Building Block

Building Block

Doris Hồ-Kane

Photography by Heather Sten

Doris Hồ-Kane is a mother of three, the owner and baker behind Bạn Bè (NYC’s first Vietnamese American bakery) as well as the founder of an online archive we religiously follow that spotlights remarkable East and Southeast Asian women throughout history called 17.21 WOMEN. Since opening Bạn Bè last year, Doris has sparked a fast-growing following, garnering a 10,000 person waiting list for her cookie tins alone. In short, Doris offers a rare kind of nourishment + inspiration that stems from a dedication and desire to celebrate her Vietnamese heritage, food and community.

Below, Doris generously shares what she’s currently obsessed with and how her Horizon bag in Veg Tan leather fits in with her ever-evolving routine.

Owning a bakery was not your first career by any means. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to where you are now? What’s the inspiration behind why you started Ban Bè?

Not at all. I’ve always loved baking but saw it only as a way to satiate my forever sweet tooth. I was also more of a bake sale for Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance or Ska Against Racism kind of baker. I had never considered Vietnamese desserts as baking, since a lot of our sweets are boiled, fried, jellied, and steamed. Professionally, I worked in fashion for about 15 years in New York City. During those years, I continued to archive in an abstract way. (I was a teen archivist from the suburbs of Dallas, TX.) When my first child was born, natural shifts happened and I fell back into food. Bạn Bè was inspired and moved by the matrilineal energy of my ancestors. I feel this in everything I make. I see it in my grandmother and my mother. An homage, a way to commune, a pathway to community, and the road home—they all propel this little bakery into motion and commotion.

Tell us about a favorite recipe! 

It’s always been sinh tố bơ for me, which translates to butter fruit smoothie, but I like to call it an avocado milkshake. It’s a very simple, inexact recipe that I learned from watching my uncle make it. A loose one that relies on personal intuition and tasting along the way. Besides a blender, all you need are a perfectly ripened avocado, ice, condensed milk, and your choice of milk. Add an amount of each to your liking until you get the smoothest, butteriest, softest green-hued shake.

What’s next for Ban Bè?

I honestly have no idea! And I am confident that is ok!

We’ve long since admired your project 17.21 Women, which is a beautiful archive celebrating East and Southeast Asian women throughout history. How has this project evolved and how do you wish for it to evolve going forward?  

Thank you so much. I put a name to it, 17.21 Women, in 2016 but have been collecting ephemera and research since I was a teenager. From a couple of shoeboxes to an Instagram repository to a forthcoming book in 2025, I hope to continue shining a light on these once-buried legacies—(her)stories that have been obscured by traditional (his)storytelling. There is so much more work to do but the most urgent project is digitizing the physical archive for accessibility.

Having a small business is both rewarding yet exhausting. How do you balance this with being a mother?

I’ve thrown balance into the composting bin long ago. I’m a fan of asymmetry, odd numbers, imbalance. My most important job is mothering and spending time with my children. When I’m older and look back and think about regrets, I will never, ever regret spending too much time with my kiddos.

Is there a work-life personal-life ethos you stand by?

Stressed spelled backwards is desserts.

How does the Horizon bag fit within your routine, your day to day?

I wear it as a crossbody and keep it close, always. It’s sneakily roomy. The magnetic closure makes the most satisfying sound when it attracts shut. The leather ages so warmly. I sometimes find myself absentmindedly caressing the bottom curve of the bag. Self-soothing, maybe? It’s just a very practical, smart bag that also happens to be quietly beautiful. It hangs ten in every situation. A chill bag.

Any current obsessions?

I was reminded of my grandmother’s obsession with watermelon on rice the other day when I met a new friend whose mom also did this: a slice of cold watermelon atop a steaming bowl of rice. It’s now my obsession, too.

How do you feel, at your age, right now? 

At 42 years, I finally feel my strengths most. I also feel every ache and pain in my body intensely and curse at my younger self for thinking I could skateboard down a steep incline without really knowing how to skate or bail. My left ankle can predict when rain is coming now. So, I feel the strongest I’ve ever felt mentally and physically, but the collective life blows—we all sustain a lot. They are salient reminders for me.

What about your life now, would be most unexpected to your younger self?

She would be surprised that I’m still renting. 

Doris owns a Horizon Bag in Veg Tan. Discover more about Doris, Ban Bè and 17.21 women.

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