It’s not uncommon to end up in a career far afield from your college major. Kei Okumura took this phenomenon to an extreme and now owns her own thriving small business.
With a college degree in political science, you’d think Okumura would have found herself working for an elected official in Washington, D.C. But instead of flying to our nation’s capital, she worked in the film industry for her first career then Okumura flew to Paris to study French pastry baking.
Following her culinary passion, in 2002 she immersed herself in the Ecole Superioure du Cuisine Francaise, a bakery/catering program where she graduated at the top of her class. Returning to Los Angeles, she gained baking experience at local restaurants and then launched her small business dream in 2008 – Sugarbird Sweets and Teas, featuring her products at farmer’s market stands in South Pasadena and Larchmont.
Sugarbird Sweets specializes in artisanal baked goods, gourmet scones, tea-centric pastries and batch blended teas for restaurants and cafes. Okumura sells them retail online and at local farmers’ markets. Initially operating out of rented commercial kitchens across town, Okumura created her first storefront location in Los Angeles’ financial district downtown this year. The investment stretched Okumura’s finances and she needed additional capital to promote Sugarbird and consolidate operations. That’s when she discovered the SBA’s Community Advantage loan program through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program.
With help from CDC Small Business Finance, Okumura applied for and received a $50,000 Community Advantage loan earlier this year, which she is using to expand her budding tea, bakery catering business to the office buildings in the surrounding area.
Now it’s full steam ahead for Okumura, whose simple yet stylish confectionaries pays tribute to her French adventures and Japanese heritage. Exotic spices, seasonal fruits, teas and surprising textures find their way into her confections and baked goods and teas in a way that sets Sugarbird uniquely apart and attracts a growing customer base.