When Sonya Suon and Mandy Bardisbanian got married three years ago, they never imagined their honeymoon would lead to founding one of Long Beach’s newest food concepts, I Luv Ur Buns.
The venture is centered on Asian street food, combining different cuisines like Cambodian, Korean and Mexican flavors in a hand-held bao bun. Though not an official brick-and-mortar, the eatery works out of Daisy Diner, a ghost kitchen in the Washington neighborhood, and has recently done pop-ups at Trademark Brewing and The Wicked Wolf.
“We had just come back from our honeymoon, we spent time in Bali and Singapore,” Suon said. “We had the most amazing bao over there, and it was in the sandwich form, not the filled form that most people are familiar with.”
Bao is a steamed bun made with soft, fluffy dough that’s either stuffed or used as a shell for a marinated meat or vegetable filling. Disney Pixar even made a short film, “Bao,” dedicated to the delicious bun.
I Luv Ur Buns has nine different bao buns with the option to make any buns vegan or with fried tofu. A Satay with Me order comes with two buns filled with Thai-style marinated chicken, peanut sauce, spicy mayo and pickled vegetables for $10.
The eatery also uses its bao bun fillings to create dishes like the Bao Mi Loaded Fries with Vietnamese-style grilled pork belly, housemade spicy hoisin sauce, cucumber, jalapeño and more on top of crinkle-cut fries. For dessert, Suon fries the baos to create a crispy, soft beignet-like treat stuffed with caramelized bananas or sweet cream cheese.
“The whole point is fusion, for you to try these different flavors together,” Suon said. “We’re excited to bring something new to Long Beach.”
Initially, the idea to open a restaurant, especially during the tail-end of the pandemic, hadn’t crossed their minds, but at Bardisbanian’s urging and after proposing the brand’s catchy name, Suon was sold on the idea. Suon had spent over 10 years in food service, mainly front of house, then worked in a corporate environment but had always been a home cook. The pandemic forced her to think about what she wanted to do with her life.
“I love cooking because it’s part of a lot of Asian culture,” Suon said. “It’s kind of like a love language, making sure people are satisfied and fed.”
Suon was born in a refugee camp in the Philippines to Cambodian parents and raised in the D.C. area before finally settling in Long Beach nine years ago. Bardisbanian’s background was working in production and merchandising, so while Suon does the cooking, Bardisbanian has been vital in the company’s branding and social media marketing.
“Ever since the pandemic, people want to have fun,” Bardisbanian said. “With I Luv Ur Buns, it’s funny and cheeky, we want to make people smile while still showing how delicious the food is.”
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