As May comes to a close, we would be remissed not to acknowledge Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month—a time to recognize the legacy of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans through generations of achievements in our region and beyond. Below, we’ve composed a list of some of the AAPI-owned and led businesses in North County San Diego that innovate in sectors from sustainability to agriculture to the fight against COVID-19, and everything in between.
Yi Chao arrived in New York City in 1985 at 21 years old from Shenyang, China. Armed with a scholarship to Princeton University, $500 of borrowed money and a passionate dream to be a scientist, Yi set out to fulfill his American dream. In 2012, Yi founded Seatrec, a Vista-based company now at the forefront of North County’s rising blue economy. Seatrec designs devices that leverage the ocean’s natural temperature changes to generate and harvest electricity. The energy solution makes it possible for oceanographic researchers to optimize their data capture and extend their mission life in an eco-friendly and accurate way.
Carlsbad Strawberry Company
After serving in the U.S. Military during World War II, Jimmy Ukegawa’s father moved his family to North County where he started the Carlsbad Strawberry Company in 1952. After earning his degree in plant and soil biology from UC Berkeley, Jimmy returned to help run the family farm in the late 1980s. Today the farm is an iconic North County staple located just beside the I-5 freeway—famously known for its U-Pick attraction, which invites families to pick their own produce. This past year has kept people coming back for some socially-distanced fun and Jimmy decided to help other local companies weather the storm. His strawberry stand sells Bitchin’ Sauce from Vista, strawberry jelly from a veteran in Escondido and Hollandia Dairy products from San Marcos.
After studying chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology and earning a Doctorate degree at the University of Waterloo, Dr. Gulshan (Gil) Dhawan started commercializing and manufacturing membranes and membrane systems in 1972. As he grew his expertise and became a leader in the industry, Dr. Gil Dhawan founded Applied Membranes in 1983, a reserve osmosis system manufacturer for water purification applications. Today, the Vista-based company has over 10,000 membrane systems operating in over 100 countries and is internationally recognized for its high quality and technologically advanced products.
Girl & Dug Farm
Aaron Choi was six years old when his family emigrated from South Korea to Southern California in 1987. His family purchased a flower shop, which operates today as a chain of stores run by Aaron’s older sister, Carol Choi. In 2011, Aaron’s parents semi-retired into an eight-acre farm in San Marcos, which they lovingly named Lucky Growers. The farm supplies wholesale Korean vegetables to markets nationwide. Shortly thereafter, Aaron and his wife Emily Chen Choi created a second operation on Lucky Growers called Girl & Dug, which specializes in unique crops for high-end restaurants. With much success, Aaron and Emily now have a second location in Portland, and plan to expand on the East Coast in the coming years.
Yasukochi Family Farms
Donal Yasukochi’s great-grandfather arrived to America in 1906 from a small farming village in Japan. After arriving in Southern California, Donal’s great-grandfather opened his own family farm on the fertile soil of Oceanside. A few generations later, the small farm expanded in size and popularity–growing to become Yasukochi Farms. When farmer’s markets closed due to the pandemic, Donal was not discouraged. He pivoted to create Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), boxes containing fresh picked organic fruits and vegetables grown by Yasukochi Farms and other local partner growers. The initiative aims to help consumers develop healthier eating habits and learn about the variety of delicious produce grown by local farmers.
Menon Renewable Products
Kerala, India native Dr. Suresh Menon is the Founder and President of Escondido-based Menon Renewable Products. The company houses Mr. Feed, a revolutionary animal feed made from agricultural waste, and Menon Biosensors, which developed a rapid COVID-19 test to help in the fight against the deadly virus. Doubling down on the company’s local impact, Menon provides technologies to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park at no cost to help treat tuberculosis in elephants and support the northern white rhinos. With a commitment to stay in Escondido, Dr. Menon shared, “Here you are exposed to biotech, life sciences, a breadth of intellectual capacity, and the university nearby. It’s simply unmatched.”
This month and everyday we celebrate the contributions and heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans. North County is proud to be home to these life-changing companies and their founders. If you are a local AAPI business owner or entrepreneur, visit the Asian Business Association of San Diego for AAPI-specific business resources, visit our business resources page, or contact us with any company news and events for promotion, or general inquiries.
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