A recent birthday event led me to a “new” business in nearby Brier. I’d no time to do “homemade” cake for my hubby this year. Our friends at Ono Poke supplied me with a great choice, and I scored an amazing cake for our family party. Thank you, Steven.
Moon Rabbit Pastries is one of a kind, in the sense that the creations are unique, and it is also part of a growing community of “cottage” businesses. I’ll share about the delicious creations I have enjoyed, but first let’s hear about the journey of Zoe Sonoda, the owner and baker.
We met to chat about how Moon Rabbit Pastry came to be:
Q: COVID/pandemic/working from home: Did these events, or a combination of them, provide stimulus or inspiration for the launch of Moon Rabbit? Or was your baking endeavor already “in the works?”
“My passion for cooking and baking spans almost 30 years. Without any formal training, I navigated recipes, ideas and techniques until I felt comfortable to share with friends and family.”
Bake sales, desserts for co-workers, a few weddings and catering events followed to further broaden Zoe’s experience. “Recently, even before the pandemic, I revisited this passion as a way to navigate personal loss and grief,” she said. “I lost my husband of 25-plus years, my dad and my grandfather in a span of six months, during 2017.”
She explained the components of her logo: “In the Chinese zodiac, my husband is Year of the Rabbit. During the memorial planning, I had my mom create a scratchboard placard.” Zoe’s mom, Kathleen Kam, is a well-known artist in Hawaii. (See more at kaucoffee.blogspot.com.)
“Mom researched the rabbit and moon symbols, incorporated the water element (for his birth year) and brought in the well-known Eastern folklore about the Moon Rabbit, which has a whole other meaning in relation to my husband and me.” (pic of logo)
That placard sits on a small table with husband Jon’s picture and other meaningful items to keep his memory.
Q: What got you started on this path?
According to Zoe, the pandemic started and she baked some Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes (for St Patrick’s Day) — and decided to give them away, rather than “eat them all.” She grins as she says this, and we can all relate.
She checked in with Brier Buy Nothing Group and ended up gifting a dozen to three different families. “It made their day,” she says.
Sounds like it made Zoe’s day too.
Over the course of eight months (and still to this day), Zoe bakes and offers up what she calls a Sweet Treat Saturday. But the urge to create could truly strike on any day of the week.
She said that on “days when I needed to bake,” the results were “gifted” within the local Buy Nothing Brier group. “I met so many amazing people and realized without really knowing it, that I was making connections and building community that I so desperately needed, as I faced adjusting to a new way of life and identity,” she said.
Zoe enjoys baking for others, making desserts for a party or a “just because it’s a Wednesday and I need cookies (Cornflake Crunch ones!)”
Readers, these cookies are seriously addictive: crisp crunch of corn flakes, sweet melty marshmallow. I was grateful that I only had one sample, because I’d have woofed down a whole plate if available.
Everything’s better with marshmallow, and the proof is on the top of yet another treat I tasted, the S ‘Mores cupcake.
No campfire needed: The dark chocolate cupcake with a coffee accent, featuring ermine butter cream and chocolate ganache, is topped off with a Dandies vegan marshmallow, and properly torched, of course.
Q: How did the name Moon Rabbit Pastry come about?
By 2020, people began to ask if Zoe owned a bakery or baked professionally. Some wanted to purchase her treats. But at this stage it was just for fun. “I just love to bake and can’t sell them, but I can gift them to you” she told the folks. And so she did. “What I enjoy doing, was perhaps a channel to give back,” she says, adding it has helped her in so many ways. But she began having increasing thoughts about what could make it legitimate.
Before even researching options or where to start, she recalls that Dec. 14, 2020 was the ah ha moment, which answers the question…..how did she get the name? “I was walking up the stairs from the basement and turned towards Jon’s picture, looked at the placard and blurted out “Moon Rabbit Pastry.” I haven’t looked back since.”
Q: So you are a home-based baking entrepreneur, but the permit calls out that you’re not regularly inspected. So what is the deal, exactly?
“ I have a business license in the State of Washington and City of Brier and hold a cottage permit through the Washington State Department of Agriculture,” she explains. Permit holders have a lengthy application process, in-home inspection (even though not regularly inspected from a commercial point of view), and have a food-handlers license.
Zoe was also required to list every type of equipment — dish, scale, toothpick, etc. — that will contact products. “I listed over 300 items,” she shares.
Other steps included a floor plan, labeling of cottage items that are stored on a separate shelf, sanitizing and cleaning practices, kid and pet plans while processing, plus the tedious step-by-step description of how products are packaged. Not to mention the labels based on the recipes.
“Oh, those labels!” she exclaimed.
Zoe spent two months testing and retesting, thinking outside the box on how to provide the deliciousness of a cream-based topping, without pastry cream. As mentioned, very strict guidelines exist for products that are permitted and prohibited. A maximum of 50 master recipes are allowed and endless variations from those recipes. Depending on what a person makes, it could be just a few labels (recipes) or a lot! Zoe has over 200 labels, which consist of the 50 master recipes, plus every other ingredient/product combination she’d want to create.
Since the pandemic started, the number of applicants to become a cottage business has increased exponentially. To date, there are over 1,100 approved cottage business in the state of Washington.
To encourage consumers to learn about cottage laws in the State of Washington, Zoe has a link on her website. “I believe in 100% transparency and it’s important to understand this branch of food service,” she says.
Q: Please share with our readers what it means to do professional/commercial bake in a home. (Share the preparation, and any special equipment.)
