For Mochinut, a small business in San Jose, something as everyday as a donut can be the link that joins people. The product, a mochinut, represents a fusion of cultures, combining the Japanese rice cake “mochi” with the American “donut.” Because San Jose itself is such a multicultural city, consisting of a large Asian and Hispanic population, Mochinut’s combination dessert fits right in by offering mouth-watering, savory, ethnic flavors such as churro, matcha and black sesame to name a few.
And when it came time to launch the business, it made sense that an event, like a grand opening, should likewise bring diverse people together. But in order to pull off an unforgettable grand opening celebration, the Mochinut team first needed to bring their logo and branding to life through signage, posters and branding merchandise.
A grand opening can be a daunting task for any small business. It takes a great deal of planning, promotion and merchandise production, and you only get one chance for a first impression. As tempting as it was to open up shop without any fanfare, Mochinut was determined to make their grand opening special. Founder Rachel Aquino knew that because people and culture are at the heart of her business, an in-person community event would be the best foot to start off on.
To get some insight into how other startup businesses can successfully create branding merchandise for their own grand opening, we spoke to Rachel about her shop, how fusing cultures allowed her to create something new and how she brought her branded designs to life.
How Mochinut launched their brand
When Rachel Aquino decided to open a business in her hometown, she knew that the local culture would have to translate into the product. “The Bay Area is a melting pot filled with all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds,” she says. “We take pride in our differences and diversity. And with this diversity, comes a wide selection of food choices.”
With this in mind, she channeled this melting pot into a hybrid desert—the “mochinut.” “The name Mochinut is a fusion of 2 different deserts: Asian ‘mochi’ and the American-style ‘donut,’” she explains. “We use mochi dough which is made of rice flour. The dough is formed into small round balls molded together into a circular shape, deep fried, then glazed with a variety of toppings to choose from. The rice flour dough produces a crispy yet chewier texture than a classic style donut.”
Rachel didn’t stop there. In addition to providing a Japanese take on an American classic, she developed flavor varieties to represent other ethnic cultures. Aside from classic flavors such as chocolate and strawberry, they offer a rotating menu of experimental flavors such as ube, horchata, tiramisu, nutella, lychee, mango, guava and pumpkin caramel to name a few.
For me, these dessert flavors are significant because they represent cultural as well as regional pride. Sure, chocolate and strawberry donuts will always be classic favorites, but when you have a chance to integrate a piece of your culture into mainstream food culture, there is so much power in that. Representation is empowering.
While it was important for Rachel to cater her product to the local audience, cultural representation in and of itself is a value she strongly believes in. To be successful, she knew that her small business had to come from the heart. In this way, the work would fill her with pride day in and day out. “For me, these dessert flavors are significant because they represent cultural as well as regional pride,” Rachel says. “Sure, chocolate and strawberry donuts will always be classic favorites, but when you have a chance to integrate a piece of your culture into mainstream food culture, there is so much power in that. Representation is empowering.”
As part of our Bay Made documentary series, we spoke to Rachel at her shop in San Jose about how her culture and the local city inspired her small business.
Watch and learn more about Mochinut on YouTube now.
With culture at the forefront of Mochinut’s business model, it was imperative to infuse this into all aspects of the brand, from the logo to the branded merchandise to the grand opening event. In order to bring her ideas to life, she started a logo design contest and connected with designer Adneras. The logo Adneras created also established the basic colors and fonts for the visual identity, from which Rachel was able to create branding merchandise in the form of employee t-shirts, storefront banners and stickers.
The time had come to prepare for the grand opening event, and Rachel worked with the designer Distinguish♐︎ to further develop the visual identity into signage. The event was held in February of this year, and in addition to handing out branded stickers, t-shirts, and tote bags, Rachel was able to introduce herself and connect to the local community.
It is these kinds of personal interactions that fuel Rachel’s passion as a business owner. “Small business is important for communities because when you support small businesses you support your community,” she says. “It also strengthens the bond of consumer and business owner on a more personal level. I really enjoy chatting with the locals who live or work nearby or those who are just visiting. I’m happy when I see folks who come back to visit or when I get to hear how someone’s day is going. I enjoy hearing about all the fun events people are attending in the area and I’m just grateful that people take the time to stop by.”
Tips for producing a memorable grand opening
So what can other small business owners take from Mochinut’s example? If you’re looking to produce branding merchandise for a stellar grand opening, Rachel’s experience can provide some key insight.
1. Create a visual brand identity
The first step is to create a visual brand identity (the color scheme, fonts and imagery) along with a logo design. This was exactly where Rachel started. “I was dealing with the challenge of finding a logo that represented our unique dessert offering,” she says. “I know I didn’t want anything too cutesy. I wanted the design to reflect the vintage feel of where we’re located, but modern enough to show this is something new and fresh we’re serving.”
Mochinut is the result of a cultural intersection, and this underlying idea provided a roadmap for the visual brand to follow. “We take pride in offering unique mochinut flavors that cater to the main demographic of the area which is Asian and Hispanic,” Rachel says. In this way, a brand is about who you are, and design provides the means to express this visually.
Who you are is also about where you’re from. For Mochinut, that meant the brand had to evoke San Jose specifically. Rachel explains, “The overall design style of our brand represents a modern yet vintage vibe that is Downtown San Jose. It’s the right balance of vibrant and sleek.” If you’re stuck on how to develop your brand, think back to what inspired you to start a business in the first place and how you envision yourself fitting into the neighborhood.
Fortunately, business owners don’t have to come up with a brand direction alone—professional graphic designers are experts at communicating identity through visuals. The process of design is all about collaboration: the business owner needs to have an understanding of who they are as a brand and must communicate that to the designer (usually through a project brief).
