Career Stories

How the Great Reshuffle Inspired the Launch of These Minority-Owned Businesses

From left: Terrence Santos of Anak Toy Kompany, Lucy Yu of Yu and Me Books, and Juby George of Smell the Curry
From left: Terrence Santos of Anak Toy Kompany, Lucy Yu of Yu and Me Books, and Juby George of Smell the Curry.
| Lucy Yu photo by Edith Ann Photography
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America is in the midst of an entrepreneurship boom. More than 5 million new businesses were started in 2021 alone, according to U.S. Census data. That beats the record 4.4 million new businesses started in 2020. In what’s become known as the Great Reshuffle, more people are taking a closer look at their work and their lives—and finding the courage they need to do something they’ve always dreamed of.

Take these three API (Asian/Pacific Islander) entrepreneurs featured here, who all recently quit their jobs to turn their passions into successful businesses. Here are their stories and how they did it with tips for how you can, too.

Lucy Yu: From engineer to bookstore owner

Growing up, Lucy Yu could often be found at her local Barnes & Noble. Through her love of reading, she quickly realized she—the daughter of a Chinese immigrant—couldn’t identify with any of the characters in the books she read. This experience inspired a dream to one day open a small shop where girls like her could feel at home and be surrounded by books that amplify diverse voices.

While Yu’s love of the written word continued into adulthood, she went down a different professional path and pursued a career as an engineer. Her goal of opening a bookstore would have to wait. But then came COVID-19. “With everything happening in the pandemic, and all of the grief that we experienced, it propelled me to realize that life is super short,” she says.

That’s when Yu and Me Books was finally born. The first thing Yu did was draft a business plan and launch a GoFundMe page, where she was able to raise $21,000. “The GoFundMe helped me realize that this wasn't just a pipe dream that I wanted for myself,” she says. “Other people wanted to see it, too. That was a huge motivator for me.”

Gallery wall, book shelf, and part of the cafe at Yu and Me Books.
A look inside Yu and Me Books.
| Photos by Mel Hong

The money she raised was enough to lease a space in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood. Using Squarespace, Yu immediately established an online presence to get the word out and explain her story; she also set up an e-commerce page and found an impactful way to support new authors through preorders. “Squarespace for me was the most user-friendly option,” she says. “I picked it up within a couple of hours, and I was able to build out everything that I wanted to.”

Today, the store stocks more than 2,000 titles, with a focus on amplifying diverse voices and immigrant stories. There’s also a bar and a café space where they host a series of community events, including author conversations, poetry nights, and clothing swaps. It’s exactly the type of place Yu would have loved as a girl growing up with a passion for books.

Entrepreneur Tip: Build a community of fellow entrepreneurs

Yu says she made a point to seek out other bookstore owners and find peers who were willing to share their wisdom and lessons they had learned as small business owners over the years.

Terrence Santos: From restaurateur to toy maker

In 2016, Terrence Santos and his wife, Julianne, opened a restaurant that became known for its hand-pressed lemonade and acai bowls in a suburb of Seattle. Financial hardship forced them to close in February 2020—and soon after, the pandemic shut down other restaurants owned by his family. “We found ourselves with no path forward,” Santos says.

After taking the summer of 2020 off to assess his next career move, Santos returned to an idea he’d had in 2015 when his first child was born: a toy company that could help teach the Tagalog language to kids.

Back then, Santos, who is of Filipino descent, came up short when searching for a fun way to teach his children the language his older family members speak. So in mid-2020, he finally took action and founded Anak Toy Kompany, which sells made-to-order wooden number and letter blocks as well as puzzles.

Toys from Anak Toy Kompany
A few of the toys from Anak Toy Kompany.

Santos began production but knew he needed an online presence to support the business, using Squarespace to create his website. “Squarespace helps you build out an e-commerce site so easily,” he says. “It didn't take too long to get everything up and running.”

Since launching the business, Santos has expanded its offerings to include toys that teach Khmer, Olelo Hawai'i, Vietnamese, plus two other Filipino languages. Still to come: a line of kid’s clothes and a new puzzle design, as well as the addition of Mandarin.

Entrepreneur Tip: Always believe in your idea—and yourself.

Creating something from scratch requires an ability to believe in something that doesn’t yet exist. “You may be the only one who believes in what you want to do,” Santos says. “And you have to figure out how to hold onto that belief and that passion.”

What helped Santos stay the course was reminding himself of the importance of preserving the language of his grandparents and ancestors before them. And that if teaching his children how to speak it was a priority, it was likely a priority to other parents as well.

Juby George: From computer programmer to caterer

For more than two decades, Juby George had a successful career in computer programming—but a part of him always wanted to pursue work that revolved around cooking. This passion and ambition were inspired by his Kerala-born father, who ran a catering company.

In 2011, George began dabbling in occasional catering opportunities while keeping his day job, and a few years after that he and his wife launched cooking classes out of their home. But it wasn’t until March 2020 that George saw the opportunity to pursue what came to be known as Smell the Curry. With restaurants shutting down, more people were ordering in—and George responded by launching a monthly Indian meal delivery service.

Indian dishes from Smell the Curry
Indian dishes from Smell the Curry.

George quit his full-time job in 2021 and started renting a spot at a Philadelphia-area farmer’s market to expand the catering business. While it took almost 10 years to take this big step, the wait was worth it. “I felt like a number, and I wanted to pursue my passion for cooking,” says George “Now when I wake up, I know I’m going to my business and not just logging onto my computer.” To help with his business, George used Squarespace to build his website, and added a place for customers to sign up for his newsletter and submit catering inquiries.

Entrepreneur Tip: Take advantage of a good opportunity when you see one.

George was at a movie theater when he noticed an advertisement for a vacancy at the farmer’s market that helped launch Smell the Curry. After giving it some thought, he realized the timing was right to pursue it. “Sometimes you just have to take the leap,” he says.

Updated 8/26/2022