Transcript of Sushi Fridays EP007: Annie Woo, founder of Sweetduet and Sweetstory Media

Andrea: Yeah. That's going to be my next thing, send sushi to my guests before the conversation starts.

Annie:. Honestly, I've thought about those types of things, the full experience, right? Because I have something that I'm releasing that is more of a, more or less of a digital thing. And then I also have a product that is a physical thing. Which is the chocolate. So I was like, wow, it'd be so nice if I can just send them like experiences, you know what I mean? Like cheeses and stuff. So they can make their own charcuterie board while they're watching the thing, like experience. Um, I'm, I'm sure it's still possible. 

Andrea:  It's all about the experience, right?  I can make it a full experience for next time.

Annie: Yes, like a multi, you know, like five dimensional experience. 

Andrea: Welcome, welcome friends to episode seven of Sushi Fridays. I'm your host Andrea Pascual, thank you for listening.  I'm so excited about today's episode because it's the first time I've ever really had a full on conversation.  with a chocolatier  and one thing about me is if chocolate isn't on the dessert menu, I'm closing the menu. 

I don't care if there's crème brûlée or apple pie or carrot cake or olive oil cake or shortbread cookies on the dessert menu.  If chocolate isn't on there, then I'm not having dessert. That's how much I love chocolate.  I'm so excited to introduce our guest to you. I met her on LinkedIn, my favorite place to meet creatives.

I had so much fun talking to her because not only was she candid about her journey, I really appreciate her outlook on life and her creativity and her true love for her crafts, plural. It's my pleasure to introduce to you Annie Woo. Founder of Sweetduet Chocolate and multimedia artist at Sweetstory Media. 

Can you share with our listeners who you are and what exactly what you do?

Annie: I'm Annie, and I'm just a human being trying to follow my dreams of not being, not succumbing to the,  it's not, it's just a different way of living, I suppose.

Andrea: I want to start with my favorite food group in the world because my friends and family know that I am the biggest chocolate addict. 

Annie: Are you? 

Andrea: Yes. 

Annie: What kind? 

Andrea: Oh my gosh. Anything dark. I love anything dark. 

Annie: Oh, did you just go into dark right away or did you kind of like work your way up?

Andrea: I feel like when I was a kid it was milk chocolate. But as I got older, it's dark. It's like chocolate with wine. Chocolate, like really small pieces of rich chocolate for dessert and that's all I eat for dessert now or for a snack or for, for anything really.

Annie: Do you happen to remember your first introduction to the dark chocolate?

Andrea: I don't remember it clearly in my head. I feel like it was gradual. It went from, like, 60 percent dark to 70, now 80. I'm almost turning into a pure piece of chocolate.

Annie: Can I be honest? So, when I first tried dark chocolate, I pretended like I liked it, but I wasn't into it. I was a milk chocolate fan for the longest time. For the longest time. And to some degree, I still am, because... You know, when you're, okay, for example, do you drink coffee? 

Andrea: Yes. I do.

Annie: Okay. So, do you drink it black or with milk? Or lattes? 

Andrea: A splash of milk.

Annie: A splash of milk. Okay so, do you feel that when you add the milk, it brings out the flavour in some way? Like some kind of nuance that's kind of hard to capture when it's completely black?

Andrea: Yes. 

Annie: And I feel that way about milk chocolate. It really is special, I think, but it is more refined than I would like. I'm starting to go more unrefined whenever possible. And I do remember my first time that I was introduced to chocolate. It's, uh, it's so funny as I asked a question, I remembered it. And that was, um. Do you remember those orange chocolates? Like those orange chocolates that you like smash on the table? That came out, I think, around the same time when the Wonderball came out, I think. Like in the 90s. Um, and uh, yeah. I was really into the orange part and then I was like, oh, experience. I was very into the experience of that. You know, and then that opening thing and it smells like orange and my friend, who happened to be a Mormon and therefore she couldn't have other things and she did dark chocolate. I think she introduced it to me and she was really into dark chocolate and I thought she was very sophisticated like her palette and all that stuff because she didn't…you know dark chocolate.