Effective collaboration is ultimately what Mochinut’s success came down to. The designer took inspiration from Rachel’s story and came up with their own creative solution to her branding needs. Rachel explains, “The design I ended up choosing was a logo that had that vintage classic look with a modern feel we were envisioning. My winning designer sampled colors from a landmark photo scene outside of San Pedro Market where a vintage blue Chevy truck sits in front of the marketplace sign.”
2. Print branded merchandise and signage
With the visual identity established, you can get to work on bringing those designs to life for the grand opening. First, you should make a detailed list of what exactly you’ll need, including the specific merchandise items, third-party services such as printing, design file formats and cost estimates.
Branded merchandise such as t-shirts, hats, tote bags, stickers and pins are commonly featured in grand openings—the point is to celebrate the brand, and these are tokens of the brand. This may also include decorations like signage, banners, streamers, and table covers. Once you have these items cataloged, you should reach out to third-party printers (like Vistaprint) to estimate costs and shipping ahead of time. Make sure to clarify what file types and other image requirements they have in order to produce your assets.
Now that you know what you need and how much it will cost, you can start on the actual design for the merchandise. Like all aspects of the brand, this should take its design cues from the visual identity in order to keep the branding consistent. Because the purpose of merchandise is brand awareness, the more straightforward that is, the better. Even so, the visual identity can also be dramatically reworked, and the consistent colors and typography will still foster brand recognition. For example, the designer worked the brand colors into the background of Mochinut’s grand opening sign. Doing so made the photo of stacked mochinuts the focal point of the sign, and in this way, they let the design and product speak for themselves.
3. Promote the event locally and online
With your visual identity and merchandise accounted for, you can now plan your grand opening party, starting by picking a date. While you should be mindful of any conflicting holidays or occasions, nearby events can sometimes bolster foot traffic. For Mochinut, “there was a big San Jose Sharks versus the Boston Bruins hockey game happening at the nearby arena on the same day as our grand opening,” says Rachel. “Our event pulled so many people who were headed to the game, it was exciting to see fans dressed up in their fan attire, buying donuts before and after the game.”
With the date selected, you can begin promoting the event on your website, social media pages and in local advertisements. Rachel promoted Mochinut’s grand opening event using a large in-store banner, A-Frame outdoors signs, tabletop signs with a QR code and social media ads.
Partnering with other local businesses can be a cheap and effective way to get the word out. For example, if your business does not serve food, you can have a local restaurant cater the event as a way of cross-promoting both brands.
While online advertising can reach outside the community, local word-of-mouth can be a powerful tool for small businesses. Rachel credits the success of her grand opening to the signs she put up around the immediate neighborhood. “The A-Frame outdoor signs were so effective for attracting foot traffic to the event,” Rachel recalls. “The large grand opening sign was essential too, catching the attention of downtown pedestrians with its large size and bright colors.”
4. Host special deals and give away free stuff
If you’ve never hosted or attended one before, you might be wondering what all a grand opening entails. Some businesses treat the event like a typical workday with promotional sales and merch, some treat it like a completely separate party and some do a combination.
Rachel hosted Mochinut’s grand opening during business hours and attracted customers using a ‘buy a dozen get two free’ deal. If you decide not to offer discounts the day of, the grand opening can be a great time to hand out coupons for deals later, giving customers a reason to come back.
Along these same lines, some business owners offer exclusive giveaways, such as party bags of free merch or a raffle featuring a more expensive item. For Mochinut’s grand opening, Rachel offered free branded t-shirts and tote bags to the first hundred customers, incentivizing early turnout through a limited supply.
At the end of the day, Mochinut is more than a brand name—it is a part of the local community. Merchandise creates a way for the brand to become a tangible presence in the everyday lives of those who support the business. As a result of the printed designs they were able to offer guests on opening day, “people feel they are part of something really special,” Rachel says. “Like an extension of our family.”
5. Don’t forget to have fun
A grand opening exists to be a celebration of all the work you’ve done to get to this point. As such, some businesses begin the festivities with a statement from the owner. This doesn’t have to be a formal speech, but it should be a way to introduce yourself to the community, explain what the business does, what inspired you to open the business, and thank those in attendance for their support. A speech can also be made more interactive with demos or samplers of the product and a walking tour of the facilities.
Some businesses kick off festivities with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Although old-fashioned, the tradition has survived this long because it is an effective symbol of change—what once was a generic building is now a business.
While the grand opening is about business, don’t forget that it is supposed to be a celebration. There should be entertainment (Mochinut hired a local DJ), food, and memorable interactions throughout the day. But in between networking, remember to stop and enjoy yourself—each business only gets one grand opening, after all. As Rachel puts it, “Some advice I’d pass along to other business owners is to push through the challenges, give it your all, learn from mistakes and most of all have fun!”
Give the community a piece of your brand
Just as merchandise creates physical assets out of a brand, a grand opening is a way to celebrate the fact that a business idea has been made real. While both of these are extra expenditures—you can just as easily open up shop with a logo and call it a day—both have crucial benefits. A grand opening provides an opportunity to generate word-of-mouth buzz and a way to introduce yourself personally to the local neighborhood. Branding merchandise offers memorabilia first-time visitors can wear and further promote the business. But at the end of the day, after all the work that goes into launching a business, a grand opening is an important milestone achievement that deserves to be recognized.
For Mochinut, their small business was intrinsically tied to their culture and their local community from the very beginning. Creating a brand and merchandise inspired by that culture was what fostered that personal connection. And launching their business with a grand opening event gave customers an opportunity to meet the people behind that branding. In this way, a grand opening can provide the kind of empowerment that will sustain a business long after the party is over.