Sue Zhao and her daughter, Tina Zhao, immigrated to the United States from Tianjin, China, in 1994 when Tina was about 6 years old. Both became successful women in their own rights: Sue was a computer programmer and Tina an architect. But the two had trouble finding the right vegan food in Louisville, so they started making it themselves. And people loved it so much, they eventually decided to start their own vegan eatery, becoming the mother-daughter owners of Half-Peach Bakery & Cafe in St. Matthews. While neither had worked in food service, they figured it out and created a successful vegan food business. Now, the two work together all the time to bring the area not only desserts but also hearty vegan food and other yummy eats. Meet today’s FACES of Louisville, Sue and Tina Zhao!
What is Half-Peach?
Sue: A lot of people ask me that question. First of all, peach is a fruit. The peach in China is about long life. People ask me, “Why half peach? Why not whole peach?” I say, “The other half I save for you. I want to share the love with you.” The peach is shaped like a heart. Inside is a seed. Like a true heart. It’s a loving heart. “Love” is sometimes just an empty word; I want to act on it and share true love. Share the love for animals, flowers and be connected to everything — the sky, the earth … care about the whole thing.
How did Half-Peach Cafe come about?
Tina: We started making vegan food because we are vegan, and there was nothing else available at the time, five or six years ago. We just had to basically teach ourselves. It started out with baking, just making cakes and cookies, things we couldn’t find anywhere else, so a lot of experimenting at first. Once we figured out some recipes and how to do it, we started selling at farmers’ markets, and we started selling at health food stores like Rainbow Blossom. Then we started making more lunch options because people were asking us for that. It just kind of grew from there. Everything is vegan.
Sue: When I turned vegan over 20 years ago, I found it hard. I had nowhere to find vegan desserts. I turned vegan, and my daughter turned vegan. She was a little girl, and she asked me, “Mommy, I want dessert.” I did not know how to make it. I felt so bad for her. I am a mom, and I could not cook food for my children. I felt so guilty.
I grew up in China, where pretty much everybody is vegan because they are so poor. We ate meat maybe once a year. For me, being a vegan is compassion — compassion for human beings, and compassion for animals. For human beings, I saw everybody was sick. I asked my mom, I said, “Why are people sick? I want to find out where the sickness comes from.” I saw people suffer. On the Chinese New Year, I saw they were killing a pig. I cried. I don’t have the power to save the pig. Inside my heart, I felt I needed to do something.
When I saw dogs being killed in China (to prevent overpopulation), I cried. Mother said no more dogs. I wanted to do something to help human beings and animals to make our lives more valuable. You come into the world, you should do something useful to help the environment.
I thought I’m gonna do something useful for people. When I first turned vegan, I learned that people liked the food. When I go to the bank or something, I take the baked goods, and people say, “Oh, I will buy from you!” They need it.
They say, “You are successful. Now, more and more people wake up to be vegan.” So it’s needed. People said, “This is delicious! If you open a store, I will turn vegan tomorrow!” So I said, “OK, I will open a store.” Finding a location was hard. Finally three years ago, I find this place.
People say, “I wanna sit in here eating your food every day.” We have a lot of regular customers – a lot of people who care about their bodies and care about compassion.
What’s it like to work as a mother-daughter team?
Tina: It’s good. We’re very different, so we complement each other.
Sue: She has more vision than me.
What do you like most about your job?
Tina: Always trying new things and challenging the way people think. Our big focus is oil-free stuff. A lot of people who’ve had heart problems or various things have seen dramatic results from an oil-free diet. When I first heard about it, I was like How can you actually make it taste good? We experimented with different ingredients and ways to flavor things, and it really works. I love the challenge of that.
Sue: I like to talk to people. I like to ask people what kind of food they like. Why do people come here? If you put energy into the food, after the meal, they’ll be happy. We make energy bars. One lady came to us at the farmer’s market, and she was so tired. She had an energy bar, and she came back so happy and said the energy bar gave her energy and happiness.
What obstacles have you faced in creating your business?
Sue: A big problem we’ve had is finding the right people. When you find the correct people everything will be OK.
Do you have a mentor? How has he or she helped you?
Tina: Neither of us has any background in running a food business. A lot of people along the way have helped us. There have been so many nice people who have been so generous.
Do you have any hobbies?
Sue: I like meditation. I can meditate eight hours. You cannot carry your stress around. You have to release it. If you carry your stress, your body will collapse.
Tina: I still do architecture on the side. I design things here and there. I’ll just find projects I want to do.
What do you read or listen to?
Sue: I like to read. For me, I like to study every day. I like to read about health and the soul. Like your body’s structure, acupressure, pressure points. I like music. When I was young, I was poor. I’m planning to write a memoir about my life.
What’s something about you that people might be surprised to learn?
Tina: I have a weird double life because I still do architecture on the side.
Sue: For me, a lot of people think you open a business to make money. Yeah, I make money to survive. But the important thing is to find out who are you? Why do you come to the earth? When you come to the earth, you are nothing. When you cannot be on the Earth anymore, where will your soul go? For me, I like to find out. I asked my mom where we come from. Your soul never dies. Your body is the same as your car. When you jump in your car, you turn the key. When I was young, I thought about the spiritual. Why do you come here? I think every body is a small universe. I want to be a candle, I want to be a light.
What’s your best advice?
Tina: Be aware of what you know and what you don’t know.
Sue: Know what you’re going to do, but make a good plan first.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Sue: Meditation, gardening and hats
Tina: Running — because it helps me to think. It’s the thing that makes me feel the best. If I’m feeling down, I’ll run and feel better. It’s the best stress reliever — it clears your head, and it makes you feel so calm, so happy. The camera on my phone — because I have a really bad memory, and I like photography. Our energy bars that we make — I’ll grab an energy bar when I go on a trip. We don’t use sugar, just a little bit of agave, and it’s all just fruits and nuts.
Thank you for sharing your gifts with Louisville, Sue and Tina! Half-Peach Bakery & Cafe is located at 4121 Oechsli Ave, St Matthews, KY 40207. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed on Mondays. To learn more, call (502) 742-7839 or visit halfpeachbakery.com.
And thank you to Gretchen Bell for these beautiful photos.
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