AUSTIN, Texas - Austin food blogger, Jane Ko, is using her platform to help bring awareness to people who work in the Asian food industry by making pathways for fellow Asian business owners.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, as of 2020, only about 6-and-a-half percent of people employed in business management positions are of Asian ethnicity, the lowest of all groups.
Ko says she’s on a mission to use her colorful platform to make sure statistics don't hold her and her community back.
"My parents are immigrants, they immigrated to the states when I was three years old," Ko says, sitting at 101 by Teahous, that’s tucked into a popular Asian food district in North Austin.
Ko just wrapped up a mentor meeting with a start-up company she's helping get off the ground. The young businesswoman and influencer says it’s part of the way she’s giving back to the community after landing in Austin from South Texas.
"When I moved to Austin in 2007 to go to school at UT, the school itself was five times the population of my small town," Ko says about her hometown of Port Lavaca. "I had a very hard time like getting accustomed to being around so many people and seeing, like, there's so much in life."
Today she makes a living showing people how big life is, but it’s a job that hasn't come easy.
"Being an only child and female, I don't think most people, don't understand the kind of pressure or restrictions you have with that. In my culture, especially being Taiwanese, it’s in our culture to be obedient quiet, paint only inside the boxes," Ko says.
She has more than 100,000 followers on Instagram, but she reminds people social media is a highlight reel.
"A lot of conversations [are about] hearing, ‘you're so polished, you're so well put together’, I grew up as an only child, with parents that constantly told me, it's ok to not be good at anything, kept me super sheltered," Ko says.
She felt tired of playing small, she imagined bigger.
"My dad still tells me, ‘don't be shiny, don't be shiny’ and I'm over here like, I raised $160,000 with a couple of friends to raise the Austin Winter Relief fund," Ko says thinking about how un-shiny that was in her father’s eyes. "I didn't do it to be shiny, I did it because of my community, I knew they needed someone to step up and if I didn't' who was."
She stepped up big for Austin, February 2021, during the deadly winter storms, but she steps up quietly in other ways.
She recently signed as a partner with an Asian restaurant group knowing her platform would help.
"I think Asian restaurants have been impacted the most and this is not just in Austin, this is Nationwide. I think it's because people have been like, ‘oh it's the Asian virus, it's from China,’ and like ‘oh you're from China,’" Ko says thinking back to the discrimination the Asian community has seen. "I realized as an individual, as the food blogger behind "The Taste of Koko" that I have a very privileged situation because obviously my audience that follows me knows what I look like… so I’m not experiencing that but I did experience racism my entire life growing up," Ko says.
She says the past few months have been challenging, she received criticism for not being more openly vocal on the Stop Asian Hate movement.
"You're basically putting a target on yourself, and I say this because that is what my mom said to me on the phone. She's like, ‘why you just put a target on yourself? Why do you have to speak up? Why do you have to step up all the time?’" Ko says.
But stepping up is what she does. Her newest project? Helping local Asian baker and owner of Bom Bakeshop, sell mochi donuts.
"She was telling me about how she makes mochi donuts and she's also experienced some Asian racism along with others a lot of other Asian owned businesses here in town, and she was essentially making donuts and doing pick up at different locations throughout town and hearing her story just really broke my heart because I know how hard it is starting a business," Ko remembers. "Most people don't know when I was in college, I started a baking business called "Macarons by Jane""
This entrepreneur says businesses are hard.
"When I ran into this baker, something in me clicked and it was kind of full circle, I was like, I have a space where you can come under our roof and do pick up here [safely]," Ko says referring to her new brick and mortar, 101 by Tea Haus.
"Even for my dad, when he's like, ‘Jane don't do this!’ or whatever he says, I'm like, ‘oh I'm not asking anymore, I'm telling you," Ko says.
The daughter of immigrants says to the critics, her platform and financial power speaks louder than an Instagram post.