Ichigo Tokyo Crepes
“Minnesota has given me so much since I moved here 15 years ago, and Ichigo Tokyo Crepes in a way is how I wanted to give back and say, ‘thank you!’”
Mia Oi is the founder and owner of Ichigo Tokyo Crepes, a Tokyo-style crepe restaurant in South Minneapolis. After moving to the U.S. from Tokyo to pursue an education, she found herself missing her favorite foods from home. In 2019, after graduating from college, she decided that bringing one of her favorite sweet treats – Tokyo crepes – to Minnesota was how she could thank her new community.
Unlike standard crepes, which are traditionally a French food, Mia takes a unique approach blending crepes and Japanese street food – providing both sweet and savory crepes that you can enjoy any time of the day.
Some of Mia’s favorite crepes include Chicken Sesame which is made with grilled chicken, lettuce, cheese, and sesame ginger sauce; and Strawberry Custard, which is made with strawberries, homemade custard cream, corn flakes, chocolate sprinkles and whipped cream. “Ichigo” is “strawberry” in Japanese.
After a few years of steady business and opening her first brick-and-mortar location, Mia desired additional support to help take her business to the next level, and that is when she heard about GoodWorks.
Established in 2009, the General Mills GoodWorks pro-bono volunteer program gives General Mills employees the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs in the Twin Cities-area to help strengthen and scale their businesses. In partnership with Hands on Twin Cities and Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON), more than 250 General Mills volunteers have supported 70+ projects since its inception.
Over the past two years, the GoodWorks program at General Mills has connected employees with small businesses owned by local Black, Indigenous, and people of color as well as nonprofits as part of the company’s commitment to advance racial equity. This year, the program supported four small businesses owned by people of color, providing marketing, financial and business assistance. Ichigo Tokyo Crepes was one of the companies that received support.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for a start-up business like mine to get help from professionals who work at a large and successful food company like General Mills,” says Mia. “As an entrepreneur and small business owner, I have to do it all – cooking, sales promotion, accounting, etc. — but not as a professional. Through the GoodWorks program, I can learn from professionals and integrate those learnings into my business.”
As a small brick-and-mortar business, Mia depends a lot on foot traffic for her business. And as you can imagine, winter can be a challenge in Minnesota as people spend more time at home. To help increase awareness of her business and improve sales during the long Minnesota winters, Mia was matched with a team of General Mills employees. Gabi Winkels, senior brand experience planner at General Mills, who works on the product team for Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Annie’s and Old El brands, led the project.
“Working with Mia this year was an incredibly rewarding experience,” says Winkels. “The team and I got to work with her for about 12 weeks – we learned about her small business and developed marketing materials that could help diversify her customer base as she prepared for the slower winter season.”
Since the project ended earlier this year, Mia has already started to implement the learnings and utilize the assets provided by the General Mills volunteers. “The team created high-quality marketing materials for my business, and I am really confident when I share them with potential buyers,” says Mia. “This program has also helped me improve my website design.”
Mia hopes to continue to grow her business over the next several years, using what she learned from the program. Her future goal is to serve at the Minnesota State Fair and continue to bring awareness of sweet Japanese food culture to Minnesotans.
Strengthening local communities
General Mills has a legacy of using philanthropy to advance social and racial equity. Over the past five years alone, General Mills has given $16 million to nonprofits in the Twin Cities that are working to advance equitable food access and equitable outcomes in K-12 education. This includes investing in leading nonprofits that are predominately serving and led by Black, Indigenous and people of color, and are using food as a tool to advance community well-being and economic development.
An example of this type of impactful partnership is General Mills’ work with Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON), a nonprofit organization working to build wealth for low-to-moderate income entrepreneurs in North Minneapolis and surrounding communities. With funding from General Mills, NEON works with dozens of small food entrepreneurs as part of its Incubator Program, and this year, four participating businesses – Ichigo Tokyo Crepes, K’s Revolutionary Catering & More, Honey’s Soul Food & Bakery, and Better Greens LLC – received pro bono professional services support from employees volunteering through General Mills GoodWorks program.
“We are grateful for our partnership with General Mills,” says Ann Fix, vice president of business development, NEON. “Many of our clients have benefited from not only their financial support, but their great food industry expertise, helping our clients grow and strengthen their businesses and ultimately benefiting our whole community.”
Along with the company’s charitable cash giving and food donations, employee volunteerism is one of the central ways General Mills supports its hometown communities around the world. For the eighth consecutive year, General Mills was recognized by The Civic 50 as one of America’s Most Community-Minded Companies.
“We encourage and empower our employees to share their skills, expertise, and passion to help strengthen their communities,” says Nicola Dixon, director of global impact, General Mills. “I am proud of our amazing General Mills volunteers who are deeply committed to giving back in innovative ways. Programs like GoodWorks and the many employees who have shared their skills to help entrepreneurs truly embody our company values – further highlighting how G Stands for Good.”