Inspired by Asian traditions and flavours, combined with an original, metropolitan London twist, YouBao offer deliciously light, fluffy bao buns reminiscent of typical Asian street food markets. Hawkker spoke with founder Alejandro Sepulveda about starting out, adapting to challenges along the way, and his unwavering passion for making food.
What is YouBao?
We are a street food concept that offers fluffy steamed buns inspired by the Asian tradition and the cuisine’s flavours, combined with the originality of London.
How would you describe the cuisine?
Delicate, vibrant and tasty.
What does your brand stand for?
Creativity, passion and service. We love creating new dishes that combine well-known Asian recipes with our own South American twist. Passion is really what defines us; we just love what we do, it’s that simple! We also have a basic motto within our business that demonstrates our commitment to good service: always treat a customer as you expect to be treated!
How did your love of cooking begin?
I have always loved cooking and trying new recipes as well as making my own, but my true love comes from my mother. She spent most of her life working with food; for a long time, she ran her own catering business, then moved onto a restaurant, and finally worked in a bakery. Ever since I was a little kid, I remember seeing my mother working long hours, cooking and preparing these huge amounts of food for other people. And most of the time, the whole family had to get involved to help her out.
I had my own fast food business back home after finishing university, which helped me to discover my real passion. I changed from pursuing a career in finance to joining the food industry, and it’s been fifteen years now of an ongoing learning process.
When did you know you wanted to start your own food business?
I always wanted to have my own business, and back home I had the opportunity to open a fast food shack. It was so difficult – like nothing I had ever faced before, but it helped me to realise that this was my true passion.
How did YouBao get started?
After working in London for seven years, I decided to move on and start my own business. I started a ceviche street food stall and ran that for about a year. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as I had expected. I didn’t want to abandon my dream of making a life out of my own food business, so some reinvention had to take place. That’s when the idea of switching to selling fluffy steamed buns materialised.
I decided to set up a new business that offered what was just starting to gain popularity back in 2017: steamed buns. I wanted to carry on doing street food, but wanted something that was innovative and not hugely common. Four years down the line now, and YouBao has been growing steadily since day one.
What have some challenges been along the way?
I could write a long list of very tough challenges we’ve faced over the years. But because every challenge has made us a better business, we always welcome them; we look at them as a learning opportunity, rather than a challenge.
What do you love most about the work you do?
How did the pandemic affect business for you, and how did you adapt?
It changed the game completely, but reinvention is key for success. We moved our core
business from weekdays to weekends, and moved from being based in central London, to bringing our food as far out as Surrey, Kent, Reading, or even further away.
What are your hopes for the future?
We are always looking to grow, so hopefully we can take the next step soon and move to the next level. Alongside this, we also want to get involved with the community and offer help to the most vulnerable members of our society by setting up our own charity.
What have you accomplished with YouBao so far that you’re most proud of?
Independence. That was always my main goal.