Snack Stories: Meet the Founders Behind 2 AAPI-Owned Snacks

The FruitGuys is celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI Month) by featuring two AAPI-owned snacks as our Snacks of the Month. Learn more about Pan’s Mushroom Jerky and Green Mustache below.

Pan’s Mushroom Jerky: Michael’s Story

Man holding dog and snacks
Pan’s Founder Michael Pan and his pup

In 2006, Michael Pan traveled almost 10,000 miles from his hometown in Mississippi to the Malaysian island of Borneo to visit family and get in touch with his heritage. There, in his cousin’s living room, he reached into a bowl and pulled out the snack that would change his life.

“What is this?” Michael asked his cousin Edmund, chewing on what he thought was dried pork. The meaty, savory flavor was the last thing he expected to find in the house of a vegetarian Buddhist. 

“That’s my dried mushroom jerky,” Edmund said. 

Edmund’s recipe drew on generations of Southeast Asian and Buddhist tradition, combining mushrooms, eggs, and seasonings to create a savory vegetarian snack. Michael was hooked—and when he went back to the States, he started importing and selling Edmund’s jerky to share its delicious flavor and cultural roots with the world. 

A Leap of Faith

Ten years after visiting Borneo, Michael left his career in technical engineering and product development behind to start a mushroom company.

Two men in front of a shop
Michael Pan (right) and his cousin Edmund (left)

“I loved the original recipe, but once I went full-time I knew that I wanted to update it. I wanted it to be vegan, and I also wanted some new, more simple ingredients. So I spent about two years, from 2016–2018, refining the recipe,” Michael told The FruitGuys. 

After months of recipe testing in his apartment and a shared kitchen, Michael emerged with a plant-based version of Edmund’s jerky. He called his brand Pan’s Mushroom Jerky in a nod to his father’s family—including Edmund and the generations of Pans before him. 

AAPI-owned snacks: Pan's Mushroom Jerky in three flavors, Original, Teriyaki, and Zesty Thai. Packaging reads "Gluten Free, Rich in Vitamin D, Good Source of Fiber, Soy Free, Made of Shiitake Mushrooms, Net Wt. 1 oz (28G)"

Today, Pan’s is a Certified Minority Business Enterprise, and it’s one of two brands of AAPI-owned snacks that The FruitGuys is spotlighting for AAPI Month. We’re featuring three flavors of Michael’s shiitake mushroom jerky—Original, Teriyaki, and Zesty Thai—as Snacks of the Month in our May Thoughtful Snack Boxes. They’ll appear alongside crackers from another AAPI-owned brand we’ve partnered with: Green Mustache. 

Green Mustache: VanTrang’s Story

Woman and two children with snacks
Green Mustache Founder VanTrang Manges with her daughters, Zoe (left) and Kaia (right)

Like Michael Pan, Green Mustache founder VanTrang Manges comes from a family of immigrants. But while Michael’s Malaysian parents raised him in Mississippi, VanTrang was born in Vietnam. She lived there for five years until the Vietnam War forced her family to escape as refugees. 

“When I think about AAPI Month and AAPI awareness, it’s inextricably tied to my experience as an immigrant: Fleeing a war-torn country at five, living in a refugee camp for nine months, and growing up in Texas, trying to assimilate into a foreign culture,” VanTrang told The FruitGuys. 

VanTrang’s parents were entrepreneurs, and she spent her early years in Houston working alongside them to tailor clothes and sell wedding dresses. It was hard work, but she loved it. Soon, she started daydreaming about running a different kind of business. 

“I wanted to start something on my own. It was just a matter of finding something I was really passionate about,” she said. 

VanTrang majored in business in college, then moved to New York to work in finance. She was still waiting for her “something”—and when she became a mom, she found it. 

The ‘Aha’ Moment

Inspiration struck in the form of her five-year-old daughter, Zoe, who was a picky eater. 

Girl holding smoothies
VanTrang’s daughter Zoe with Green Mustache’s smoothies

“In particular, she had a very strong aversion to greens coupled with food allergies and sensitivities,” VanTrang explained. 

VanTrang went on a hunt for healthy, whole-food snacks that even a fussy kid could love, and when she couldn’t find the perfect bite, she created her own. In 2014, she started formulating a green smoothie that would become Green Mustache’s first product. (The company name is an homage to those early smoothies and a play on the “milk mustache.”) When the smoothies sold well, she set her sights on creating a fun, healthy cracker. She came up with Mustache Munchies—mustache-shaped crackers with kale as their secret ingredient. 

“Our first Mustache Munchies flavor was Cheddarish. I was trying to recreate something very nostalgic that people loved growing up but elevate it by making it better for you, organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free, vegan, dairy-free, and with clear ingredients. I wanted something anyone could eat and enjoy. When we saw success with that flavor, we launched two other flavors: ‘Parmesan’ Rosemary and Spicyish,” she said. 

The FruitGuys is proud to offer all three flavors of Mustache Munchies by the case and stock them in our May Thoughtful Snack Boxes in celebration of AAPI Month. 

AAPI-owned snacks: Mustache Munchies in three flavors: Cheddarish, "Parmesan" Rosemary, and "Spicyish." Packaging reads "vegan & gluten-free, plant-based "cheese" crackers, dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free"

VanTrang’s AAPI-owned snack crackers are both healthy and sustainable; Green Mustache keeps its facilities zero-waste by partnering with local farmers to feed cracker scraps to their animals. Now, her team is working on a new cracker made from upcycled ingredients like green banana flour. 

AAPI Month: Coming Full Circle

Both Michael and VanTrang have fascinating stories, and they’ve each experienced unique full-circle moments while developing their AAPI-owned snacks.

VanTrang’s Full Circle Moment

For VanTrang, who calls building her company “the quintessential ‘American Dream,’” things came full circle when she started helping other refugees through Green Mustache. 

Girl with feather hat holding Mustache Munchie cracker as mustache
VanTrang’s daughter Kaia at the Green Mustache office

“I try to support other refugees of war who have come to America to seek a safer future and better economic and educational potential for their families by partnering with the International Rescue Committee. When possible, we work with them to evaluate and hire candidates for certain positions within our small company,” she told The FruitGuys. 

Michael’s Full-Circle Moment

Michael’s full-circle moment came just a few weeks ago, when his father visited the Pan’s Mushroom Jerky factory in person for the first time. 

Man holding snack
Pan’s Founder Michael Pan

“[My parents] are from another generation where they were taught to be more conservative on the venture side: Find a new job, work there until you retire,” Michael said, explaining why his dad, an engineer, was skeptical about Pan’s from the start. “This is obviously a bit more risky.” 

But when Michael’s father arrived at the factory, he was impressed by what Michael had built to celebrate his family name and heritage.

“We’ve grown from a shared kitchen to now having 14,000 square feet of equipment in place,” Michael said. “…He’s very proud, and I’m obviously very proud too that he’s been with us on this journey.”

Michael added that he is also proud to be part of The FruitGuys’ AAPI Month celebrations and to see the month becoming more popular. 

“My family immigrated quite a while ago to an area of the country that doesn’t have, quite frankly, a ton of AAPI rep. We grew up in a generation where fitting in was very important, so it has been super exciting to see a shift in recognition over the past 10+ years toward celebrating our culture, owning who we are, and sharing a lot of the great things that many AAPI companies have done,” he said. 

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