And I was like, I wasn't, I was like, whatever. I didn't really think much of it. At the time, but I was like, okay, whatever, not going to have that again, maybe, but I did. And then ultimately I did learn to embrace it for what it was, you know, dark chocolate for what it was, because then I, I realized there was a different perspective, you know, to, in order to like things. 

And so when you turn that perspective on, then you're able to kind of like, like it or understand it or whatever. And that's kind of what I feel like with the whole world right now is like perspective, like changing our perspective just a little bit will totally just change the way we look at things.

Andrea: Was there a moment that you realized when you thought to yourself, I want to get into chocolate, like, was there a specific moment?

Annie: A moment. I think for me, it was a buildup. My first introduction into food in general, when I realized, okay, so I was doing acting, I was doing musical theater, all that stuff, was, um, when I, when I wanted to kind of do and, do my own things, you know, be a little more responsible. So maybe it's food because I love food and it's the truth. 

And then I told my friend about it and my friend was like, oh my gosh, I know this guy and he does, uh, like he's, he's in Smorgasburg. Do you know Smorgasburg in, uh, Williamsburg in Brooklyn? 

Andrea:  Yeah. I went to it one year. 

Annie: Oh, did you like it? 

Andrea:  It was really good. It was, it was so long ago though, but it was a cool vibe, like trying all these little foodie things 

Annie: And just, yeah, it's an experience.

Yeah. So I worked there for like two years with this guy. He's a, um, he was my very first mentor, I would say, but really young guy. Manolo Lopez is his name. And actually he's doing some amazing things right now. And I really wanted to reach out or like see him. Cause now that I'm in New York, I can, but I have just been a little bit too busy too, but, um, he showed me kind of like everything, uh, what it takes.

And it takes a lot of grease and a lot of like manpower, you know, it's like getting the fryer in your early in the morning and to the truck and then driving it there and then the day before you're making huge batches of like the filling, the stuffing. It's like, it's a lot of manpower, you know? And for me, I'm just a little artist.

I'm not into like doing that, but I loved the people aspect of it. Cause you're right there and you're talking to people. So that was my first, first introduction and after that, I was kind of like, well, I know the knowledge of what it takes to do a smorgasbord. So maybe I could do my own smorgasbord. So I played around a little bit with, um, this concept called mixed masa.

And I basically did Korean barbecue and like kimchi, like pork and beef and put it in tamales. But that idea did not last long. We made a branding for it. It's funny. Like as a creative for me in going into an ideal concept of something, I always come into it from the branding and the, uh, the imagery angle, because that's the first thing that I know how, and that's the spark of like idea that comes from, So yeah, I tried that out and then um, I was making ice cream and then a friend of mine and we did like tasting parties and stuff and I had so much fun with it So I learned how to sort of get like uh, people's opinions and stuff like that.

Then, then a friend came over and he was like, you should put weed in it. And I was like, Oh, that sounds like a good idea. So I started doing that. And then I was like putting it in like igloo boxes with like, you know, ice thing and then taking around the city and then delivering it like in the, like on the subway, you know what I mean?

Like, um, but then that was kind of like, um, no, not frozen. No way. So then. That was around the time I was like really disliking my, uh, my work, which was, um, so while I was auditioning, I was working as a server at this, uh, place called the Capitol Grill in Midtown Manhattan. And it was like, pretty soul-tearing.

Like that the vibe was not good for me. It was toxic. So then I was like looking through a Craigslist ad and I was like, what can I like one desperate day? And, uh, I found this job as an assistant chocolatier at a chocolate shop in the Lower East Side. 

Then I quit and I, my partner and I moved to California. I'm actually originally from California.

And, I was like, okay, well, chocolate's going good. I know a lot about chocolate now. And, but I'm still an artist, so I need to do my own thing. So I opened a farmer's market stand. And, that was like a really beautiful trial period of like, just creating and creating and creating like lots of, I try to be unrefined as possible, like, and I was using like a lot of organic ingredients and a lot of like, it was always natural colour. 

These days I can taste flavouring from a mile away and I'm just like, okay, I'm not into it. But if the flavour must come from a fruit, I would grind it into the mixture. You know, I would find some way to use like the real thing. And I had such a great time doing farmer's market.

