Welcome to Chicago North Shore Moms weekly Meet a Mom series where we feature one local mama, what they’re up to both personally and professionally. This week’s Meet a Mom feature is the lovely Gia Lee, creator the sushi casserole, Hot Box Sushi. The Northbrook mom of three is dishing out a super awesome mom tip (printable included) whilst sharing with us how her business was born. Welcome, Gia!
Please introduce yourself. Where are you from originally? What city do you live in now? What brought you here?
Hello! My name is Gia. I spent most of my childhood growing up in Asia (Korea & the Philippines). Our family traveled globally growing up and I’ve lived everywhere from Salamanca, Spain to Madison, Wisconsin. My husband, Raymond grew up in the area and went to GBS. Today, we live in Northbrook and have really put down roots.
You’re a mama! How many kiddos do you have and how old are they?
I’m a proud mom of 3 daughters. They’re 11, 9 and 6.
What’s your favorite thing about being a mom?
Doing what you can at home (encouraging, suggesting, disciplining, praising) and then sending them out into the world and watching them handle school, friends, challenges and victories in their own, unique ways. Cheering from the sidelines as they navigate their own little path has been such a joy.
Life has been challenging for all these days. Do you have any relevant mom tips that make getting through each day/week a little more pleasant?
When we were really shut down back in the Spring, I came up with an idea. I realized how hard it was for the girls and even for me, not having fun things to look forward to. So I created and printed out forms for each child to have a “Special Night”. They got to choose the menu, setting (candlelit, picnic, etc), attire (pajamas, dress to impress, etc) and the post dinner activity (movie, board games, etc).
I had them fill out their forms but left at least a week between when they filled it out and when their night was scheduled. I know that having something exciting to look forward to can often be half the fun. The girls ended up absolutely loving this and many of my friends, neighbors ended up adopting the idea as well. Here is the Special Night form if anyone wants to use it!
Love that! If you have any podcasts or apps that help inspire you, calm you, help you run your business or organize your life, what are your faves?
I love listening to “How I Built This”. It’s always been so inspirational and just so interesting listening to how businesses got their start. Also, right when I was starting Hot Box Sushi, I happened to be reading the book The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday. It really helped my mindset. We faced so many bumps in the road right from the start and I think I might’ve given up had I not just read this book.
Favorite local takeout restaurants?
Our favs are: Siunik American Grill in Glenview, Choong Man Chicken in Glenview, Josh’s Hot Dogs in Northbrook.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you…
For some reason, people assume I have everything together and am super organized. I am not, and could use a lot of help and improvement in this area.
We are so excited about this – please introduce Hot Box Sushi!
Hot Box Sushi is redefining the way sushi is enjoyed at home. It’s a take and bake sushi casserole made with layered rice and crab mix. It’s scooped into seaweed sheets, folded like a taco and devoured.
Can people eat the Hot Box dish raw if they want to?
The dish can be eaten raw. Although we don’t recommend it. It’s stored in the refrigerator where the rice hardens. It will taste much better heated as instructed.
What exactly comes in each order? How many does the small feed and how many does the large feed?
Each hot box comes with the casserole itself and then the seaweed sheets to wrap it in. The small feeds 1 as a meal and 2 as an appetizer. The large feeds 3-4 as a meal, 5-6 as an appetizer.
Love! How did you come to develop Hot Box Sushi? What was your “aha moment?” Does your educational background come into play?
Hot Box Sushi is a covid baby, a result of many nights spent scrolling the internet and cooking. I’d love for you to try it, and now through November 2, 2020 you can get 10% off a large Hot Box with code TLMN.
The concept of a sushi casserole has been around for awhile, especially in Hawaii and parts of Asia. I had never heard of it until the quarantine. I spent a lot of time on the internet and stumbled across the concept. I was intrigued and ran to the store the very next morning to buy ingredients. I tried many different versions and had my family taste test all of them until we had a clear favorite. We took it to a friends gathering a couple of days later and everyone really, really loved it. I took it to several more friends’ houses and the feedback was so good. I started wondering if I could sell this to friends and neighbors once in a while. I don’t have a marketing background but years ago, I did have a fashion and lifestyle blog. That definitely gave me some social media experience. I also just personally love branding, design, marketing and that’s been the part of all of this that I’ve enjoyed the most. I don’t have a cooking background at all but my husband and I are huge foodies and home cooks. We absolutely are passionate about food and cooking.
How did you build your website so fast?
I use Squareup.com for my POS (taking orders, credit card payments) and they provide a website with the service.
Who are your influencers and/or mentors that have helped you get to where you are today and/or continue to inspire you.
My dad. He is an incredibly hard working, successful entrepreneur. To this day, I’ve never met anyone who works or plays as hard as my dad.
What advice can you give other mamas out there who are looking to start a new business in the current climate?
Go for it. Start small and test your market and then adjust. But, don’t just sit there thinking about it. Start taking steps now to bring your idea to fruition.
Earlier you mentioned that you used to run a lifestyle blog for fashion. Do you still dabble in that on Instagram?
Yes, a bit. My personal/lifestyle IG is @gialee80 but last year, I started doing a few fashion/decor posts over at @thishortlist. I haven’t been updating too much recently but want to start posting more. Definitely follow @thishortlist but easily accessible, trendy mom looks.
What’s on the horizon for Hot Box? Any big plans?
Honestly, I’m not sure. I started this 3 months ago and every week brings new surprises and opportunities. It’s been such a fun ride, especially for someone who spent the last 10 years being a stay at home mom. Certainly, we are hoping to add a salmon or shrimp version in the future.