When Loan Nguyen and her brother, Minh, decided to open their own business, she looked to Asia for inspiration.
She stumbled upon churros.
"There was a trend in Asia with churros," said Nguyen. "But what they had in Asia was just the churro, and not much. It wasn't much fun — it was just a plain churro."
So the 33-year-old Fountain Valley resident tried something new.
"I thought about it, and there's many creative doughnuts around [Orange County], but never a churro. So I felt like there was a market out there, it's just 'How could we put a twist on it, to make it more American?'"
Last year Loan and Minh Nguyen, along with Jed Cartojano, opened The Loop Handcrafted Churros in Westminster, which serves the deep-fried pastry with an assortment of toppings such as dulce de leche, Nutella, matcha, Fruity Pebbles, Oreos and cookie butter.
While Nguyen's is the only churro shop of its kind in Orange County, as an Asian American female business owner she's far from alone.
According to a new report from the marketing research firm Nielsen, Asian American women are now at the forefront of trendsetting, taste-making and entrepreneurship.
Thirty-nine percent of Asian American women are entrepreneurs, and the number of Asian American female-owned businesses is increasing at a faster pace than any other group of women in the United States, Nielsen's study, "Asian American women: digitally fluent with an intercultural mindset" found.
The report also showed that Asian American women tend to be intercultural — meaning they absorb different cultures into their own lives — are savvy in social media and are avid international travelers.
"Asian American women seem to be adventurous," said Mariko Carpenter, vice president of strategic community alliances for Nielsen. "They always seem to know the newest restaurants and the hippest thing that's happening. They're going to places like the Middle East and Latin America. They're open, they're curious. There is this mindset of they can take the best of all the worlds and create something that's even better."
As the number of Asian American female-owned businesses has expanded, so too has Asian American buying power. Estimated at $891 billion last year, this buying power has grown 222% since 2000, vastly outpacing the rest of the country.
In Orange County, home to the nation's third largest Asian and Pacific Islander population, which includes Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Cambodian, Lao and Hmong communities, similar trends emerge.
"If you look in Orange County, we have the third largest number of Asian American-owned businesses in the United States," said Mary Anne Foo, executive director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance. "These businesses probably bring in $20 billion in revenue to the county."
"So in terms of consumers, in terms of businesses, we're really important."
According to the Nielsen report, Asian American women's business and digital prowess — the group uses social networking sites more than the average adult — have helped bring Asian American trends and tastes into the mainstream.
Nielsen's Carpenter cited the examples of YouTube star Michelle Phan, the first woman on the video sharing website to reach 1 billion views. She has since became a spokeswoman for the cosmetics line Lancome, and Korean beauty products, which, after being promoted on social media by Asian American consumers are now available at stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Sephora.
"If you're a brand who's introducing a new product, you want people like the Asian American women group that's very digitally connected and are able to really champion their products because that's the power and influence that they have," said Carpenter.
The Nielsen survey also found that Asian American women are the most educated and the highest-earning group of women in the United States, and are more likely than white women to say that their goal is to reach the top of their profession.
But OCAPICA's Foo warned against over-generalizing the findings, saying that surveys can mask the challenges certain segments of the community face.
"There's so much diversity among Asian and Pacific Islanders overall —we're coming from 50 different groups and we speak 100 different languages," she said, pointing out that surveys conducted in English — like Nielsen's — often don't capture the experiences of those born outside of the United States or those with limited English proficiency.
"Surveys like this, we have to be really careful because we start to generalize and say, 'All Asians are so educated,' which isn't true," said Foo. "For example, Cambodian and Hmong women, if you look at college going, it's been harder because you don't have multiple generations of a community that's been here."
"People who are coming from East Asia might have had more opportunities to go on to higher education versus communities that came originally as refugees."
But for Carpenter, the report is evidence of the importance of Asian American women.
"For Asian American communities, this tells us that we are an economic power and we are contributing to the economy of this country," she said. "And Asian American women are a big contributor of that."
CAITLIN YOSHIKO KANDIL is a contributor to Times Community News.