I was scrolling through Instagram one day and came across the cutest 4” cake I had ever seen, beautifully placed inside a to-go container. I instantly became obsessed with the pastel colors, the cute calligraphy made out of buttercream, and the variety of Asian American-inspired cakes that were on display. The Tustin-based online cake shop known as Kymoto Co. is run by Kylie Miyamoto (she/her). Born in Fresno, Kylie is a Yonsei that specializes in making Pinterest-perfect lunchbox cakes 5 days a week. I had a chance to chat with Kylie about Kymoto Co.’s beginnings, burnout, and got to know a little bit more about the person behind the incredible cakes.
Yo!: How did Kymoto Co. start?
KM: During the pandemic I gravitated towards the kitchen to try all the latest food trends: dalgona coffee, sourdough bread, etc. Although I found solace in the kitchen, each of these new recipes brought fleeting enjoyment. However, once I came across bento style lunchbox cakes I found great enjoyment practicing new cake decorating techniques. It was so fun for me to be creative and gave me a sense of accomplishment that the designs I envisioned could be replicated on a cake.
I felt like the current climate reminded us daily that life could change very quickly so I thought to myself “why not just try it?” It was in February of 2021 where I put my whole heart into starting this business. I started an LLC, built out my website, and started all my social media accounts. It was definitely a whirlwind but the joy of trying to create the Pinterest cake of my dreams really kept me engaged and committed.
Yo!: Did you bake prior to opening your business, or was it a result of a pandemic-induced baking frenzy?
KM: I think it's a little bit of both. I was a baker when I was in high school, but with the adjustment to college life I wanted quick/easy meals. After college, I found that working in the corporate world was not the best environment for me so I wanted to find enjoyment outside of work which was cooking. It felt like once I got off work, I was excited to have autonomy of my time by creating meals that made me feel good.
Yo!: Does your background have any influence on your baking or aesthetic?
KM: I've been lucky enough to be located in an area where there's a lot of Asian influences. A lot of what I gravitate towards are the more cute bakes or the “Kawaii” bakes, so generally I tend to gravitate towards the things that I personally really enjoy like Ghibli characters by Miyazaki, Sanrio characters, etc.
I've also started making designs that involve a client’s favorite foods. I loved seeing that regardless of ethnicity, a lot of them do recommend Japanese foods. I've made ramen, sushi, tonkatsu, all out of buttercream. It makes me so proud to be part of the community that can highlight not only Japanese food, but a wider expanse of Asian cuisine.
Yo!: How is cake decorating a way for you to explore creative expression?
KM: I do consider desserts to be edible pieces of art. It’s so crazy to think that a recipe is just a constant reiteration of others' work. That level of creativity of making something your own is what I hope to reach with each new cake design. I love creating mood boards of the types of cakes I hope to make and I always try to go a little outside my comfort zone so the learning is never stagnant. For me, I think being proud of these pieces of digestible artwork gives me a bigger sense that “it’s not just a cake.”
Yo!: Has it been kind of shocking or fulfilling in some way to see these things become more popular than when you were growing up? As your business is built on Asian and Asian American culture, how do you feel about Asian and Asian American things becoming "trendy" now?
KM: I don't really see it as a trend, I see it as people being more open to immersing themselves in new things. I think with each next generation, I see that hope and willingness to be more worldly cultured. That's something that I find more of the positive aspect rather than it just being cool for right now.
…It's really wild because I grew up in Fresno and I was the only Japanese girl in my class. I felt like I was considered the “token Asian” of my group, and I’m sad to say it made me want to blend in more or in a way I wanted to be less Asian. I cannot tell you how many times my friends thought it was appropriate and okay to pinpoint what makes me different, and almost in a comical way. So I like to see that it's being more widely accepted now because it gives me hope if and when I have my own kids.
Yo!: Using social media as your portfolio, it's been really great to see your growth as a decorator and as an artist. Has social media played a really big part in your cake decorating, and how have you kind of kept up with a lot of the trends?
