Perhaps that’s why Hodo Kwaja will be celebrating 25 years of success coming up in late October 2017. Thanks to its commitment to service and its immensely popular walnut cakes, the bakery has received glowing reviews from the citizens of Toronto.
When the Lee family immigrated to Toronto in 1992, it was by accident. The family had originally visited Los Angeles, California to see family, and on the way back they visited Toronto out of curiosity. They fell in love with the city and decided to move there.
It was difficult for a Korean family to uproot and move to Canada, even with an established Koreatown. English was a second language for them, but they still opened the business and created a unique atmosphere in a diverse city.
Time and experience have a way of making people much more comfortable with their surroundings. “Running a Korean bakery has not always been the easiest, even to this day. But with any business there are ups and downs, and we have patrons who have been coming to our bakery since we opened,” says Suki Lee, daughter of owner Jong Sik Lee.
Traditionally, these cakes have a sweet red bean filling. Hodo Kwaja makes them with Ontario-grown Adzuki beans, which are boiled, mashed (to create a paste form), and sweetened by adding white sugar. For a special twist, the bakery also makes walnut cakes with a mashed potato filling, something Jong Sik Lee created when opening the bakery in 1992. The western take on a Korean traditional snack uses a mashed potato powder mixed with brown sugar and milk which taste more like chestnuts than mashed potato.
Another specialty item at the bakery is its Korean pancakes, which are stuffed with brown sugar, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and cinnamon or the red bean filling. Known as Hotteok, this popular Korean street food has been labeled by many as one of the best pancakes in the city.
Based on the strength of its menu, Hodo Kwaja has made its mark in Toronto. While it hasn’t always been easy for the Lee family, it is certainly rewarding now.
“People have wondered how a business could survive in Toronto, selling small walnut-shaped cakes for 25 years,” says Suki Lee. “My father always said quality and dedication is what makes a successful business, and my parents have dedicated 25 years to produce and sell quality Korean desserts to Toronto.”