Prior to this interview, Kim Moehnke of Pure Love Macaron, and I did not really know each other. I am a customer of hers and I follow Pure Love Macaron on Facebook and Instagram, but that was the extent of our “relationship”. What interested me in her and her business was her tasty flavors, her gorgeous photos, her impeccable taste and watching Pure Love Macaron absolutely blossom as a brand. I asked Kim how she would describe her business. Almost caught off guard she said, “The business, well, it’s more than just a macaron…it’s sort of a lifestyle.” There was a nutritional need in her home. The Moehnkes needed to find another way to treat their son’s asthma that did not involve the use of steroids/inhalers. They discovered that eliminating gluten from his diet could help reduce the inflammation in his lungs. With this new knowledge, Kim proceeded to put her son on a gluten-free diet and confirmed that he, indeed had a gluten-sensitivity. But they also found that treats that were free of gluten (and actually tasted good) were very hard to come by. “How do you tell a 5 year old that you can’t have a cookie or treat?” she added. At the time of this uncovering, gluten-free products weren’t mainstream. Kim played around with gluten-free cookies and brownies and began researching gluten-free treats on the web, and found the macaron. (Did you hear the angel choir? ‘Cause I just did.)
Macarons have been made in Italian monasteries since the 8th century A.D., created by combining egg whites (meringue) and almond flour. The “French” part came later, in 1533 during the Renaissance, when Catherine de’ Medicis brought the almond based cookies, made by her pastry chefs, with her to France for her marriage to Henry II. It was not until the 1830’s that French patisserie Laduree introduced a filling, hence creating the sandwich style cookie that we all know (and LOVE) today.
Kim made her first macaron in 2013, just before the holidays. Her good friend, Elaine Espinola Keltz (aka Mrs. DC 2015) sampled her cookies and told her, “I love French macarons and they aren’t easy to make. I think you have something here.” Kim began baking them for parties, and more parties, and more parties, which then lead to orders! In 2014 she got a license, a kitchen inspection, and insurance, and the rest is history, or rather her present. She said, “I listened to the universe and it lead me here.”
For Kim, life before Pure Love Macaron begins in South Vietnam during the war. Her father served in the military and, to make a fascinating story way too short, saved the life of someone pretty high up in the ranks. He was brought in to the “inner circle” because of his heroics and began to learn secrets and understood that the war was coming to an end and he was not fighting for the winning side. He began preparing his family to escape. In 1975, when South Vietnam fell, Kim’s father, 5 brothers and sisters, and her mother, who was 9 months pregnant, departed for America. Kim was born while their ship was still in transit. They landed in Guam, coming with basically nothing. Eventually, the family was sponsored by a church in Atwater, CA., where Kim lived until 17 years ago. It’s important to tell you the beginnings here, so you can fully appreciate the life that Kim and her family have lived. She was brought up in a traditional home where her father impressed upon his children that the only way to improve your life was to get an education and work for what you want. Kim, and every one of her brothers and sisters, went to college and earned their degree.
After receiving her diploma in sociology, Kim began her career as a recruiter for Selectron Technologies, Inc. When the .com industry busted, she was laid off, and decided to move to Northern Virginia with her sister and brother inlaw. She took a recruiting position for Loudoun County where she ultimately met her husband. (She recruited her husband for a job! If that isn’t serendipity?)
When their first child was born with breathing problems, against all that she was brought up to know (aka You work for what you want in life) Kim quit her job to take care of her struggling baby. Her life was a constant treadmill of doctor appointments after doctor appointments, and her son receiving steroid injection after steroid injection, as well as repeat surgeries. Enough was enough. Through the help of Hilgartner Health & Wellness in Leesburg, VA, and identifying the gluten-sensitivity, her son began to show improvement. Within 3 weeks of the intervention, they saw real change. Her son said, “Mommy I think you’re right, I think I’m “wrong”.” This journey is the motivation that she draws on to keep going. She calls her success of Pure Love Macaron, “My homage to my son. My calling. When I’m in the kitchen, it’s therapy. “
Pure Love Macaron offers a beautiful array of custom baked cookies of endless creative flavor combinations and colors. When asked what inspires her, it goes back to nutrition; the need to eliminate gluten, food coloring; basically anything that is artificial. With this comes the need to be creative. She uses dried, ground vegetables or spices to achieve the beautiful colors that she has mastered. All the while, is artfully conscious of the flavor pairings of the color “agent”, the cookie, and the filling flavors. The basis and foundation of her company has always been the use of as many organic and natural ingredients as humanly possible. (Understand people, there is no true “blue” that comes from nature in edible form. Well, according to spoonuniversity.com there are actually 5, but if you ask a designer, they are purple. Interestingly, because blue is not found in nature, we lack an automatic appetite response to the color blue. Love my color facts!)
