Mise en Place: Chamoy Boi serves up fuego snacks and family roots
Remember lunchroom currency? Sometimes it was a Pop-Tart, a stowaway mini-candy bar, or if you were super lucky, a package of Gushers. With their bright colors, gooey center, and flavor mash-ups, Gushers were a hot commodity in the ‘90s.
Fast forward to treat-yo-self adult snack time, and you have the intersection of sweet, spicy, salty Chamoy Boi candy. We caught up with Michael Ho, the founder, and innovator of KC’s tangiest gummy treats, to ponder Zodiac signs and small business powerhouses in the Vietnamese community.
The Pitch: Are Gushers a nostalgic food for you?
Yes! It’s about the color and the burst of juice in your mouth when you bite that texture. Yeah, everybody loves it. It’s like going down memory lane. Gushers are high in vitamin C and fat free, so they’re healthy. I buy Chamoy [a condiment popular in Mexican cuisine usually made with fruit, lime, and dried chilies], cook it, and add Asian chili flakes and other spices.
What is your family’s heritage?
My mom is half Polish and half Vietnamese. My dad is fully Vietnamese. People always wonder why I’m so damn tall (it’s that Polish quarter).
Is cooking a central theme in your family?
We didn’t have that much Polish food growing up because my grandpa didn’t really know his background. He just came to America as an immigrant, and his culture was pretty much left behind. I have always loved to cook. I was a chef before I did all this. I worked at a Japanese steakhouse for nine years, and my first job was in the bakery. I like seeing people’s joy when they eat and think, “Oh, I did that!”
Do you remember the first time you tasted Chamoy?
I was probably 10. I moved around a lot. At that time, I was in Houston, Texas. We lived in a Hispanic community, so l was adapting to those flavors and was like, “This is good. This is totally different.” They relate to some of the flavors and drinks we have in our culture, which is nice.
How did the concept of Chamoy Boi come about?
I work in a nail salon. During the pandemic, we were forced to shut down. I had to find a way to make money, so I thought, “What can I bring to KC that’s not well-known here yet?” People still have to eat during a pandemic, right? I was hanging in the backyard at my friend’s house, barbecuing, and I was like, “I should make some candy.” So I made a batch, my friends shared it on their social media, and then it just kind of blew up.
It wasn’t big until I met Jackie Nguyen of Cafe Cà Phê when she first came to Kansas City. I like to support other Vietnamese business owners. Once we got to know each other, she was like, “Why don’t you bring your stuff in here?” She has a strong crowd of supporters, and it’s fascinating how people come out here for us; she’s definitely a dragon in the zodiac. I really admire her motivation. I want to be just like her when I grow up.
If not candy, what else inspires you?
My ultimate goal is to have a Tropicana-style store but expand with Asian snacks for the best fusion. I’d like a kick-back snack area to hang, and share my culture, and offer street food to open up people’s palates.
If you were to categorize your fusion, what would you call it?
The thing I’m doing is a mix of Vietnamese, Mexican, Cambodian, and a little bit of Thai. I’ve taken one ingredient and put it in a different form. What I create is gonna be crazy. I have a lot of ideas. I’m just waiting to put it into action. I’m trying to make my own gummies as well. Down the road, I’ll come up with a recipe, which is even better because I’m going to bring exotic fruit flavors from Asia and Mexico, extract them, and turn them into my own gummy.