Tommy Chang and Will Chen spent years working together at a Los Angeles-based tech company, never expecting their professional relationship to evolve into the co-ownership of a wildly popular donut and beverage business. 

During the onset of the pandemic, Chang, a Santa Barbara native, found himself in an all-too-common, unfortunate position: He was recently laid off from his job in tech, unemployed and somehow drawn to baking despite very little experience with the craft. He moved back to Santa Barbara, spending the aimless days of quarantine recipe testing and baking mochi donuts, a dessert by which he was fascinated with. There was little original intent to turn this pastime into a sellable product until Chang received some unexpected encouragement from his mother. 

Mōr’s mochi donuts had a denser texture, featuring flavors such as Oreo. Photo courtesy of Tommy Chang.

“Being the oldest Asian son, and for your mom to say ‘Hey, you should make donuts,’ it’s like you either failed in life or the donuts are actually pretty good. I think it was the latter,” Chang said, chuckling as he recalled the early days of his baking journey. 

Even with familial support, Chang had his doubts about selling his mochi donuts, especially in Santa Barbara due to the area’s somewhat lack of diversity of cuisines in comparison to larger cities like Los Angeles. Yet, at the same time, his unique mochi donut flavors garnered even more appeal for the business. He settled on the name Mōr Doughnuts, thinking about what “more” he could do with his donuts by focusing on community connections and giving back to customers during the pandemic. Mōr’s first batch of donuts was sold in the form of a 50-donut, first-come, first-served giveaway along with gift cards to local coffee shops. From the start, the business was wildly successful and Mōr’s batches of donuts would sell out within minutes after Chang opened the website for online ordering. 

As orders kept flowing in, Chang had to increase his output. Yet during this time, the kitchen space Chang was using to make his donuts was being demolished, and he needed to find a space that could accommodate a large commercial fryer in which to make Mōr’s signature mochi donut. This is the part of the story where Chang’s former boss, Chen, steps in. Chen, also having very minimal baking experience, got to work developing a donut that would require less space to make than the mochi donuts Chang had been selling previously. By making use of his network of other chefs and restaurateurs for advice, Chen developed his own donut recipe — a hybrid between a traditional brioche donut and Japanese milk bread. Weeks of trial and error in the kitchen resulted in their very own brioche donut, one that had a better shelf life and was more moist and light. Once the brioche donut was perfected, Chang and Chen made their partnership official and rebranded the donut business with a new name: Kin Bakeshop. 

Kin Bakeshop’s name references Chang and Chen’s friendship and everyone who helped the two carry their business to its current state. Honoring that kinship through the name change was a way for Chang to thank Chen, the Santa Barbara community and their loyal customers. 

In the beginning, Kin Bakeshop’s flavors were more basic: think strawberry, chocolate and vanilla. Now, Kin’s donuts reference nostalgic flavors from the owners’ childhoods and share these flavors with the Santa Barbara community.

“Tommy has this desire to share some of the flavors that are more nostalgic to him, flavors he grew up with and sharing different flavors that evoke memories in people,” Chen said. 

Chang began to think of flavors that would push the envelope and honor his heritage and the backgrounds of his closest friends and customers. This line of thinking resulted in donut filling flavors such as mango Tajín and Okinawa milk tea. Through developing these flavors, Chang and Chen discovered that food is its own cultural language, a language that they’re still learning.

Kin Bakeshop’s donuts are a hybrid between a traditional brioche donut and Japanese milk bread. Photo courtesy of Tommy Chang.

“A lot of the flavors come from the question, ‘Who am I as a Korean American?’ What’s the food in my culture beyond my mom? What’s in Koreatown? What’s in Korea? That curiosity seeped into everybody around me,” Chang said.

