Through a student’s efforts, homemade Asian food has recently come to Binghamton University. The Rice Guys, a Japanese rice ball delivery service founded and run by BU students, began serving the community in September 2016. Traditionally called onigiri, rice balls are a Japanese snack made of white rice and typically filled with meat or vegetables, compacted in a triangular shape and held together with seaweed. The Rice Guys puts a twist on the simple onigiri recipe by introducing new flavors, ranging from sweet ginger and honey beef to savory shiitake mushrooms.
Daniel Wang, a senior majoring in economics, created The Rice Guys to introduce this type of food to the University with the convenience of on- and off-campus delivery for busy students.
“I always wanted to create something that was more unique and sort of represented Asian culture more,” Wang said.
The vision of The Rice Guys began when Wang started to live off campus, no longer on the BU meal plan. He began making rice balls to bring to campus as an alternative to spending money on University food, though he soon started cooking 10 to 20 a day for other hungry students.
“My friends saw me eating my onigiri and tried some and they really liked it,” Wang said. “They asked if I could make some for them … I started doing that and my friends started to tell their friends, and then I was making them every morning for people.”
Wang ran a test business and called it Onibites. But his vision for his rice ball business became official when he got in contact with BU’s entrepreneurship department of the Innovative Technologies Complex. There, he pitched his idea to the Entrepreneurship and Innovation office staff, who got involved with the project.
“There’s a professor there named Kenneth McLeod who really liked my idea,” Wang said. “He told me it was unique and people would definitely like it here.”
And thus, The Rice Guys was born.
According to Wang, the startup team has students and local adults working as rice ball makers and delivery drivers.
“I idolized entrepreneurs who don’t just create a company, they give back to the community,” Wang said. “So the other goal I had was that I wanted to give jobs to people who need it. [Students] need supplement income and it gives them a chance to learn about business. We also wanted to create jobs for locals who need the part time job to pay rent or help raise their kids.”
The Rice Guys isn’t just an ordinary food delivery service — the business takes pride in their emphasis on homemade food, especially since the original onigiri recipe dates all the way back to Wang’s childhood.
“Rice balls were things my mom always made for me,” Wang said. “I took my mom’s recipe and emphasized the taste more because we wanted the recipe to be more flavorful.”
The menu mainly focuses on its specialized onigiri, which includes different meats like teriyaki chicken, slow-cooked beef or braised pork. Besides this, however, there’s also an option for onibowls. These have the elements of a rice ball, but aren’t compacted into the traditional triangular shape.
Despite the stress and uncertainty that can accompany creating a startup as a college student, Wang says that The Rice Guys is a fulfilling experience.
“The thing about starting your own business is that everything you do or everything you make and create is sort of like a part of you,” Wang said. “Even though we’re just making rice balls and we’re not making the next Uber, it’s still very fulfilling to create something that other people find value in.”
In regards to aspiring student entrepreneurs that also dream of creating their own startup, Wang believes that the hard work and the inevitable hardships really pay off in the long run.
“If you have an idea, just do it,” Wang said. “I spent many hours thinking, ‘What if I do this?’ or, ‘Is this going to work?’ But you never really know until you do it. Just go for it.”
As of now, The Rice Guys only offers catering and group order services until further notice, as they are in the process of creating a flagship store — a dream Wang has always envisioned. Facebook updates will be used to inform students when the business is running as usual again. Wang plans to continue The Rice Guys throughout his college career and after graduation, and he hopes to branch out to other neighboring college cities, including Syracuse and Ithaca, in the future.