I learned a lot. And then from there, uh we narrowed it down. I was doing it at home actually, um, so there's a way that you can do this thing called, um, the cottage foods, which is a permit where you can make stuff from home, so I worked like 80 hours a week in the kitchen. It was getting too much. So, through another mentor kind of got guided into what is now a CPG product, He always said go narrow and deep, so narrow and deep we did we went from 20 to 25 SKUs to, uh, to four skews. And I have this one four skew and I've had it for three years and I've gone through iterations of it, packaging wise and also in the, uh, the formulation wise. And then, um, it's been going. 

Andrea: When you were, when you were making the chocolate for the farmer's market, were you doing that all on your own? 

Annie: So my partner, Chris, He was there like every step of the way. So yes, I was producing everything on my own. That was me. I made everything, but then, the morning, you know, like the five in the mornings, like loading the car, that was me and him, and then we would drive over to the farmer's market, set up together.

And then he would he and I would be there the whole day together. At least in the beginning. And then we got into more farmer's markets. So then he would be in one. And then I would be in the other. So that's kind of, yeah, how it happened. 

Andrea: Now that you're CPG, do you have a facility for where you make all the chocolate? What's the difference in production now as opposed to then? 

Annie: So, um, there's many ways that you can do production and I believe it all falls down on what you're willing to do, right? And for me, because my, my best expression is, I think, I think is my visual arts, so I think that I should be focusing my time on that. While I do miss production.

I love touching chocolate. I'm not into machine. Production. I'm more into actually like tempering it, you know, actually, I would never want to temper it by hand again, because trust me, I've done it so many times. And that's such a lengthy process. I'm like talking about being handsy rather than what my product now is.

Annie: Um, it's minimally handsy, you know, it's easy. You put it on a thing, an enrober, and it goes under the enrobing belt. Like it pours the chocolate over, it covers it, goes through a cooling tunnel and then crystallizes at the end. You know, but there's not a whole lot of like creative process behind it, behind it or involvement where, you know, like, whereas in the chocolate shop, I was like putting chocolate in scraping it and then dumping it, just smacking things.

And then, you know, being very handsy. So, to answer your question. I have a, what's called a contract manufacturer. So it's a separate entity, that are basically working for me when I need them. And I have an amazing one. And then they produce, you know, when, when I need it.

Andrea: What I love about Annie's story is she's a true creative whose curiosity and love for food has led to where she is today. Sweetduet now has four SKUs that Annie has redeveloped and iterated multiple times.  I think that's important to note because niching  especially at the beginning of your business journey.

Whether you're offering a product or a service helps to not only reach your specific community or audience, but it also helps in the streamlining of your production and systems processes.  

Keep listening, because  we have some yummy talk coming up.  

Warning!  You are gonna want Sweetduet after this. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

How did you come up with those flavours for Sweetduet?

Annie: So there was a date farmer across the way from me, um, at the farmer's market, and she introduced me to California dates. And of course, when he gave it to me, I was like, okay, that needs to go into chocolate.

But I also found that the date was so sweet that. It didn't need sweetened chocolate. It just needed pure chocolate. So I just dipped it in pure chocolate, 100 percent chocolate, and I brought it back and I had a bunch of people try it. My, my regulars, um, him, and people were really into it. The dates are so moist inside.

You know, they're like literally like caramel. That was how the dates came to be. But then of course, due time, we ended up changing the variety of the dates, you know, and then as for the apricot, for me, you can't have chocolate dipped without chocolate dipped apricot. I think it's like kind of a staple, you know.

And, uh, so it fit really well into the family of four. And then the mango and pineapple also, I feel that way about mango. The mango, I think is also a staple kind of like you must have it. It's like a baseline thing. The pineapple, I was dipping pineapple rings at the farmer's market and I really liked it personally, personally, really liked it.

I love how like juicy and moist it is like naturally. Sometimes a little bit more on the tart side. And that's the thing with harvest and stuff like that. It's kind of like wine. I think when you come into CPG, you realize so many of us really have to mask the flavour of the natural, you know, occurrence in the harvest, like by adding more sugar or by adding like more fat or like whatever it is, you know.

We add things so that it could kind of be more consistent. But I, first of all, I'm too lazy for that. But secondly, I also feel like when we eat things the way they are and the way they come, it's the best for us really. So my goal is to be the best for us while also still, because, you know, my, my background is in refined, you know, chocolatiering it's a French style.

So I value how humans have, come to a point where we've, we are alchemists, you know, We, people are chefs and you can create something so beautiful out of something. And that's the beauty of French chocolatiering is that it's very refined. You cook it, you caramelize it, but you're really altering a lot of it to kind of make it what you want it.

But there's beauty in the artistry of that. Right. But I don't, I feel like we can do one step further when it comes to our health, you know, cause when you face it. Those types of things, the refined things aren't the most healthiest, it's just sugar and it's pleasurable. But I think that there's a way to be pleasure, uh, to be pleasured by sweets without the refining, which is just very, very minimal processing, literally drying something, don't add anything to it and then just cover it in like just pure dark chocolate.

Andrea: Is that Sweetduet? 

Annie: That is Sweetduet.

Andrea: Can you tell us who Sweetduet is for?

Annie: I think it's for someone who realizes that they are deserving of care, but also the moment to yourself and, and give themselves that, but make informed decisions about it, you know, kind of like know what it is that they're putting in their body. And it's not like scrolling through Instagram. That's not really giving time to yourself, in my opinion.

Quiet moments with a book or with a, although I don't read as much, but, a puzzle, for example, I love puzzling, something kind of meditative and quiet. That's kind of in a way where Sweetduet belongs also, in my opinion, because, like the dark chocolate that you mentioned, that you love, the small piece, a Sweetduet piece is just like that.

It's deserving of its own moment. It's very nuanced. And it's an experience in itself and a little goes a long way 

Andrea: Scrolling through social media, I agree, is not really giving time to yourself. I'm guilty of that.  I want to be where Sweetduet is, in a quiet moment that's meditative and away from the noise.  Next up, Annie shares her creative projects and we learn it's a lot more than just chocolate.  

I noticed that you do a lot of video for Sweetduet. How important is that video storytelling for your brand? 

Annie: Well, it's very important that I can continue to do it because this is my creative outlet, but I'm also working on a very Personal piece right now and it's about to release on the 28th.

But to be honest, I've been so busy I haven't really been able to advertise it and I want to but i'm like, all right, it's premiering on the 28th Whatever. I mean just freaking let go of it already because honestly that piece I made it over a year ago It's like a year and a half ago, honestly Yeah. And I'm like, I'm like, it needs to go, it just needs to go out into the world.

I can't keep tweaking it. Like I've been tweaking so much of it and yeah, but it has gotten me a lot of job opportunities that, that, uh, that piece, because I, while it's not out in public, I've been sharing it with, um, you know, people who might be interested in working with me and, uh, when they see that video, they're like, okay, yeah, let's work together.

So it served me. In many ways, but also, I have to move on, I have all these other things that I want to capture, and then I have 11 episodes, and uh, I just have to start unburdening myself. I don't know if you get it, do you have anything like that? Something you've been working on for a very long time, and you're just like, alright, I'm like ready, but I'm not ready.

Andrea: Yes, I think it was this podcast, I was, I had it in my head since the pandemic and it took me until now to actually start get the ball rolling like I was thinking about it and sitting on it for so long and just trying to wait for the ideal time to start but I just thought it's like we're nearing the end of 2023 I just need to start start this or I'm never going to learn and evolve and just move on like I need to do this.

So that's how I feel about Sushi Fridays, it's been a long time in my head in the making

Andrea: Annie, can you tell us about what you're launching? 

Annie: It's called Sweetduet Around the World and it is my, it's, they are the places that Sweetduet has kind of like taken me to. The ethos around it is that it must check one or more of three things. And one is that it must um, educate people to some degree, something, something new. And that it inspires people to be good Samaritans because there's also good Samaritans that are in this piece. And then it inspires people to, start their own project if they want to, because I'm also, uh, showing like businesses.

Annie: Um and I do believe that there's a lot more people out there that are wanting to just kind of start their own businesses. And it's really inspiring to talk to businesses that have been very resilient. So it's basically a 10 to 15 minute episodic, highlighting these beautiful people within the context of Sweetduet, Chocolate, produced by Sweetstory Media, which is my, media side.

Andrea: Where can we watch it when it's ready? 

Annie: Yeah, so on the 28th, so by the time this airs it's probably past it, it's going to be on YouTube. I've been seriously giving myself so many reasons to, like, delay it, because it's like, the product is done, but it's like, I want to add, you know, I want to, like, put little things out and talk about it, I just have been so, consumed by other things, I would say, but it's like you, I think that maybe it's one of those things where I should just get it started and there is no ideal time to start but to start and that I will learn as I go plus how I see content these days is that sometimes when you uh, advertise something without it actually being around people forget about it especially if you're not really like Unknown name or whatever, you know that kind of thing like someone that like someone recognizes it's kind of like all right.

They announced this thing, you know, and then they'll probably be reminded again when you actually release it. But then, this is why I also think it's, it doesn't hurt to have a bank of, uh, of things that people, when they stumble into, they're like a treasure trove of seeing maybe more than one episode there.

So, there's a positive, I think, in that angle. 

Andrea: I relate. When I think about Sushi Fridays, I'm thinking, if they stumble upon this, then they can go back to episode one, and they can refer to this.

Annie: That's very true. Exactly. And I love that about content now, is that time is almost irrelevant. It's just, you're always going to evolve as a person.

First of all, that's kind of a given, and I hope that everybody has a capacity of understanding that. But, you just gotta start somewhere, and just, now, you just, it's like, Your whole journey of, uh, whatever it is that you set out to do is right there.

Andrea: Do you, like, as a business owner, do you feel like the content is necessary or could you have grown without it? 

Annie: I don't think that content is necessary in my specific industry. I think there are ways to do it. In fact, I know a very, very successful and profitable, uh, small, small, tiny business that does it very well and in a very, very respectful way.

And I think that she's brilliant. I'm like, she's one of my role models. So I believe that you can, it means you're selling, you know, you're salesing, you're, uh, you know, calling to stores or whatever, because the stores then will sell your product. Of course, for me, again, that's not really an option because this is my creative outlet.

So I have to do it. Yeah, it's a must. 

Andrea: It's a must.  

Annie: Yeah. It's a must.

Andrea: I wanted to ask you about entrepreneurship and life in general. I know that as an entrepreneur, it's a lot of tasks and a lot of a to do list that never ends. How do you balance finding time for yourself and life outside of your  business?

Annie: I think one of the most foundational thing that you need to, when you're going into entrepreneurship to set up is that you know that you're taken care of on a basic level, that you can feed yourself, that you have a roof over your head.

And then, you kind of look around your people and resources, and there are family members that is going to, be helpful and believe in you, and, it could be either lending them their place to live, it could be, um, that's a big one, honestly, you know, for example, , so get that foundational thing covered, or stay with the job that you're doing, even if it's part time or whatever, just like know that, that you have it.

Because I think that part of it, not having that, is so paralyzing that sometimes you can't do your work. You're too distracted, you know? And then what's the point if you can't actually move forward, move the needle forward in the way that you want and, and not being able to afford your living. So, Definitely, I've, I've been fortunate enough, I don't come from money, but I have a lot of people around us, my partner and I are both artists, so we're both kind of in that kind of situation, you know, like, it's the most, uh, intense kind of, you know, people are like, yeah, I would never date an artist or whatever, the instability, it's like, times that by a hundred, we're really realistically two.

But we have so much belief system around us and very, very, very supportive people like supportive parents emotionally. And so we know that if we don't do it, it's almost kind of like we're doing the disservice in a way. It's like our life was meant for this. 

And then I, I think I really prioritize my health. Like gym is a must go walking like daily is a must do. Um, It doesn't hurt that we live right next to the woods and we're walking like at least once a day, we, we get some sort of like complete nature, like encompassing.

Honestly, if we can even get in the water, that would be awesome. Like natural water. Cause I do believe that natural water, like submerging yourself in that is actually really, grounding even on a scientific level. So that's the other balance is, um, the movement and then the food, uh, no compromising on the food.

Like if it's, if it's going to be expensive because it's organic or that because it is grass fed or whatever, then I say, go for it. You know, if you have the means to do it, so the health is literally like health and mental stability is literally everything that's the foundation of it and people, good people also.

Andrea:  I wrapped up this conversation by Asking Annie five questions. I like to call them rapid, but I guess my questions leave room for explanation which is ok too…
Number one, what's your favorite sushi roll?

Annie: So I'm not picky when it comes to sushi. My partner always gets the eel one, the dragon roll. So I'll eat it. But I must say that's not my favorite. I'm more into the raw. honestly, give me any very good raw tuna on you know, very good sushi rice and sesames.

Annie: And I think I'll be good 

Andrea: What's the best Sweetduet and beverage pairing? 

Annie: Oh beverage pairing, okay. All right, there's several. I would say there's one that's very versatile and that is the dates. It's literally just like caramel fudge. So that goes with anything like coffee, kombucha, wine.

Andrea: What top ingredients make the best grazing board? 

Annie: Well, so again with the lengthy answers, um, I have like a criteria of musts. It's like, um, a flavour profile, like checklist. So there must be something crunchy, like a cracker. There must be something meaty. There must be something cheesy. There must be something, like soft or moist that you can maybe dip.

Usually the cheese can cover that. There must be something that's tart, like a raspberry sometimes can really do the trick where it. When you have the dryness of the crackers and the cheese, then that, you know, the raspberry really just like comes in and does the job. And then brined. I love, uh, olives and stuff like that.

Annie: Salty little tiny things. And Sweetduet. Yum. 

Andrea: What's your number one piece of advice for aspiring creatives and entrepreneurs?

Annie: Stay close to what your mission is, because art can always come and go in very, very different like ways. I think we can improve different ways of expressing ourselves. But I do think that those of us who are here for something are here for some sort of a mission in a way, you know something and I think it's important that we all kind of stay true to that And I think honestly part of uh the world's healing will happen if everybody gives themselves permission to adhere to their kind of like their calling and allow their creative side to drive them. 

Andrea: Oh, I love that I live by that actually 

Annie: I love that 

Andrea: Okay last question. What are you most excited about right now?. 

Annie: What am I most excited about? Oh man. Well, I have some, um, things in the works right now. I have some projects that I, that are some of them funded, some of them not, but it's giving me some real creative growth.

And it's something there in formats that I've never done before. So I'm a little not scared. I know I'll like come through and I'll, I'll bring it, but it's definitely a, uh, production heavy projects, all of them. It's a lot of soul searching within the people that are, uh, you know, working with Sweetstory media.

So these are Sweetstory media projects. I'm also pretty excited to, um, so I'm also putting up my new website. Um, that'll come when it comes. I tell myself because honestly there's too much going on and I'm working on it and it's going to be pretty, um, I think immersive and beautiful. That will also, uh, there's a lot of new pieces that I've done besides the Sweetduet around the world for Sweetduet that hasn't been released.

So that'll make its debut on the website as well. So I have a lot to look forward to. 

Andrea: What a pleasure it was to talk about creativity, business, life, and pleasurable experiences like Sweetduet with Annie.  One thing Annie said that stood out to me was needing supportive people around you in your creative entrepreneurial journey. 

It made me think of my parents who've never doubted me and my partner who supported me from the very beginning and I am so grateful for that.  Annie also says, we know that if we don't do it, it's almost kind of like we're doing a disservice in a way. It's like our life was meant for this.  And I truly believe it is a blessing to know what we were meant to do. 

Knowing our gifts and answering the questions, How do I use my gifts to make the world a better place? To make people see and feel differently. To make a difference.  That's how I interpret Annie's message.  I sincerely wanna thank my guest, Annie Woo, founder of Sweetduet Chocolate and multimedia artist at Sweetstory Media for having this conversation with me today.

You can find Annie on LinkedIn on sweetduetchocolate (dot) com, on sweetstory media (dot) com and on YouTube at Sweetstory Media where you can view Annie's project Sweetduet Around the World.  

Thank you, thank you so much for listening to this episode of Sushi Fridays. We are now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, and YouTube Podcasts.

Please follow along on sushifridayspod on Instagram.  Once again, I am your host Andrea Pascual.  Let's meet again next Sushi Friday. I'll bring the podcast and the Sweetduet chocolate. And the bluefin tuna roll.