Mojave Mallow's Stephanie Chan. Photo courtesy: Mojave Mallow

‘We’re so over white marshmallows.’ California sisters, Stephanie and Wendy Chan launch Mojave Mallows the first organic marshmallow company

6 mins read

Just in time for your holiday s’mores and hot chocolate, an Asian American small business makes a much-needed return to healthful and delicious holiday indulgences. Though the road from concept to shelf has been a bittersweet journey, the tough-going siblings make cocoa with extra marshmallows their most challenging days.

Egyptians were pioneers of the marshmallow game. As early as 2000 B.C., the revered ancients used sap to make paste then added honey to the bitter syrup. Originally, the concoction was for sore throats, but also resulted in a delicious dessert. What started off as a medicine and a sweet treat is still one of the most popular commodities today. 

However, as more preservatives and artificial sweeteners were added over the years, it changed a life-healing edible into an addictive confectionery that can be detrimental to our health. Luckily, there are efforts in the culinary world to return the fluffy delectable to the more beneficial side of our diets. As it turns out, it started in the kitchen of two women who wanted to indulge their families with smart food choices. 

Mojave Mallows was launched by Stephanie Chan, along with her sister Wendy Chan. In their search for the perfect creamy delicacy they noticed there were little to no organic options for marshmallows. 

“We’re both moms. We have kids and [therefore are] more attentive to [the] ingredients in food for ourselves and for [our kids]. I ended up making my own because I couldn’t find anything that fit what I wanted,” CEO of Mojave Mallows, Chan, told Ark Republic.

Hailing from Joshua Tree, California, in the Mojave desert, Mojave Mallows speaks to the geographic region where the company was born. The food venture is also a nod to the date fruit, which are a desert food and a crucial part of what differentiates their product. 

“A lot of marshmallows use corn syrup, but we use date syrup. So they’re darker than regular bright, white marshmallows. [They’re] like [a] caramel color,” described Chan.

Using date syrup as a natural sweetener, Chan began by making marshmallows and experimenting with new flavors. The CEO pointed out that she began giving marshmallows away as an act of hospitality. From her gift-giving, she garnered feedback from her mother’s friends, and her neighbors in the area.  

Admittedly, her sister Wendy is more of a baker than she is and therefore got more involved. Shortly thereafter, they started to figure out how they could scale the business and produce more. 

“[We] took it out of the home kitchen and into a commercial kitchen and started getting requests from retailers, putting them online and building [up] followers on social media.”  

“I guess that [was] kind of the genesis of it,” continued Chan.

Now, during the most wonderful time of the year, Mojave Mallow stocked their shelves with gluten-free s’more’s kits. Available to order now, that’s an item people typically go crazy for during the Christmas season, according to the connoisseur of marshmallows.

To boot, there will be vibrant four-ounce bags that are larger than the ones that were previously offered. With their recently revamped website, the company now handles larger national orders.

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Mojave Mallow is an Asian and woman-owned business started by sisters, Stephanie and Wendy Chan. It is the first marshmallow that is organic. Photo courtesy: Mojave Mallow

Way back when before the two sisters began creating fondue-like marshmallows minus all the mess and preparation, they became uniquely qualified for their roles as a result of their Girl Scouts background. A fun and interesting phase of their lives, the dynamic duo learned how to navigate problems. Their involvement with Girl Scouting enabled them to establish a robust female support system. As a matter of fact, everyone who Chan hired so far has been a woman. Their experience certainly had something to do with that. 

“It’s just like staying optimistic and not being afraid of getting your hands dirty. Like my hands are so dirty right now, covered in tapioca,” she chuckled.

Nearing the close of 2022, the Census Bureau distributed a press release revealing that, of the 612,194 Asian-owned firms in the United States, 145,714 of them or 23.7 percent were in the accommodation and food services industry.

What’s more, they received a lot of support from the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and from minority-owned consumer packaged goods (CPG) mentorship groups. In fact, Mojave Mallows joined the OTA’s Diversity and Entrepreneurship Program. This program works to get more businesses of color certified organic. 

“There’s not a whole lot of Black or Brown people doing organic certification in the way that I run my program,” Vice President of Operations at the OTA, Stephanie Jerger told Ark Republic.

According to Jerger, too many people of color were getting discouraged with the process due to the large disconnect between U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) resources and the certification that is required to acquire those resources. The only Black executive in the organic industry, Jerger knows the challenges all too well, so she works to bridge that gap.

“My program exists because there was nothing else like it,” Jerger pointed out.

While achieving the certified approval is a gold standard seal in the food world, it also provides a healthier alternative in the growing demands of organic foods.

When life hands you fluff make marshmallows

Still, their journey hasn’t been all gooey goodness. “We tried for a while to find a co-packer. But marshmallows are so difficult to make and they require specialized equipment,” Chan explained. 

Co-packers take care of packing and labeling while also providing full-service cooking, processing and blending for food goods. Furthermore, some co-packers offer you the choice of creating the item, shipping it back to your facilities for labeling and packing, and then selling it.

“You can find a hundred places to make you a bar or protein bars or like chicken nuggets, but marshmallows are hard. It just didn’t pan out of us.”

That along with issues such as shipping during the summer months, keep the owners on their toes. “Homemade marshmallows melt easily and fast. They. . .[fall] more in[to] the chocolate category, so summer shipping is definitely a hurdle.” 

Adding to the fragility of the Mallows, they also have a lower melting point than regular marshmallows because of how they’re made. “Right now I have orders in Phoenix and I can’t really ship there because it’s like 100 degrees,” stated Chan. Marshmallows are also finicky as per the buff. “You can’t make them too flat, or too dry, and sometimes they deflate.” 

Even though marshmallow preparation requires meticulous attention to detail, in all actuality, funding is the main concern for Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) small company owners.

Displaced concern

All AAPI small businesses struggle to secure financing, which makes budgeting tough, including Mojave Mallows. Truth be told, Chan and her sister are self-funded, due to a failure to grasp the main issue —that is, a lack of funding.

Gloria Lau, former CEO of the YWCA USA, referred to AAPI women-owned businesses as “over-mentored and underfunded.” Like many under-represented groups, when it comes to leveling the playing field, it seems that the number of entrepreneur programs increases; however, availing these entrepreneurs the necessary access to capital in order to thrive and grow, fails to match that same energy. “While there are dozens of professional networks to connect these women with mentors, very few provide the capital they need to grow and sustain their businesses in the long term,” said Lau.

Despite the fact that the number of firms owned by Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women entrepreneurs is rising in the United States, they too have limited access to crucial grants, loans, and funding. Nevada Senator and former attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto (D) said, “I’ll keep working to get [AAPIs] the support they need to succeed.”

Still, “69 percent of AAPI small business owners lack confidence that they could purchase property or equipment for their business,” as reported by the National Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce & Entrepreneurship (ACE). On top of that, Sharita Gruberg, vice president for economic justice at the National Partnership for Women and Families, warns that an impending recession poses a potential threat to exacerbate their financing disparity. 

Unquestionably, small businesses are the backbone of our country, and shopping with them is one of the best socioeconomic practices patrons can participate in. So, this holiday season, make a difference all while spicing up your holiday season with some gourmet marshmallows. Sure, you can buy them at grocery stores, supermarkets, or online retailers such as Amazon or Walmart. But why not deviate from the ordinary and purchase some holiday goodies that will knock your socks off?

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