After her daughter was born, Jennifer Ban, our NJ Mompreneur of the Week, felt she was lost in the transition of leaving a career in interior design and being a full-time mom. While on a trip to Korea, she stumbled upon the art of piping edible rice cakes and, after a few classes, began creating a modern version of Korean desserts which were not only delicious but also beautiful. It was the idea she needed to start fresh, launching Rice Blossoms five years ago, and today, ships her rice cake and bean paste flowers and desserts to places as far as Hawaii. And Jennifer can also add an author to her resume, having published a cookbook highlighting the beauty and ingredients of modern Korean desserts. We caught up with this Jersey City mom of two to discover how her business is bi-coastal, the small steps she takes to teach her kids about their Korean culture, and where she heads for the most magnificent NYC views.
Jennifer Ban, the founder and owner of Rice Blossoms and our NJ Mompreneur of the Week, with her book, Modernized Korean Desserts, which shares her approach to handcrafted gluten-free rice cakes with beautiful bean paste flowers and other popular Korean desserts.
Please share a bit about your family and background. My husband, William Ban, and I have been married for nine years and have two girls, Eliana, 7, and Abigail, 4. Though I was born in Korea, I spent most of my childhood in the Midwest and moved to Jersey City from Orange County, CA, for my husband’s job. I love the diversity of the area here, the fact that it’s busy but calm, and that it’s close to Manhattan because I’m a city girl at heart.
You worked in interior design before launching your own business. Why the career switch, and how did you launch this business? I was an interior designer at a big corporate architectural firm focusing on retail spaces. I left when my daughter was about one year old because though I wanted to be a working mom, I was finding it challenging to juggle both, and the mom guilt was getting to me when I was at work. For a bit, I felt lost in the transition of being a career woman and being a mom. While visiting Korea, where it was trending to modernize traditional Korean desserts, I took some classes for fun so that I could make them for my young daughter–I fell in love with the simplicity and beauty of the rice cakes. When I returned to the US, I made cakes often for my family and would show my creations on Instagram. I kept getting a lot of word-of-mouth requests from friends, and after about a year, I decided to launch an official business and hired people to help me.
Our NJ Mompreneur, Jennifer Ban, with her husband William and daughters, Eliana, 7, and Abigail, 4.
Rice Blossoms is also in Southern California. Please explain how you became bicoastal and why that location. I started Rice Blossoms in 2018 and only moved to New Jersey about a year and a half ago. When I left California, I reworked the business to have a manager in SoCal focusing on workshops–there’s a big demand there for people who want to learn how to do it themselves and have fun while they learn. In Jersey City, we cater birthdays, corporate events, and weddings, and we also have workshops in the Jersey City surrounding areas and NYC, too.
What are your bestsellers? We’re known for our beautiful rice cupcakes with bean paste flowers that are hand piped on top. And our songpyeon is very popular—it’s a rice cake with a texture similar to mochi, and inside, it has honey, sesame seeds, and brown sugar filling. They’re so much fun to make because they’re so cute and delicious. And my kids love making them with me—it’s a great weekend activity for us.
Jennifer tops her rice cake desserts with hand-piped bean-paste flowers in various designs. She also teaches a variety of workshops if you want to pick up some skills yourself.
What do you hope your daughters learn from seeing you run your business? While making desserts with the kids, I talk about the meaning behind certain things, so there’s a cultural aspect that they learn, which is important to me and good for them. I also hope they see that I’m working hard and having fun creating pretty things and enjoy it, too.
What is something that most people would be surprised to know about you? Most people would be amazed to know I’ve lived in a lot of places around the US and the world. I was born in Korea and then lived in Wisconsin, followed by Indiana, both because of my dad’s career. Then I moved to Texas for college, followed by Los Angeles, Singapore, San Francisco, Orange County, and Jersey City, the first few for my career, followed by my husband’s career.
Just one example of how traditional rice cakes can be modernized and used in upscale events. Jennifer makes her rice cakes in different shapes, with hand-piped bean-paste flowers that are as delicious as beautiful. Photo Credit: Sunny Kim
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? I love the new Honey Day Café, a Korean-American cafe in downtown Glen Rock so much that I’ll be partnering with them to do my Spring workshop. Also, Word Bookstore in Jersey City is super cute. It’s small but perfectly curated so that no matter what age you are or what you’re looking for book-wise, you’ll find more than enough to satisfy. Plus, they have a little reading area for kids, so I love taking my girls there. It’s right next to a park and a café, so it’s a great area to go to and spend more than a few hours. And Nami Nori recently opened in Montclair, and their food is delicious, especially if you like handrolls—they’re the best.
Please share some places in NJ that you and your family enjoy. Our favorite place in the state is Liberty Science Center and Liberty State Park, next to the museum. It’s the perfect place for kids to learn about science and get outside and enjoy the weather-the park has the most amazing view of NYC. We also love the North Bergen County and Fort Lee area because it has so many great Korean restaurants there—you can’t go wrong.
What’s your best piece of advice for a mompreneur just starting? Just do it—be persistent and believe in yourself.
For more information on Jennifer Ban and Rice Blossoms, please see their website and Instagram pages.