Kim’s original goal never included owning a bakery. She just wanted to sustain her family and maybe, have a little extra money and a little fun; have something for herself. But now, her #1 professional goal is to serve the wineries. (We have 46 wineries right here in Loudoun County!) Kim is already working with Greenhill Winery & Vineyards, as well as 8 Chains North. These relationships have exposed her product to other wineries in our area, including Stone Tower Winery (for weddings!). She says, “I want to grow my business and myself in a way that is beneficial for family and me.” She summarized a meaningful sentiment that she heard from another local entrepreneur, that success is not always a scenario of the small company that explodes and grows really fast, as they often die really fast. Sometimes slow and steady wins the race.
When asked about her long-term goals for Pure Love, surprisingly she said, “Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t live my life thinking of the next 5 years anymore. I just really want to live in the moment and relish what’s going on now.” When gently nudged, she was able to illustrate a clear idea. “Sometimes I dream of a beautiful space where I can have a bakery, but not just a bakery; a creative space to host classes for kids and adults where they would come to participate in the process. A place where people looking for a creative outlet can come and I can say, “Let’s paint a macaron.”” She envisions a casual space for all creative minds to come to relax. (I’m relaxed just thinking about it. Sigh.)
Professionally, Kim is most proud of the fact that she has created a product that people have said, “Kim, I’ve been to Paris and have had “the real thing”. They tasted just like yours.” But hers, she adds, are all organic and all natural. A proud moment is when a client says, “Why would I go to DC, when I can get just as good right here.” Her work rivals that of well-known pastry chefs. She is proud, that not being a classically trained pastry chef, and having gotten her degree in sociology, she has still been able to run her business without an MBA.
Personally she is most proud of her family. (Even though I really just met her at this interview, it was clear what her answer would be.) She finds her kids are always inspiring her and her business inspires her. She says, “I created something that I never thought I would do. That has been a journey in itself, but my greatest achievement is my children. I know that they will be something greater than me.” She plans on taking her children back to Vietnam and humbly shares, “The one thing that I can give to them is the knowledge that there is more than just this bubble that we live in; a view of a side of life that perhaps no other children here will get.”
So how is her reality different from her dream? She answered, “Funny question. I believe people have dreams, but I just take each day and month as it comes.” With this philosophy she finds that her reality and her dream are not so different, so in turn there is no disappointment. She goes on to explain that her reality is not more or less than her dream. Kim takes her passion as it comes. She feels every day is a blessing. Every day is different. Each day when she opens her computer or turns on the oven, she gets inspired by what that day is offering. She never had expectations; never thought she would get this far. Kim runs on intuition and does not get distracted by the “chatter”. She says, “I do what I want and what I think the market will like. If it doesn’t work then I revise.” She was told by a family member that she, “gets to have it all; a little for herself and a lot for her family”. “And that,” she says, “that’s enough to keep me happy for now.”
From her story, Kim hopes that you can see that the one thing that drives her is that the universe sends you so many paths. Sure, there are roadblocks, but if you open your mind and heart and try, you can do anything. She says, “I think life is a gift and I try to go each day cherishing something.”
*Photos by Stefanie Kamerman Photography . To learn more about Stefanie, see my blog post Guest – Stefanie Kamerman Photography – Shopswatchbox.com
**Photos by Second Avenue Photography
***Photo by Meredith Ryncarz Photography
****Photo by Jessica Funk Photography