You might recognize our next guest from our previous product pick of the week and All Sorts of Giveaway. She’s the entrepreneur behind Material Kitchen and mother of two, also known as Eunice Byun! Eunice, along with co-founder Dave, set out to start Material Kitchen with one mission in mind – create quality kitchen essentials that look and feel great with the home cook in mind. That means they cut the b.s. and got straight to the point, so you can eliminate the over-flowing drawers of gadgets and streamline your kitchen with sleek and professional-grade tools.
In today’s interview, we get a glimpse of what sparked Eunice’s entrepreneurial spirit, her insight on what she believes is the trick to her company’s success, what the kitchen means to her, and how Material Kitchen is giving back to the community.
Without further ado, take a seat and get to know the fearless Eunice Byun.
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey and how it led you to where you are today!
I come from an entrepreneurial family starting with my grandfather who launched many businesses over the span of his years (including starting one at the ripe age of 67!). My parents owned small businesses growing up, so I have seen the unedited version of what running a business really looks like – the grit, dedication, and resilience that it requires. This is probably why upon graduating college, I made a hard left-right into corporate America. But even within these companies, I found myself gravitating towards building something new, eschewing the “normal” way things were done. I was often dissatisfied with the answer, “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it.” Looking back, it was this inner rumbling that propelled me to try new things and ultimately, leave the corporate world for entrepreneurship.
Talk to us about some of the biggest challenges of being in the food industry? What have been some unexpected roadblocks you’ve faced?
I’ve found that people want to know more about the individual and who they are beyond the brand – and that was a hard thing for me early on in starting the business. I’m not an entirely private person, but it took me a while to find a healthy balance where I didn’t feel like I was performing or being untrue to who I am day in and day out. There’s also an unfair expectation put on female founders to be a personal brand in order to promote your business, and I felt pressured to create a mirage of an Instagram-worthy life. What I’ve come to realize is that our community appreciates the human moments where they know and feel that we aren’t some slick direct-to-consumer brand, but a company made up of individuals who are driven by values and a vision.
How do you define success?
Something I’ve held true to throughout my professional (and personal) journey so far is constantly being open to learning – that is what success looks like to me. I care less about the outcome so long as I’ve taken something meaningful away and maintained my integrity throughout.
You’re also a mama to two beautiful girls! Do you have any advice on how to find a balance between work and family?
I wish there was some magical answer, but it’s something I struggle with on a daily basis especially with a 17-month-old at home. I’ve found that I do best when I am fully present with whatever I am doing – so if I am reading stories with the girls, I intentionally put my phone away. If I am working, I create separation (both physically and mentally) from home so that I can get what I need to accomplish. It’s not always perfect, but I find that some level of compartmentalization helps.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received either professionally or personally?
Sometimes, we count ourselves out before even putting ourselves in the game. Maybe it’s asking for a raise (and we tell ourselves, “They’ll say no.”). Maybe it’s embarking on a new venture or asking for help, where we anticipate someone’s response before we even ask. Even at a young age, my mom always pushed my sister and I, encouraging us to put aside the fear of how someone will respond because the worst that could happen is they say no. But the best that could happen is that they will say yes… and that risk is worth it.
What makes the kitchen such a special place for you and your family?
Even at a young age, I spent most of my time in the kitchen as my mother, aunts, and grandma cooked – their dishes imprinted in my memories. The kitchen has always served a meaningful purpose beyond the standard meal prep or cooking aspect. It transports us to different parts of the world, triggering our senses with sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes. It unites and unifies people. It creates space for conversations, both light-hearted and heartbreaking. I love this sacred space in our homes, and all the memories created in it.
What advice do you have for someone looking into starting their own company?
Establish a support system made up of other business owners – some in a similar stage that you are in, some that are much further along. I rely on a group of five to seven founders, asking them questions about marketing spend to hiring advice, and sometimes just leaning on them for a listening ear.
What are 5 things you can’t live without right now? Keep them short and sweet and provide links where you can!
Brightland Vinegars I could drink these bottles – they are that tasty on their own. My daughters also love them, drizzled with olive oil over summer ripened tomatoes.
Baggu Giant Tote It’s massive. It’s light. It’s washable. Great for a farmer’s market haul, a trip to the playground or a weekend away.
Soil Baker X Material Ceramics We recently collaborated with a South Korean ceramicist on our inaugural ceramics collection – Soil Baker x Material. I love how enduring these pieces are, while also feeling luxurious and indulgent.
Alala Tennis Capsule I get a bit obsessive when starting something new, and my latest is tennis. I never played growing up but figured it would be great to learn now and play with my six-year-old daughter. It’s important for me to show her that you are never too old to try something new.
Caudalie Moisturizer It’s like a (clean) treat in a jar. I have tried a lot of clean products and this feels luxurious and efficacious.
What’s next for Eunice Byun?
At Material, we’re focused on expanding our reach into new parts of the kitchen and dining experience. We design everything in-house so we have a lot of ideas on where we will go next and how it will all work together. As we’re growing as a company, I’m also excited to grow our small team and add more members who can help us build out this next chapter of our story. Beyond the world of Material, I am also joining the Korean American Community Foundation’s (KACF) grant-giving cohort. KACF is the largest funder of AAPI nonprofits in the tri-state area, so I am eager to learn more about the disciplines of philanthropy. As a three-year-old company, we have been able to donate almost $100,000 to date to organizations we care deeply about, and we want to continue our giving efforts.