Launched in the summer of 2020, donut brand Kora has hit some massive milestones, including a waitlist of 10,000 customers. ‘We're accidental entrepreneurs,’ says Kimberly Camara, Kora's co-founder. A former research and development cook at a New York-based restaurant group, Kimberly and her partner Kevin Borja were made redundant on the same day. It was an uncertain time for hospitality and, for the couple, it meant going back home to spend time with family. There, Kimberly found a sense of normality by experimenting with food recipes.
‘Like many at the time, I was doing a lot of baking,’ she says. ‘I had some brioche dough left over and wanted to bake burger buns. But – like in most Asian households – the oven at my parents' place doubles up as storage and is full of pots and pans. I thought I'd just fry the dough off instead.’
Kimberly filled her brioche donuts with a leftover filling made of ube, a purple yam. ‘I remember taking my first bite out of it and feeling like people would pay good money to eat this,’ she says. Ube became the first of Kora's distinctive flavors. It also led Kimberly to explore how Filipino flavor combinations could become Kora's calling card. ‘I developed a halo-halo flavor, which is based on a Filipino shaved ice dessert, and buko pandan, a creamy coconut and pandan dessert.’
Finding a rhythm
But this was uncharted territory for her. ‘I didn't want to end up becoming a donut mogul,’ she says, adding that most of her research and development work had been with savory foods: ‘I put out a Google form, went out for a bike ride, and came back to 175 orders.’ She knew that was a lot, but felt confident she could get all the deliveries out on time. But the reality of working with a single deep-fryer that could handle only six donuts at a time quickly dawned on her.
They soon settled into a rhythm, with Kimberly frying and Kevin filling, as they moved to weekly donut drops. ‘At first, we were manually charging people through Venmo. It was all so labor-intensive,’ admits Kimberly. They tried to make it work out of the apartment as long as they could, buying extra baking racks and KitchenAid mixers to lighten the load. Eventually, the team had to move the operation into a commercial kitchen: ‘They have an 80 quart mixer, while I was using an 8 quart mixer at home. I can now mix 750 donuts in a single batch.’
A family affair
Kora is now a team of nearly 10, including Kimberly's brother, mum and cousin, but they're on the hunt for the right space where they can build a bricks-and-mortar presence. Kimberly and Kevin have also brought on a third business partner to take on the business admin. ‘I'm not an expert at budgeting or any of the paperwork,’ Kimberly says. ‘I have no idea how to negotiate contracts. But having someone who understands that leaves me to focus on recipe and ingredient quality.’
Even before Kora blew up, Kimberly had dreamed of hosting intimate group dinners in her home. And, while the pandemic put a pause on that, she'd still like to bring some of that community to the retail space.
‘I want to explore new menu items, such as croissants and cakes with Filipino influences. But I also want to dive back into savory food. Long term, I want to step away from the day-to-day donut making and go back to the creative stuff, like recipe testing.’