Tiffany Yam ’09 had a lot of interests while at Duke, from her computer science major to her marketing and management minor to art classes.
For the past couple of years, she’s been pursuing her passion in food and beverage at San Francisco-based Salt Partners, a venture capital firm dedicated to investing in foodtech. Her work there recently earned her a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for Food & Drink.
While at Duke, Yam wasn’t sure what she wanted to do for a career, but she knew she wanted to challenge herself and keep her options open.
After she graduated, she moved to New York City to work at Citi as an analyst. She had a great experience there and stayed at Citi for three years.
Yam then moved to San Francisco to work in private equity with TPG Global, where she spent two years.
Although she enjoyed this job, too, Yam still felt like there was something missing and wanted to build a long-term career in a different field.
During this time, Yam was spending her Saturdays working in kitchens – not for pay, but as a way to relax.
Even though she sometimes worked 12- to 15-hour days, Yam said she loved cooking and that food prep was a chance for her to shut her brain off and focus only on the task at hand.
“I learned so much and saw opportunities where I could do something cool,” she said.
Yam met people doing creative things with food, but she realized it could be difficult for them to focus on the business side, as well – the areas where she feels most comfortable.
Yam found an opportunity to merge her passions when she met Hanson Li, founder of Salt Partners.
Salt Partners works with chefs and beverage professionals, becoming equal owners in their restaurants or other spaces.
Yam joined Salt Partners in 2014, about six months after it started. The firm helped to build four or five restaurants last year and has the same amount in the pipeline this year.
“I love what I do,” she said. “Every waking minute is work, but every day is fulfilling.” She added that she is now able to relate to her family more because her family also owns restaurants.
Yam said that although quitting her job to pursue her love of food was “a really scary risk to take,” she’s glad she took that risk and advises others to do the same.
She also said she is thankful for all of her experiences and jobs because they led her to where she is today. Her business partner, Li, also comes from a finance background, and Yam said they work well together.
“I kept good relationships and had amazing mentors,” she said.
To read about more Duke entrepreneurs, click here.
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