Zoe explains that cottage businesses have grown nationally over the past 15 years, with about 32 states that have cottage food laws. This permit differs than a commercial food establishment since it allows for non-hazardous food processing occurring in one’s personal kitchen. In other words, it shouldn’t require refrigeration. No custards, no fresh whipped cream, no cut fruit, to name a few. (All the yummy stuff, but I get it.)
“We are not allowed to use any professional equipment, such as fancy mixers or ovens,” she says. “All cooking must take place in the permit holders’ kitchen. So we are not necessarily referred to as professional or commercial. Once that terminology is used, people expect and the state requires a completely different license and permitting arrangement.”
Q: What is your absolute favorite item to bake? I know… so difficult to pick just one!
“Ricotta Olive Oil Cake with ermine butter cream. It is the platform for so many flavor and texture combinations that make it the best blank canvas for creativity.”
My birthday cake featured this base cake recipe: Moist extra virgin olive oil cake, layered with ermine butter cream (yes, think of the silky sensation of that fur) topped off with white chocolate glaze and shredded coconut.
Zoe says: “I have hundreds of flavor and texture combinations in my head that I want to share with others. So stay tuned.”
Q: You have a full-time job, which as you say “pays the bills,” and a serious love for creating delicious pastries and baked items, which “feeds your soul.”
“I can focus on the baking task alone and put my heart into it,” she says. “Over the years, I have polished my skills and understanding of kitchen science that really upped my game so my confidence to bring unique, bold, creative treats for others to experience brings me joy.”
Zoe shared a saying she discovered a few weeks ago, which resonated: “My productivity stems from inspiration. When I focus on what brings me joy, my tasks become effortless actions.”
Zoe has also found ways to contribute by giving back to her community. Moon Rabbit Pastry has partnered with another Brier business owner to bring the Brier Bundle. “We are selling these for pick-up later this month and one-third of the proceeds will be donated to Brier Helping Brier, our community non-profit to help Brier residents in need,” she says.
She also felt that the business needed to be fun and engaging. “Connection with people via social media via pictures of what inspires me is often the cornerstone of my posts on Facebook.” These include Rabbit Rabbit “giveaways” on the first of the month, educational posts about the products being purchased or a cooking technique — “all ways to keeps my customers wanting more….not just treats, but visually appealing ‘appetizers’ and learning opportunities along the way,” she says.
Q: Family influences?
“My husband was my biggest support (and consumer) of my cooking and baking. I shared a lot with other family members (and family of friends).” Zoe provided endless meals over the years for Thanksgiving orphans, potlucks, fundraisers and milestone events. She pulls a big grin and winks. “It takes a village to influence.”
Q: Any recipes that are pulled from /or adapted from your Hawaiian heritage?
“I was raised in Hawaii and that will always be my home,” she says. “I have a strong affinity to the islands, but I am not Hawaiian. I am half-Chinese (my Mom), while my father’s side provided the melting pot of European ancestry.”
Zoe feels fortunate to have been exposed to so many cultures during her years back home. This allowed her to develop a palate for so many cuisines and flavors.
Future recipe plans include some “Island flavor profiles.” Think cornflake cookies with mangoes, pineapple, black sesame seeds for exotic flavors and texture. Asian influences, tied into the moon themes, may turn out Fruit Moon hand pies for this fall season.
Recipes are developed from inspiration via nature. On her daily walks, key ingredients present themselves. The results are produced and offered up:
And about her hand pies: I tasted berry and these were no doubt inspired by a walk past bushes laden with fruit. I’m a covert blackberry picker, and nothing tastes better than a sun-warmed fist full of the sweet, dark gems. That taste memory comes up when I bit into the Berry Hand Pie — a nice crisp to the pastry, and they are sized just right to hold in your hand and share with no one.
Q: Where do you see your business in the next year? In the next five years?
Zoe sees the business continuing as a small-batch, custom home bakery with the reputation of thoughtfully prepared decadent treats for those who are in the know. Her logo, so meaningful to her, will be recognizable and immediately associated with exceptional desserts, integrity, and be community driven.
Zoe’s motto: Inspire. Create. Delight. “It is the cornerstone of my baking.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Got plans for this weekend? Here’s a fun event to consider. Milk Bar Birthday Do-Over Tour at the Edmonds Dick’s Drive-In.
A New York-based, quirky American-style bakery called Milk Bar is popping up at the Dick’s Drive-In (Edmonds) location this weekend.
- When: Saturday, Aug. 14 – Sunday, Aug. 15, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
- Where: Dick’s Drive-In, 21910 Hwy 99, Edmonds
- Pop-Up RSVP: Resy (walk-ins also will be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis)
Here’s the scoop: As a part of Milk Bar’s National Birthday Do-Over Month and in celebration of Dick’s 10th birthday at their Edmond’s location, Milk Bar is popping up in Dick’s parking lot.
A “Birthday Cake” booth will be filled with signature treats like Cereal Milk Soft Serve, Milk Bar Pie, plus their cookies and cake truffles.
The outdoor pop-up shop will have outdoor birthday party vibes complete with special giveaways, live music and experiences.
Come out and help celebrate Dick’s tenure of 10 years in Edmonds.
— By Kathy Passage
A specialty gourmet food broker for over 30 years, Kathy Passage has in-depth knowledge on food and the special qualities of ingredients used in the exquisite products she helped bring to market. Kathy brings this unique perspective from the “other side of the plate” to writing about the food and restaurant scene in Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.