For many people, cookies are a comfort food or a fun holiday activity. For Nancy Liu, they represent redefining tradition and forging a new path as an Asian American baker.
Nancy Liu is a licensed marriage and family therapist who works full time at a non-profit agency. She is also the founder of Cookie Bento Bakery, and her mission is “to deliver some of the best tasting cookies with unique flavors and pristine packaging.” Nancy has been baking since her college days in 2007 and has always enjoyed the craft. A few years ago, she started experimenting with flavors and was met with “some success and lots of failure.” Unexpectedly, it was one of these experiments that led to the conception of Cookie Bento Bakery. A close friend of Nancy’s had requested a novel flavor: Taro. She tells us, “while we thought it was a bit of an odd request, I proceeded to experiment with it anyways. After numerous attempts, I finally created a batch that I thought tasted good and was pretty looking! I took this batch to the family friend who requested it. He took his first bite, and the rest was history.”
As a child Nancy imagined owning her own bakery, so starting Cookie Bento was like a dream come true. But like most dreams, it came with the need for grit and persistence. She tells us that the journey was like a “roller coaster,” and while she had extensive baking experience, running a business was entirely new. She says, “There have been times where I feel incredibly discouraged, and then there are times when people give me rewarding feedback. Whenever people tell me my cookies make them happy, that is when I know that it is all worth it.”
Nancy’s decision to make cookies the star of the show is also a deliberate one. She says, “cookies are simple, and they are usually just a supplemental item when you go to a bakery or cafe. We wanted to take that cookie that’s usually a pawn and put it on a pedestal like a queen.” Nancy gives each cookie the royal treatment, and after being baked each cookie is individually packaged. Finally, the cookies are placed in a “custom quad-divided kraft box that [they] designed and produced,” hence the name Cookie Bento!
Beyond the fun and unique bento concept, Cookie Bento has also been significant in Nancy’s journey to reconcile her Chinese and American heritages. She offered unique flavors like Sesame Peanut, Taro White Chip, and Matcha White Chip. These flavors mirror her experience as an Asian-American and help to bridge her cultural identity, a struggle that many Asian-Americans can relate to. She tells us, “Growing up as an Asian-American, I never fully identified as an American or fully identified as being Chinese. There was always some sort of one foot in and one foot out in both cultures. I also grew up in a time where you either had American Dessert, or you had Asian Dessert. There was no "fusion" as some would call it. I am trying to change that with my flavor selection.”
Her message and flavors resonate with many people in the San Gabriel Valley where she operates, and there is a niche demand for the cookies she sells. While operating a business in the SGV is challenging because of how saturated the food market is, Nancy is grateful that the community “is great and close knit, everybody is so supportive of each other. Just look at the Facebook group called “SGV Eats,” and you’ll know what I am referring to.”
Aside from competing with the tough food market, Nancy has faced a number of challenges with operating Cookie Bento Bakery. On top of balancing her business with her full time job, she has also had to put Cookie Bento on hold for several months to get her county license renewed, a process that took much longer than expected due to the pandemic. She has also had to adjust her business practices, and now only operates on the weekends to do safe and contactless drop offs. Despite the challenges, Nancy is motivated by the constant support from the community and inquiries about her cookies.
Another source of unexpected support? The older generation of Asian immigrants. Nancy shares, “One of the surprises that arose as we started selling more cookies was the elder generation of Asian immigrants being fond and loving our cookies. We had no intention of making flavors that would be suitable for the elder generation, but it just so happens that it fits their palette very well. My parents, for example, never liked traditional American cookies. They always claimed that they were too sweet or not their preference. I was able to persuade them to try my cookies, and they did (because they love me.) Since that day, my parents have been requesting cookies from me all the time.”
Whether you’re looking for innovative flavors, beautifully made cookies, or an Asian-American dessert, we’re convinced that Nancy has a cookie for everyone. In the future, she hopes to open a small cafe and offer a larger variety of baked goods, but until then you can support Cookie Bento Bakery and treat yourself or a loved one to a delightful box of cookies.
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Cookie Bento Instagram @cookiebentobakery
Temple City Pickup location: Temple City City Hall
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