Lee-Chun is represented by David Castillo Gallery. Of South Korean descent, she's a Chicagoan who headed south to Miami seven years ago. ChunBuns function like a flavor fashion line, where each season the ingredients and look change. Some favorites stick around, but they're also evolving with seasonal or popular fruits. These pretty half-spheres are available online for delivery in Miami-Dade, and they're cheaper than a cupcake ($11 for six). We have the backstory on the funny name and the process of creating this unique brand.
New Times: What makes a ChunBun a ChunBun?
Susan Lee-Chun: Phil and I, my husband and I, we were thinking a lot about what would be an ideal sweet. We're both very active in the kitchen, so for me, I wanted to create something that had a sweetness on the inside, some kind of little surprise, and then also a unique shape, and basically, what we thought about was like, oh, kind of like how a Chinese bun or a stuffed cupcake is, where there's a little trace of goodness to it, in the cake -- it's kind of where the concept of the Twinkie and the whoopie pie all merged. That's where the ChunBun was born.
Have you always baked, cooked, or created food items?
Yeah, I've been baking since I was probably like 10, the point where I understood, oh, there's an oven, oh, there are recipes, and kind of realizing I can eventually make an enormous pan of cookies just for me, instead of having to run out and buy all that stuff, and kind of make it my own.
I've always wanted to mainly try to open up a bakery when we lived in Chicago, but the idea of starting a business and having a storefront, the idea of having something online wasn't really part of the conversation, probably 10 years ago. That's why it never happened. It just kind of all happened in this past year.
Do you feel like making the buns is part of the same creative process as making art, maybe using the same part of your brain?
I think it feeds within that process of laboring over something, thinking about what you want to kind of create, and going through all of these processes of development and coming up with this product. You know, the interesting part is in the same way an artist will work repetitiously or constantly try to reinvent themselves. I think it happens a lot with Yummy ChunBuns in that same way, where I'm constantly trying to think of, like oh, what are interesting flavors, what's out there, what's fresh in the market, what are people really interested in trying. So I think that's very much related to how the conversation an artist would [have] or the artist's thought process.
What is your favorite flavor? Which do you crave?
You know what? It's always hard for me to say. The funny thing is that just recently at Legal Art, at the event, I happened to be really hungry. "I'm going to have one of these," one of the ChunBuns, and I grabbed the blueberry leopard, and I was like, "Damn, this is really good!" I hadn't tasted it since like for a couple of months since I was going through and trying to create the spring and summer collection of flavors. I hadn't had it, and then last week I had it, and it was really good. For now, that's probably my favorite, but I go back with that and then going ultrasweet with the chocolate squared, where it's like chocolate on chocolate on chocolate.
Do you have a funniest or coolest Yummy ChunBun story?
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The funniest part of it all is that, you know, it couldn't have happened at a better time of coming up with the name. And trying for a year now, it's like, "Oh, I just want to make brownies and sell them, or cookies, and have people enjoy the sweets." I try to do whatever I can, if I had a friend who was like, someone's going through a tough breakup or something kind of trivial happened, I instantly run to the kitchen and oven and bake something up and drop it off. But I think, when trying to come up with the idea of a product, my husband was like, "Dude, you can't just start a business and not know exactly what your product is or have a hook or even a gimmick."
ChunBun, actually, the name, which is the amazing part, when I was teaching in Chicago, I was teaching art, and my students, one of the summers, I left and got married and my last name is Chun, and I came back, and at that point that year, I was Mrs. Chun, and so everyone was just like, "Oh, Chun like bun. It's so cute!" Students started calling me ChunBun, and I was like, I'm not really fond of it. It's just bizarre. And then years later, I'm sitting here in my art studio, Phil and I are throwing ideas back and forth, trying to figure out what do we call this thing? How are we going to have the name and the product influence each other? We were just sitting there, and I was like, "Oh, my God! ChunBun!" And he was like, "No, you're not taking our name and making it into this gimmick." Or like whatever, and I was like, "No, it's perfect!" At that moment, ChunBun was born. I always think about. I can't thank enough my students for having come up with that concept, that term, because I think that pretty much makes people remember the product, because it's such a quirky little name for such a sweet little treat.