food businesses

Sweet success! Fil-Am-owned bakery KORA to open first store in New York

Steph Arnaldo

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Sweet success! Fil-Am-owned bakery KORA to open first store in New York
Instagram-famous for its viral Leche Flan donuts, the online bakery is owned by Filipino-American pastry chef Kimberly Camara and head of operations Kevin Borja

MANILA, Philippines – What was once just a sweet dream is now a reality for online bakery KORA, which is opening its first physical storefront in the lively neighborhood of Sunnyside, Queens, New York City.

The pandemic-born, home-based bakery owned by Filipino-American pastry chef and Queens-native Kimberly Camara and Brooklyn-native Kevin Borja is opening its flagship brick-and-mortar branch in late 2024 along 45-12 Greenpoint Avenue, four years after operating solely via Instagram and pop-ups.

MILESTONE. The online bakery is opening its first storefront at Sunnyside, Queens, New York. Photo courtesy of KORA Bakery

Aside from offering KORA’s bestselling Leche Flan and Ube donuts, KORA Bakery will also serve coffee, tea, cookies, croissants, danishes, cakes, and breads.

“We are incredibly excited to bring KORA to the Sunnyside neighborhood,” the co-owners said.

“Our new storefront will allow us to better serve our loyal customers and create a community space. We can’t wait to welcome everyone.”

Ube-tter believe it: Turning dreams into dough

KORA’s claim to viral fame was its Leche Flan donut, a tribute to Camara’s late Lola Corazon’s handwritten recipe.

BESTSELLER. A brioche donut is stuffed with homemade leche flan. Photo courtesy of KORA Bakery

The indulgent dessert remains a signature item that blends Filipino tradition and culture with contemporary pastry art. The Ube donut is also a crowd-favorite – both donuts are made from fried brioche dough and inspired by Camara’s childhood.

“Overall, all the flavors are inspired to some degree by Filipino dishes and desserts; things I grew up eating as a Fil-Am. We often take American or French traditional pastries and add a call to a Filipino ingredient or dish into them,” Camara told Rappler.

KORA’s cozy bakery will have a small seating area for customers to dine in and a retail section for takeout and merchandise.

CROWD HITS. Another bestseller is KORA’s Ube Doughnut. Photo courtesy of KORA Bakery

To help achieve their goals, KORA has launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, offering exclusive rewards to supportive patrons like grand opening party tickets, donut-making classes, and early access to popular menu items.

The Kickstarter campaign seeks to raise $125,000, with a stretch goal of $150,000, to cover the costs of KORA’s new storefront. The funds will help support the build-out process without incurring additional debt.

A taste of home: Lockdown to leche flan

KORA’s journey began during COVID-19 in June 2020. Life partners and business partners Camara and Borja, both with over a decade of experience in NYC’s restaurant industry, started KORA in their apartment kitchen in Woodside, Queens.

PARTNERS. Kimberly Camara and David Borja are both business and life partners that manage KORA together. Photo courtesy of KORA Bakery

Camara, a Culinary Institute of America alum, is the creative force behind the pastries, while Borja manages operations and front-of-house customer experiences.

After losing her grandmother Corazon, whom KORA is named after, and facing mass restaurant industry layoffs, Camara found solace in baking. At her parents’ home, Camara spent the time baking and making social media content with her brother and KORA’s photographer, Ken. At one point, after various recipe experiments, Camara was left with a chunk of frozen brioche dough and a bag of ube pastry cream.

To use up the brioche, she planned to use it for baked dinner rolls, only to discover the oven was being used as storage for pots and pans. “In an unknowingly pivotal moment,” she told Rappler, she decided to fry the brioche on the stovetop instead.

PANDEMIC BEGINNINGS. Kimberly and David baking from her NYC apartment. Photo courtesy of KORA Bakery

This “accidental” experiment with brioche dough and ube pastry cream led to the creation of their first Filipino-inspired donut, which earned rave reviews from its first customer: Camara’s frontline nurse friend. Motivated by this, Camara turned her “project” into a business, honoring her grandmother’s legacy with more Filipino-inspired creations.

FAMILY RECIPE. The Leche Flan donuts are crafted from Lola Corazon’s handwritten recipe. Photo courtesy of KORA Bakery

“He tearfully enjoyed them and said it was the happiest he had felt in a long time.”

From Google Forms to 10,000 orders

From her apartment, Camara started a Google Form for orders of KORA’s first “Sari-Sari” assorted donut box.

DONUTS GALORE. Most of KORA’s flavors are inspired by some Filipino element or ingredient. Photo courtesy of KORA Bakery

“Kevin offered to help with deliveries for the once-a-week fulfillment on Fridays from his two-door sports car. After posting and going on a leisurely bike ride, we returned to a shock of 140 orders,” she said.

KORA quickly gained popularity, leading to features in Eater, The New York Times, Bon Appetit, and a waitlist of 10,000 people. The duo transformed their apartment into a makeshift donut factory, delivering orders from Borja’s car and managing a growing business with the help of family and friends.

WAITING. The line of customers spanned seven city blocks at KORA’s first pop-up at a local cafe in September 2020. Photo courtesy of KORA Bakery

Since then, KORA has scaled up to a shared commissary kitchen and expanded its menu to include cookies, pies, and cream puffs. Hours-long lines of dedicated patrons have waited at KORA’s pop-ups, hankering for a box or two of KORA’s leche flan donuts.

KORA’s ‘flan’ for the future

KORA aims to create a permanent home where they can continue to innovate, serve, and connect with their community.

EXTENSIVE MENU. KORA’s pastries extend to cookies, croissants, danishes, and more. Photo courtesy of KORA Bakery

“We’ve poured our hearts, savings, and years of hard work into this dream,” they said. “We hope our supporters will join us in this next chapter and help us build a space where we can all come together.”

“Hard work and entrepreneurial spirit have taken us to places we never expected it to go. The last few years have been so rewarding, and despite seemingly insurmountable challenges or difficult moments of burnout, we have pushed ourselves through some of the hardest times to get to this next milestone,” they added.

Looking ahead, KORA has ambitious plans for the future. “Once we settle into the day-to-day of the store, we’d love to start opening smaller outposts and branch out into other concepts stemming from KORA. Maybe an ice cream shop and getting into consumer packaged goods,” Camara told Rappler.

“And eventually, it would be awesome to open a store on the East Coast…maybe even in the Philippines!”

Pre-orders for KORA’s monthly donut and cookie menu are available on their website, with pick-ups on Saturdays at Alewife Brewing. For more information, you can check out KORA on Instagram.Rappler.com

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Steph Arnaldo

If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.