A local collaboration allowed Kin Bakeshop to hold regular pop-up shops in Santa Barbara and garner a passionate and regular customer base. It’s no secret that outdoor pop-ups were one of the main ways to maintain a sense of community during the pandemic and for business owners to bond and connect with each other and their customers. Chang met Piti Sukavivatanachai, owner of Your Choice Restaurant on State Street, at a Bagel Boiz pop-up shop in Santa Barbara in 2020. After their introduction, Sukavivatanachai soon became a loyal customer of Kin Bakeshop, buying donuts at Kin’s pop-ups and chatting with Chang and Chen. When Sukavivatanachai started a side project selling pints of his own Thai-inspired ice cream under the name Creaminal, he called on Chang’s expertise in marketing and advertising to help with photography and branding for the business. Their professional relationship strengthened, leading Sukavivatanachai to generously offer up Your Choice Restaurant as the location for Kin’s Saturday morning pop-ups. 

On Saturday mornings starting as early as 8:30 a.m., a growing line would form around the back of Your Choice Restaurant, often wrapping around the perimeter of the restaurant. Locals would patiently wait for Chang and Chen to open the doors, having already thought about the donut flavors they’d choose thanks to a post on Kin’s Instagram account announcing the donut and drink flavors of the day. At 10 a.m., the line slowly started moving, with customers catching glimpses of others in line before them carrying out pink boxes of fluffy donuts. A mere half hour later, Chang reluctantly poked his head out from the door, announcing they’d sold out. He apologized and thanked everyone for coming out. This series of events unfolded at every Kin Bakeshop pop-up. 

Scaling up and moving the business to a storefront seemed like a natural progression after observing the success of the pop-ups at Your Choice Restaurant. Chang and Chen were approached about a space in Goleta’s Turnpike Shopping Center, a location that held strong memories for Chang, who grew up picking pumpkins at Lane Farms just down the road. It encompassed this feeling of nostalgia and community.

“We decided that since we had been doing pop-ups and had a strong bond with the community and people loved our donuts, why don’t we move to a permanent home?” Chen said. 

At the end of 2021, Chang and Chen signed the lease and started working to bring their vision to life, but not without working through several challenges. Construction delays pushed back their opening to spring 2023. Additionally, opening a donut shop during a recession meant relying on community support to help fund the opening. Chang and Chen launched a Kickstarter to raise the remaining amount of funds to finance the project. Their goal was $25,000 with a soft goal of $15,000. Unsurprisingly, the local community showed up for this small business as they had done numerous times and helped Kin raise $25,000 within just a few days. 

The storefront will feature a simple, stripped-down design, drawing inspiration from Japanese and Korean minimalist architecture. Keeping the space open will free up space for future collaborations with other businesses, live musicians and other pop-ups, echoing Kin’s early days as a pop-up at Your Choice Restaurant. Kin’s menu will feature a few basic, permanent flavors as well as some rotating flavors; Chang and Chen hope customers will provide feedback on flavors they’d like to see. With Lighthouse Coffee as their neighbor in the Turnpike Shopping Center, Kin did not want to compete with the Santa Barbara-based coffee chain by offering drinks. Rather than crafting an entire menu of café drinks, Kin will offer just a few signature drinks that their customers know and love from previous pop-ups: the Einspanner and Black Sesame Latte, two drinks with Asian flavors in line with Kin’s identity. 

Chang is still in disbelief that what started as a humble donut business out of his home kitchen was able to blossom into a successful, local pop-up shop and now a storefront. He attributes the kindness and compassion cultivated during the very beginning of his business — through Mōr’s free donut giveaways and coffee shop gift cards as well as encouraging customers to write kind notes upon purchasing — to the growth of a customer base that also exudes the same level of kindness. Community support and appreciation truly served as the backbone of this business. 

“Will and I are so grateful. It has always been about people and not about the donuts,” Chang said.

For updates about the opening of Kin Bakeshop’s Goleta storefront, visit their website or Instagram page.

A version of this article appeared on p. 12 of the May 11, 2023 version of the Daily Nexus.


Stephanie Gerson
Stephanie Gerson is a fourth-year Art History major and On the Menu Co-Editor. She can usually be found taking long walks, wandering about museums or grocery shopping.