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A Lunar New Year pop-up launched this Kansas City baker’s business. Now, she has a full schedule

A woman in red and wearing a red and black hat stands next to a man in a black puffer coat and a grey flat-billed hat. In front of them is a table with baked goods on it and a small pig figurine.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
/
KCUR 89.3
Yuei Costello sold hundreds of desserts at a Lunar New Year pop-up Saturday, a year after starting her own business, Mooyuei Baker, selling Thai and American desserts.

Yuei Costello turned her baking hobby into a business after a pop-up event at Cafe Cà Phê last year. She returned to the event this year and handed out a special treat to celebrate a year of baking Thai- and American- inspired goodies professionally.

When Yuei Costello baked her first cake, it was out of necessity. It was 2020 and she was living in Chanthaburi, Thailand. Her cousin was getting married and because of the pandemic, there were no businesses available to make her wedding cake. With only a week of practice, she made a tiered cake for more than 150 people. She says baking became a hobby after that.

“I helped my aunt with management for a resort and at that time, during the pandemic, there was nothing to do,” Costello says. “So, I just found something to do and it was fun… but I didn't think it was going to be a business at all.”

In August of 2021, Costello moved to Kansas City from her native Thailand. She married her husband, Patrick, whom she met 14 years earlier while working as an au pair in the U.S., that October. Costello baked the goods for their wedding, too.

But Costello’s hobby began to turn into a living when Cafe Cà Phê hosted its Lunar New Year celebration in 2022. That’s where the couple introduced Mooyuei Baker, her new Thai bakery. Mooyuei is a combination of the Thai word for pig and her name — she displays a pig on her pop-up tables next to her sign.

“That was the first kick-off for me because I didn't know what I was going to do,” Costello, who returned to Cafe Cà Phê for this year’s celebration, says. “I made Thai-style cakes: orange cake, chocolate cake and Thai tea cake. After that I try to merge (flavors) more. We have another one we call foi thong, like a pandan cake with sweet egg floss. I try to make something more Thai to let people see how it is.”

Individual-sized containers of purple ube and orange cakes line a table next to whoopie pies. On a shelf above them is a layered dessert.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
/
KCUR 89.3
Costello loves to experiment with new flavors. Besides Ube and Thai Orange cakes, which are her staples, Costello stocked her table with ube whoopie pies, Biscoff cheesecake, banoffee layered dessert, black sesame cookies and sugar cookies.

Blending Thai and American flavors

Costello says she loves combining Thai flavors and techniques with common American baked goods. Many of her desserts use chiffon cake as the base to keep them light and airy. She makes them all by hand in her home kitchen without machines. Costello, who used to dream about making display cakes, said she works to make each dessert an individual art piece.

Her products are “soft, not too sweet, not too crazy for sugar” — unlike many American pastries — because Costello says she wants people to eat the whole thing in one sitting.

Costello’s staples are her orange and ube cakes that she brings to the many pop-ups she participates in. But Patrick has a specialty too — black sesame cookies.

“From the beginning, she would always stay up much, much later than I did,” Patrick says. “And ever since she started doing this, I've also stayed up much later and just helped put things in bags and print out signs and kind of the designing stuff. But I make the black sesame cookies — that's my contribution.”

Costello is constantly thinking of new flavors and desserts to add to her rotation. She’s recently added a banoffee Oreo dessert (bananas, chocolate, caramel, Oreo and whipped cream layered in a personal dish), biscoff cheesecake and ube whoopie pies.

The self-taught baker has also been working on mastering sugar cookies.

“I always say, like, ‘I hate it, but I make it,’” Costello says. “I just like to draw (designs) and it’s fun. But they take time, a lot, because if you do everything by hand, you have to wait to draw another layer on the top.”

Costello made rabbit and paper fan decorated sugar cookies for this year’s Lunar New Year events. The baker is participating in two pop-ups this weekend and made hundreds of desserts for each. At the Saturday event, her sugar cookies sold-out in less than two hours.

Costello’s return to Cafe Cà Phê’s event this year was more than a celebration of Lunar New Year — she also marked one year in business.

To celebrate, she passed out hóngbāo — red envelopes traditionally filled with money and given on Lunar New Year — with discount cards inside.

Costello’s Instagram following, where she conducts most of her business, has exponentially grown in the year since her first pop-up. She hopes to eventually open her own storefront.

For now, though, she’s happy to stay busy with a full pop-up schedule, selling at cafes like Cafe Cà Phê and Gocha and fulfilling custom orders.

“I never say no to pop-ups,” she said. “I feel like it's fun to challenge myself to try to get many menus at the same time and like to see people and say hello. Because I think people here are always nice.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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