Meet Vivi Nguyen from Radical Joy Bakery
Hi Vivi! Tell us a little about yourself!
My name is Vivi Nguyen (vee-vee win), or Nguyễn Hạ Vi Vi, as my mother intended it to be. My pronouns are she/they. I was raised in Westminster, CA, also known as Little Saigon, and spent my formative years in Oakland, CA. I chose New Orleans as my birthday destination a few years back, and was so captivated by the city's culture, naturescapes, people, and history. I knew back then that I wanted to make this my home someday, but work and my chosen family had me rooted to California.
The pandemic became the catalyst for my move. Unfortunately, due to gentrification over the years, rents in my home state rose unbearably. My partner and I were locked down in our 1-bedroom apartment devoting more than half of our collective paychecks to rent, and it hit me that this lifestyle was completely unsustainable. I made the decision to relocate in hopes that the pace of life here would help me unlearn some toxic work habits and be less alienated from pursuing the life I want to live and my community. The fact that there is a big Vietnamese community here definitely sealed the deal.
Tell us about your business. How long have you been doing what you're doing, what’s the current status?
October 22, 2020 is when I officially put myself out there on social, so as of today I've been doing this for about 4 and a half months. I guess I would be classified as a cottage baker, and I recently attained LLC status. All that means is I bake from home, which is why I like to call my house Rad Joy HQ on days I open my porch for pick ups, and on some days, I refer to it as my "bakery-dwelling".
I started off selling cookies out of my house and at pop-ups, then I branched out to vegan cheesecakes, handpainted celebration cakes, mochi brownies, and other pastries, and sometimes I even do brunch! I also provide local cafés with items like banana breads, muffins, and scones, and redistribute food weekly to NOLA Community Fridges. I try my best to source local or organic ingredients, and care a lot about what goes into my goods.
Many of my items are dietary restriction-friendly, I never intended to be a vegan or gluten-free baker, but I think having some allergies myself and being from California definitely gave me this intuitive edge that led me to baking this way. Plus, many Vietnamese/Asian foods are naturally vegan and gluten-free... they're just not marketed as such!
I think what I'm most proud of is that I like to showcase and utilize ingredients techniques that I grew up eating, observing, and practicing, rather than abiding by some French or Western culinary standard. I know that BIPOC cooks like me have so much to offer when we dive deep into our own wells of knowledge. It is my own form of resistance against the status quo as a baker, creating and being exactly who I am. No dilution.
How has covid affected what you’ve been doing for the past year in terms of your business?
One thing that has been tough is figuring out the right calls about how to be responsible during COVID, and still surviving and staying relevant. I cancelled pop-ups that I had hoped to do throughout the holidays, but when I saw the numbers rising rapidly in early November, I decided to call them off.
Luckily, I ended up having tons of holiday cookie orders by mail during that time and a wedding cake order, which helped me get through the end of the year. In January, I decided to start offering cakes, and arranging distanced and preordered porch pick ups, which has been a great way for me to offer folks with fresh pastries in a low-key setting and reduce food waste. It feels like the pandemic has forced a lot of folks to continually pivot and innovate, and I truly feel like every month is a new iteration of what I am building.
What’s your favorite thing about New Orleans?
The community love... or maybe how talented everyone is... it's hard to decide!
I know I am somewhat new here and my rose-colored glasses may still be on, but I am in awe all the time by how many folks try to take care of each other and the community, whether that's by addressing food justice issues, redistributing crucial supplies, or just uplifting small business and organizations that are doing great things.
I am also blown away by how many people can do actual things with their hands and their hearts here. There is something very special about a city full of people that can make things.
I am just humbled every day that folks show up to my porch or to my Instagram to try my food or show their appreciation. I came to New Orleans only knowing 2-3 people, and I hadn't planned on becoming a baker. Rad Joy is a manifestation of creating the kind of world I want to live in, and I'm just so grateful that there are people who believe in what that means.
Picture of Vivi with Hennessey, their pup/customer service rep!