side of the grind. “They love working the register and helping bag pastries,” Gordon said. “They are also taste testers for me when I am trying out kid-friendly recipes.”
For some offspring of chefs, restaurant owners and other professionals in the field, the food business proves to be a natural fit. The close understanding and communication shorthand families enjoy is a boon for the next generation. Cultural factors might come into play, too. “My mom is my food consultant. As a team, she handles food taste and authenticity. I translate her recipes to daily processes where kitchen staff can execute it consistently,” explained Delyn Chow of Daw Yee Myanmar Cafe in Monterey Park. “I act as a quality control with my mom’s recipes.” The next audience for Chow’s mother’s cooking will be Silver Lake, where his Myanmar Corner Burmese restaurant is slated to open soon after Mother’s Day on Sunset Boulevard.
Jesse Gomez, co-founder of the Cocinas y Calaveras restaurant group, has an innate sense of the restaurant world thanks to his family’s restaurant, El Arco Iris, a 50-year presence on York Boulevard
Avenue in Highland Park. Gomez first tried a different path, but after graduating from Princeton and attending Loyola Law School, he circled back to what he already knew and understood. He drew upon his family’s traditions to inform his his fresh take on Mexican food.
“At my first restaurant, a lot of the base recipes came from El Arco Iris. I grew up eating my grandmother’s food, and that touch and that flavoring will always be a part of my restaurants,” he said. Gomez started learning from his mother and grandmother, and yet now in a sense, the tables have turned. “Growth and expansion has made us more knowledgeable about a lot of things, and when I can, I pass that along to my mom.”