The Wildcat Tribune celebrates women-led businesses on International Women’s Day. (Shruthi Narayanan, Anaisha Das)
The Wildcat Tribune celebrates women-led businesses on International Women’s Day.

Shruthi Narayanan, Anaisha Das

Building up the bay – celebrating International Women’s Day

April 1, 2022

International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8, 2022 across 80 countries, honoring the previous achievements of women and empowering future generations. The value of women’s achievements is evidenced in the businesses of the East Bay, so we interviewed women-owned businesses in order to highlight their experiences. Women-owned businesses are diverse and widespread across the Bay Area, and their owners champion the essence of the holiday.

Bunso Breads is the first Filipino Bakery in the Tri-Valley

building+in+a+diagonal+angle%2C+sign+titled+Bunso+Breads

Rina Cajayon

Bunso Breads, located in downtown Pleasanton, is a female-owned Filipino bakery that specializes in breads such as Ensaymada balls, Buko pies, and Ube-flavored goodies.

Rina Cajayon owns Bunso Breads, the only Filipino bakery in the Tri-Valley. The bakery is located in Downtown Pleasanton, and the name reflects an aspect of Cajayon’s life. In Tagalog, “Bunso” is the common phrase for the youngest sibling; Rina is the youngest of six children in her family. 

Cajayon grew up in Maryland, and her family has always been into cooking and baking. Later in life, she joined the U.S. Military as a Food Service Specialist and served for 28 years. She had only really started to get into baking after she attended the University of Hawaii and landed a part time job at Four Seasons hotel making pastries and bread. This was also where she earned her degrees in Culinary Arts and Advanced Baking in 1998. In 2010, she was deployed to Camp Parks and was active for three years before she was finally able to open one of the first official home bakeries in Northern California in 2013. 

That same year, Governor Jerry Brown passed the Cottage Food Operations (CFO), which allowed businesses to be located at home. Because she was still a federal employee, she wanted to be able to open a baking business outside her main job, and has cited CFO for being the reason she wanted to remain in California instead of move back to Maryland.

There’s going to be a lot of challenges for every woman in the food service business, and even outside this business, but you have to keep driving on.”

Starting from friends, news of the at-home bakery spread from person to person, and caused her to gain more customers. From there, she started selling to places like San Ramon churches, and in 2019, was finally able to open a brick-and-mortar bakery, which enabled her to run an official business through the comfort of her own house.

“My biggest motivation [to open a brick-and-mortar] bakery was the customers. Those that found out about us usually did by word of mouth. But when they heard we were located at a house, they would always say ‘there’s no such thing,’ or ask ‘is this the right place?’” Cajayon explained. 

Cajayon recognized that there isn’t much representation in the field as a woman—and a Filipino—since there was always a constant comparison between other bakeries, whether it be due to her background or bakery menu. 

One of the greatest challenges Cajayon faced was the pandemic, which caused her brick-and-mortar bakery to open a year later than planned. She expressed her gratitude for being able to stay open, since she knows that many other bakeries had no choice but to close. 

“There’s going to be a lot of challenges for every woman in the food service business, and even outside this business, but you have to keep driving on.” 

Nupoor Dance Studio takes a leap into Indian culture

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Sonal Sanghvi

Nupoor Dance Studios, located in Dublin, aims to connect dancers with Indian culture

Sonal Sanghvi started her own dance company, Nupoor Dances, after she realized teaching dance was her passion. Her goal is to connect the new generations of kids to their Indian roots, healing the cultural disconnect that much of the youth experiences. 

Sanghvi was living in Bombay (Mumbai), India until 1993 when she moved to the Bay Area. But she has been dancing since she was seven years old, and was trained in Bharatanatyam (Indian classical dance) for around 16 years. She has participated in the Walnut Creek Indian Association, where she volunteered to teach kids how to dance.

“I taught one item to the kids and one item to the adults, and after they performed, they told me to start my own class,” she said while explaining how she started her classes in 1995. 

The rest is history. Sanghvi spent hours and days planning her company, and as a result, Nupoor Dances quickly began to amass attention. However, starting any business comes with its own set of obstacles. 

Having moved here with her family, “it was hard growing two kids at home and taking care of everything personally. Especially starting something new and going into the business as a woman, it was hard just to manage everything,” said Sanghvi.

Regardless of the struggles, Sangvhi doesn’t see Nupoor as a business. Rather, she views it more as a place that spreads Indian culture throughout the Bay Area and within her students.

I’m sharing just a little bit of the culture that I show with the folk dances of India”

“It’s not just for myself that I’m teaching. My model might not be the ideal business model, or a great business model or anything, but I’m satisfied from sharing parts of my life. I’m sharing just a little bit of the culture that I show with the folk dances of India,” she explained. 

For this reason, Sanghvi stated that being a woman didn’t necessarily impact her negatively with starting her business, but doing it alone was a struggle. Having grown her studio for years, she has been able to get help with younger choreographers and teacher assistants to help run her classes. But for the most part, she attends every class herself, and is working towards getting Nupoor back into competition again.

At the end of the day, Sanghvi’s motivation always comes down to the performance day: from the excitement of getting ready and dress rehearsal set ups, to after performances, with the bows and the possibility of walking off stage with an award.

“That’s always a memorable thing for me and I cherish that moment all the time. [Students] have the biggest smile on their faces, so waiting for that final product … is when I feel like I did something, like I added something to their cultural knowledge every time a show happens. That was always my goal,” explained Sanghvi.

Acknowledging artistic photography: A snapshot into Pink Blossom Studios

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Radhika Navelkar

Navelkar opened her photography studio, Pink Blossom Studios, to take more solo photoshoots.

Radhika Navelkar opened Pink Blossom Studios after working as a photographer for seven years. Her goal with starting this business was to pursue her passion while challenging herself with taking more family portraits and high school senior photos.

“I wanted to do something that makes me happy,” Navelkar said.

However, her journey of opening a small business did not come without its fair share of obstacles. 

“It’s always scary as an artist putting yourself out there,” she pointed out. “The mental hurdle is getting the confidence to start [a business].”

I wanted to do something that makes me happy”

One of the aspects she enjoys the most about starting Pink Blossom Studios is working with various people. 

“It’s great meeting new people and interacting with them,” Navelkar explained.

She also finds it rewarding when her clients experience a boost of confidence after seeing a photo of themselves. As a photographer, she “can see the beauty in people, and that’s what translates into the camera.”

Navelkar mentioned that being a woman didn’t deter or negatively influence her endeavor in starting a business as most of her clients are high school senior girls. 

“Sometimes, in my particular niche [of photography], it helped to be a woman because it was easier to connect with the girls I worked with,” she added. 

 

She also acknowledged that, while the portrait industry has more women, photography and wedding videography are dominated by men. Over the course of her career, she has noticed that more and more women are entering the field despite the stigma associated with women working in roles requiring hard work and long hours.

Most importantly, Navelkar encourages new small business owners to “give it a try, rather than just wonder what if I had.”

“The worst thing that could happen is that you could fail, and that’s okay. It’s better to fail than to have never tried,” Navelkar advised. 

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Anaisha Das, Web Editor-in-Chief

Anaisha joined the Wildcat Tribune to become more involved in her local community and develop her writing skills. She stayed for the sense of belonging and the snacks. This is her third year on the Wildcat...

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