KM: I think social media provides a platform to express what I feel like are some of my best cakes. Like you said, I view it as a portfolio, because that's how I've been able to market myself and get new clients, and they've seen past work. It also helped me realize that my personal preference might not be the consensus of everyone else's, and to also be okay with that. I wouldn't ever want to prevent myself from showcasing something I'm proud of, with the fear that it won't get likes or exposure. And I think that what I've noticed in the cake community, people have their aesthetic, people generally try to gravitate and try to gain more traction by constantly putting out more content. I appreciate that there are other outlets to express different viewpoints of cake other than a photo (like reels).
Yo!: Have you been able to see your growth personally?
KM: Absolutely, yes! Kymoto Co. just turned a year old, and I compiled a video of the beginning stages of starting the business. Just by looking at those clips, it made me realize that practice doesn’t make perfect but creates experience. I do like to look back at those first cakes I made, and think “Oh my gosh, I was so proud of that.” And I'm still so proud of them now, even though my techniques have changed and I've expanded out what I've been able to do. It's still a great opportunity for me to see a little Kylie in a sense, even though it was just a year ago.
Yo!: How do you kind of handle burnout, especially with social media playing into that as well?
KM: I think you don't really know what burnout is until you hit it. When I was working in my corporate job, I hit burnout more frequently. I think this was due to feeling very lost in my job so any work I did, I felt like it wasn’t enough. I was lucky enough to be raised by two very driven hardworking parents who had stayed in their careers for 30+ years. That type of commitment to work was something I always felt like I was missing.
Now that my bakery is sustained by only myself, I do see how busy I can be. From marketing, baking, scheduling, etc. Because it seems like there’s not enough time in the day to get everything done, I’m constantly trying to think of ways to not burnout and make my business more sustainable. I’ve slowly started setting boundaries on how many cake orders I will take in a day, removing the delivery option on my website, not baking and decorating the same day, and making sure I consistently organize and tidy up my space.
Burnout has allowed me to set small goals for myself and the business each month. I remember when I first started, I would accept all orders, driving 40+ miles for cake deliveries, getting only 4-5 hours of sleep per night. I was proud of my work life but my personal life was a shell of what it used to be. I know that work life balance is very difficult to achieve but it needs to eb and flow. One thing that’s been really important for me with my relationship with social media is to not always obsess over posting everyday. One of my todo lists is to create a content calendar but in the meantime I prioritize orders first then think of social media strategy.
Yo!: You just celebrated your one year! Speaking of setting goals for yourself, is there something that you hope to accomplish this year for yourself and the company as well?
KM: For the company, I'd like to do a menu expansion. Last year, I had some of my closest friends over and we just did a food tasting to create the set flavors so hosting another tasting to create a rotating menu. I also want to be more involved in the community, and participate in more pop ups. I’ve been lucky that I've been selling out every week, so eventually having a commercial kitchen or even starting a youtube channel/twitch stream might be next!
It’s definitely hard to separate my goals from the business goals so if I’m being honest, just getting through my own wedding planning! My fiance proposed last year so this year has been dedicated to getting the party going!
YO!: Is there a cake that you’re most proud of?
KM: This was a hard question, because I feel like you're asking me to choose my favorite kid! The feeling I get when I give a cake to a client and they are ecstatic makes me personally feel very proud. It’s not the validation I'm seeking, but knowing that I did a job where I have exceeded their expectations makes me feel proud. Recently I've been doing some proposal cakes, I've done five “Will you be my girlfriend?” cakes, and three “Will you marry me?” cakes. That was so surreal for me to think that people want to share such a huge moment to celebrate with one of my cakes.
YO!: Do you have one flavor or combination or kind of menu item that you like the best? What’s a combination that’s the most popular amongst customers?
KM: I think mine and customers kind of align. I've been seeing a lot more of the Chocolate cake and the Cookies and Cream buttercream combination.
YO!: Is there any advice that you would like to give to our readers?
KM: Don’t be so set on how you think your life should go, happy accidents happen all the time but hard work encourages more opportunities!
Thank you so much to Kylie for taking the time to talk with Yo! for this interview.