Chopping It Up With NYC's Littest Chefs: An Interview With Empire Taste
Updated: Jul 18, 2019
Empire Taste is a creative collective that offers marketing solutions for brands and artists through their creative agency, magazine, and lifestyle brand. Their mission is to empower underrepresented artists, inspire one’s expressive identity, and ultimately elevate the taste level of the world. In the past year, they have worked with A$AP Mob, Kilo Kish, Saba, and Marshall Headphones. We got a chance to sit down with ET’s founder, Thomas Duh, and team members Minh Nguyen and Mitesh Bhatt to chop it up about the joys and challenges of the past five years and the legacy they plan to create for a community of creatives.
Empire Taste has been a journey. Where did this all begin?
Thomas: The idea of Empire Taste started in 2013. At the time, we were all in college across the country. From working with artists like A$AP Mob in the past, I realized we can offer similar development solutions for more artists under this brand ET. We started in our dorm rooms. At first we wanted to connect with artists and help them with their creative process, whether it’s marketing strategy, website design, or social media. We handle those things so the artists can focus on making their art, which inspires us.
Where does the name come from?
Thomas: The name, Empire Taste, sounds like a Chinese restaurant or buffet. Maybe one day we’ll open our own restaurant. At the time we were coming together as a brand and team, I was interning in NYC. I was falling in love with the Empire State so the name Empire Taste pays homage to the city and our Asian American heritage. It’s a combination of all those things.
It's a name that definitely has an ethos of strength and creativity. What were some of the challenges you worked through as a young start up in NYC?
Thomas: The challenge when we first started was time. Back in 2013, we were all in college, getting our degrees, trying to find jobs. At first it was hard because we were a group of friends, we all have our day jobs and schedules we have to take care of. So how do we balance that with working with friends on a dream? It’s hard to get everyone engaged immediately. It’s hard to even engage yourself at the beginning. Having the pressure to pay off loans, support family, whatever it is, that can sometimes make it hard to keep the momentum [on the business] going. Now, we’ve gotten into a groove of leaning on each other. We inspire each other to go harder.
Mitesh: The first 5 years, it was mobilizing a crew that’s across the country. Essentially, Thomas is the force that brings everyone together.
Where do you find your inspiration to keep going?
Thomas: Each member on the team. Mitesh knows about this, Minh knows about that, different people can carry forth their expertise and perspective on something. What can we build when we are all together?
Mitesh: I think this city is crazy. To get here was the breakthrough of really, anything is possible. It blows my mind. As hard as it is to make ends meet, this city is a different magic. I’ve been thinking about being out here since I was 19. Finally getting here a year ago, it all lined up so perfectly. We all happened to be at the same stage, and were able to take it to the next level.
What’s your favorite memory/moment on this journey?
Mitesh: The launch. It was also the first time we met altogether in person. We had been working remotely together and this was the first time we gathered everyone together. We met altogether last May. Our sole connection is Thomas. That night was epic.
You guys have built so much together and can celebrate some major wins. Among those wins is your work with A$AP mob. What was that experience like for your team?
Thomas: That really opened my mindset. At that point, it felt like we were doing legitimate work and at the same time we felt blessed to come across that opportunity. A lot happened by chance. When I saw those first A$AP videos, “Peso” and “Purple Swag,” I was like, ‘Hey, there’s potential here.’ And because of that, let me do some research, lock up this domain and these social media handles, and reach out to them. Drake just happened to take A$AP Rocky on tour right after dropping his first mixtape.
Mitesh: And, oh wait, there’s a stop in Champaign, Illinois.
Thomas: Exactly. At our college! And at that point, we had the website, social media handles, we had fans connecting directly with the Mob on those channels, so it was a matter of bringing the moving pieces together.
Mitesh: Yeah man, I’ll never forget. I get a call. Thomas tells me, “The mixtape just dropped. The site is blowing up." When they came to our school we linked up.
Minh: It was the perfect example of preparation meets opportunity. We were in the position to take advantage of that opportunity.
Mitesh: That was the best day of my life.
Thomas: That experience taught us a lot. Shoutout the homie Djordje. Anything is possible.
What advice to people looking to get into creative tech do you have?
Thomas: It takes time. It just takes time. We had a concept in 2013, but it wasn't until 2018 that we launched the magazine, a merch collection, and a party in the lower east side. It takes a while and took some trials, tests, and challenges. Part of me is like damn, that took a while and that’s a long time to launch. If you have an idea just start it, go for it. Test it out, try it out in different places, until it’s perfected.
Minh: Surround yourself with the right people, who inspire and empower you.
What's coming up in the future, what next?
Thomas: Organizing the business and building out the team. We have a lot of collabs coming up. We have a collab with a clothing brand in Japan and another with a brand in Brooklyn.
Minh: NY has given us so many opportunities to work and meet people and now I feel like it’s my time to give back. My next idea is how do I take my art and ET and produce something tangible for NYC. It’s nice that we have these brands and events, but what survives the test of time? Maybe it is the art but maybe it’s something that's carried on through other people.
Interview by: Naomi Arroyo
Edited by: Cameron Flowers, Thomas Duh, Naomi Arroyo