"Third culture kids" are the children of immigrants who grew up in the U.S. who create a third culture of their own that combines the best of their parents' way of life with the modern American lifestyle. Bakers Sam Butarbutar and Wenter Shyu embraced this concept when they founded Third Culture Bakery in Berkeley, California in 2017. The two have now set their sights on Colorado and have selected East Colfax Avenue in Aurora for a new production facility and retail shop which they expect to open this summer.
Shyu's parents are originally from Taiwan and he grew up between there and Los Angeles, while Butarbutar and his family traveled between Indonesia, New York City and Los Angeles. The two met in California's San Francisco Bay area when they both had solo bakery projects and sold their products at farmers' markets and other venues. They soon combined their talents and started selling mochi muffins, doughnuts and other rice-flour baked goods before opening their first retail store a year later.
"We were the first to market with mochi muffins in the Bay area," Shyu recalls, "and we hope to be first in our new market too."
And certainly, mochi muffins aren't commonplace in metro Denver. Shyu explains that mochi is a doughy rice product that most people have eaten in mochi ice cream, but he and his business partner use rice flour to create something entirely different. "Expect lots of really different foods from our bakery," he notes. "Something consciously well-made in a visually stunning setting."
The baked goods from Third Culture use Asian ingredients combined with Western techniques and products, including organic French-style butter, to create something a little more toothsome than standard muffins and doughnuts, but with a lighter texture than plain mochi. Shyu points out mango-passionfruit doughnuts and ube (purple yam) and coconut muffins as popular flavors.
Most of the baked goods are sweet rather than savory, but not too sweet. "We use coconut sugar as a sweetener," Shyu adds, "and our philosophy has always been to use sugar as a seasoning, not as a main ingredient."
When Third Culture first started, the bakers were producing about 200 muffins a week, but they soon spread to many cafes and other eateries throughout the Bay area and now have more than sixty wholesale accounts as well as their own bakery cafes, where they also serve matcha teas and other beverages. They hope to follow a similar trajectory in Denver, first opening the production bakery at 9935 East Colfax Avenue in early summer before adding the cafe a little later in the year. After that, Shyu hopes to open a second spot in downtown Denver.
Shyu notes that the chief financial officer of Third Culture grew up in Littleton, and she convinced the two bakers to visit Colorado for a vacation; after that they were hooked.The partners chose Aurora for the production facility because of cheaper real estate and a welcoming attitude from the city of Aurora government, which has a program to encourage new businesses in developing parts of the city. He says he'd like to eventually expand into other markets as well, but for now is looking forward to introducing metro Denver to Third Culture.
Aurora and other Denver suburbs are fast becoming home to a variety of other international food trends, including fish-shaped taiyaki waffles at Snowl, Korean fried chicken at Angry Chicken, bubble teas at Kung Fu Tea, and Thai rolled ice cream at Frozen Spirals. We couldn't have predicted mochi muffins and doughnuts, but they seem just the right fit for Denver's own third culture kids.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.