Bonnie Lau’s name is directly related to both food and family. And her story has been shaped by rebellion, romance and the willingness to try new things.
“My family loves to eat, we gather around food all the time,” she says. “When my mother was pregnant with me, I’m told that she craved bonbons (small candies, especially coated in chocolate). Even in the delivery room she was calling for bonbons. So when I was born, my mother called me Bonnie.”
Admitting to being a “rebellious teen,” Bonnie came to the United States from Hong Kong by herself at 17. “I moved to Newfoundland in Canada, because it was just about the only place in the US or Canada where I didn’t have any relatives,” she explains. “I wanted to be independent, but I did live with a host family while I was in high school.”
After completing twelfth grade in Canada, Bonnie took off on her own again, to a part of the US where she had never been, the Deep South. “Even though I had finished high school in Canada, I had to take twelfth grade again in the US to get into a US college.”
Bonnie planned to attend the University of Alabama in Birmingham, but in the summer between high school and college, she went home to visit her family in Hong Kong. “That summer I happened to see the movie ‘Sleepless in Seattle.” I was young and romantic, and I decided that to meet the love of my life, I should move to Seattle. So, I went to college in Seattle and studied accounting and finance.”
She got her CPA certification and worked for an accounting firm. The company also had offices in San Francisco, and, influenced by the classic Tony Bennett song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” she asked to be transferred to the company’s San Francisco office.
“In Seattle my mentor was an athlete who was starting a running team. I felt that I ought to join, even though I had never run in my entire life, so I read everything I could about it. All the running magazines said to eat yogurt, but dairy just doesn’t agree with me.”
Once in the Bay Area, she began to experiment with ways to make a yogurt that didn’t use dairy. Coconut wasn’t a big deal in the food world at the time, but she tried it, initially making batches in her home kitchen.
Deciding to devote herself fulltime to this product, she quit her job at the accounting firm. Airbnb was just getting started in San Francisco, and to help with cash flow, she began hosting visitors to the city. “All the guests I had were great. I even have one of them to thank for coming up with the name Coconut.”
Wisely, she began selling Yoconut at farmers markets in June 2015. “That helped me get to know who my customers are. I was experimenting a lot, and customer feedback helped refine my recipes.”
Then things got even more interesting and challenging. “In January 2017, there was a huge storm in San Francisco, raining really hard and strong winds. I got a call when I was in my car on the way to the market that it was closed because of the weather. I had all my freshly made yogurt in the car. It’s perishable, it can’t wait until next week! So, I just started knocking on retailers’ doors. I told them, ‘every week customers come to buy my yogurt at the market. I will put out a newsletter telling them that they can find it at your store.’ Suddenly, I was in retails stores,” she smiles.
Bonnie is serious about her products and her business, and she’s also clearly having fun. “When I wake up, before I open my eyes, I can see my customers’ faces. They are smiling. I know I’m sharing good food with them that helps them power through their day. It gives me motivation and joy!”