Welcome to The Soap Kitchen on Fair Oaks Avenue in Old Pasadena.
To open the door and step in is to be enveloped with the scents of oils and herbs. Usually right inside the door is the main ingredient in which to mix these oils and herbs. It’s easy to miss, but then when it’s pointed out by the owner Dali, you then can’t not see the bright yellow mammoth 55 gallon drum of olive oil that sits near the counter. As Dali has been preparing for the holiday rush, she has two or three of these drums delivered. When they are empty, whoever wants them—to build a BBQ pit, a sculpture, etc.—is welcome to come pick them up, preferably in a pick up truck.
Tea Tree Wake-Up. Lavender Eucalyptus with Shea Butter. Mint Verbena Shave. Lemon Italian. Orange Clove and Cinnamon Spice. Rose Geranium. Green Tea Cubeba. Sandalwood Patchouli with Oatmeal. Kahlua Coffee. Cornusoapia.
All these “flavors” of soaps start with olive oil. Sometimes Dali uses palm oil (only organic and from sustainable sources) or coconut oil, which helps with lather as she doesn’t add any synthetic lathering agents. Her soaps contain no animal products, perfumes, or preservatives. Dali says most of the essential oils and herbs she uses, people can find in their own kitchen: peppermint leaves, vanilla bean, green tea, lemon and orange.
All of Dali’s soaps are made in the back kitchen. There is a tank with a thermostat tucked in the far corner as temperatures must be precise, and a scale as everything is done by weight. Dali measures the olive oil, usually 100 pounds at a time, into the tank and heats it up, then opens the spout to release it into a huge cooking pot where she adds the essential oils and herbs. She then pours the concoction into the molds where it insulates for two days. The next step is to take these 100 pound blocks and slice them into “loaves.” Dali carefully lines up the slicer (like a butter slicer, but in the shape of 9 squares), then pushes with all of her weight to slice through to the bottom of the block. She sets the loaves out and the soap will “cure” for three weeks. This allows for the oils to neutralize the lye, which by itself is caustic. Curing also gets rid of any excess water, so the soap dries and hardens, making it last longer.
Almost nine years ago, a friend of Dali’s gave her a gift of homemade soap and she has never looked back. Her parents are entrepreneurs from Taiwan. Dali and her family moved to Whittier when she was 6 years old. She attended UCLA and spent fifteen years on the west side as a graphic designer and opening (with her mom and older brothers) a boba and tea shop called Relaxtation. Eventually, they had four locations, which were all successful, but made for a lot of nights that didn’t end until 2 or 3 in the morning. She is now delighted to have Soap Kitchen, feeling “fortunate that I can do this for a living—something I love, something that’s a passion—not everyone can do that, and I am very thankful and grateful.”
Dali’s believes that we should know every ingredient in our soap because it’s what we use on our skin, “the largest organ in our body.”
What you put on your skin, she says, is just as important as what you put in your mouth (though she does admit that, “sometimes I can’t control the fact that I need ice cream”).
Her soaps have natural glycerin, which draws moisture to the skin, whereas commercial companies, she says, extract the glycerin to put into their moisturizers. For their glycerin soaps, commercial outfits add alcohol—a drying agent—to make the soap look clear, which is supposed to illustrate its purity.
The Soap Kitchen works to refine age-old methods with modern technology and Dali is always thinking and creating new “flavored” soaps, scrubs, lip balms, bath soaps, and even shampoo bars. She (and Mom) sell everything from simple bar soaps, baskets of soaps with accessories, to wonderfully packaged soaps as wedding or party favors. Her design and packaging is either simple, whimsical, elegant, or all of the above.
You (or you and your significant other) can even get a six-month or annual “soapscription.” Every month, two new selections of olive oil or shea butter soaps will be packaged and shipped. At the moment, Dali is including a wooden soap dish and a facial loofah with every order.
Step into The Soap Kitchen, a natural aromatherapy environment, and try Dali’s homemade soap. Will you get hooked?
The Soap Kitchen
43 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena
The Soap Kitchen was also featured on Visiting…With Huell Howser: