In this series of interviews, we explore stories from immigrant/BIPOC*/women business owners who have adapted during the pandemic. The purpose is to learn and connect through shared experience. In this interview, Jo Anderson Cavinta (Diversity Services Coordinator for KCLS) spoke with Ksenia K and Ksenia T, owners of a business that uses food to inspire learning for children and families.
*BIPOC means "Black, Indigenous, and People of Color."
Meet Ksenia K and Ksenia T, Owners of a Cooking and Learning Business for Kids and Families
Ksenia K is from Russia and her friend and business partner, also named Ksenia (T), is from Estonia. They’ve been in business together for almost 4 years. They met about 5 years ago. “Our older kids attended after-school enrichment classes and we were waiting for them. We both were stay-at-home moms at that time.”
Both of us “being women, immigrants and mothers, we were trying to use all previous experience for creating engaging and educational activities for kids.”
“As of January 2020, we had a cooking school, conducted enrichment classes for kids, morning preschool for toddlers and hosted themed and cooking parties for kids on the weekends. It may sound like a big company, but actually we didn’t have employees and did everything by ourselves - preschool in the morning, after-school classes at night, parties on the weekends.”
Ksenia K and Ksenia T designed “Yummy and Culinary Geography” classes and camps introducing kids to other countries and cooking international food together. They went from being a home-based business to leasing and remodeling a commercial space in Bellevue in September 2019. “It was a big investment for us.”
“Starting from January 2020, we were super busy with hosting kid’s birthday parties in our newly remodeled studio. We were happy to think about paying back all debts."
Then COVID-19 hit.
In mid-February, their clients became concerned about the situation and many upcoming events were put on hold. Their preschool was also affected as no one was sure at that time if toddlers were high risk. “We bought air purifiers and did deep cleaning of the studio every day. However, we were losing clients and news about the pandemic wasn't good, so we made a decision to close the doors on March 12.”
Ksenia K and Ksenia T weren’t charging clients while quarantined, and they didn’t qualify for small business grants that they learned about. “It was really hard to be stuck at home after being so busy and socially active before. Also, it was obvious that all kids felt bad while being locked at their homes. Before quarantine started we couldn’t imagine running activities online because of the nature of our business.”
A turning point.
Ksenia K and Ksenia T rearranged their classes to an online format and offered them for free in order to “be with clients and friends over the hard times.” They learned a lot about online events and using Zoom. Instead of cooking instruction, Ksenia K shared information about different countries and did crafts with kids. “We encouraged kids to cook a recipe after the class.” She also began Zoom story times for toddlers. Ksenia T offered cooking classes for adults via Zoom and they even hosted bread-making Zoom birthday parties. “We sent all essential ingredients to our clients by courier service.”
The road ahead.
Making their online events free during the quarantine helped Ksenia K and Ksenia T stay connected with their clients, increasing loyalty and trust. “As soon as we were allowed to run summer camp programs, we got our clients back.” Social media and technology played a big role in their recovery. It was a way to share information about safety and regulations as well as promote each other’s business.
“We are trying to be flexible as much as possible. As we aren’t able to host events as we used to, we are working on seasonal camps programs for kids on remote learning.”
Ksenia K and Ksenia T's Business Tip: Promote each other’s businesses on social networks and share information about safety requirements and new regulations.
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