Binghamton University alumni turned business partners when they opened a Venezuelan food business to share their culture and passion for food.

Ay Cachapas was founded in 2020 by Kevin Zhao ’17, and Sai Ho ’17, college friends who got their start on BU’s campus in Mountainview College living community. After graduating from BU, they established their business in New York City. Zhao, who is Chinese-American, and Ho, who is Chinese-Venezuelan, found a passion in cooking and food as a way of sharing their cultures with their friends and vice versa.

“[Ho] and I met during orientation and became roommates in our junior year at Mountainview College, where we held most of our dinners,” Zhao wrote in an email. “Fortunately, the living room design in Mountainview [College] made it possible for our group of friends to comfortably relax in our suite and enjoy a home-cooked meal.”

Food had always been a way to connect people to culture for Zhao and Ho, but it wasn’t until their time at BU and cooking for friends that they found their dream of opening a food business. After graduating and feeling that their dream had not wavered, they pursued it.

When starting their business, Zhao and Ho had found a lack of Venezuelan food in New York City. So, they pursued their passion for the food at Queens Night Market where they have been selling the business’ staple food, cachapas — Venezuelan sweet corn pancakes with a meat and cheese filling — for the past three summers.

Starting a new business from scratch was no easy task. As the children of immigrants, they faced the personal challenges of their families’ expectations for their careers, while also facing a lack of background experience. However, these challenges only drove them to success and gave rise to motivation rather than hesitation.

Zhao shared his thoughts on the challenges they faced when starting Ay Cachapas.

“The journey to what Ay Cachapas is now was tough as we had no culinary or business experience at all,” Zhao wrote. “But we had the same values, goals and passion that gave us the strength to push through the hard times and continue our business. There are many factors that made Ay Cachapas what it is today, whether it [be] our background, determination, mindset, etc. What is most important is the support that was shown throughout our journey from friends and family. ”

Not only have Zhao and Ho established a passion for food, but they have turned their love for their business into motivation for other small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. They wrote that their favorite part of running their own business is “inspiring others to start something from nothing.”

Specifically, they hope to inspire BU students. They credit much of their success to their experiences at BU, as the diverse population and friends gave them the support and confidence to pursue their business. Zhao shared how they hope that current Binghamton students can see their business success as inspiration to pursue their passions.

“I hope that Ay Cachapas can be an inspiration to the students at [BU] and everyone who wishes to create businesses based on their passion and hobbies,” Zhao wrote. “We want to encourage people to go out there and take a risk no matter how silly the idea may be because we have seen our share of doubters but we persevered and do not regret anything. Fear is an emotion that holds most people back from moving forward with their ideas whether that may be time, energy or capital.”

Zhao and Ho hope to expand their business through catering, which can be found on their website, and eventually a permanent shop. Currently, Ay Cachapas can be found at Queens Night Market which runs from April to October.