Raw dog food, Bali
What do you do when your dog is allergic to everything in the pet food aisle? This was the issue Bianca Hadinata and Sam Shand faced with their Great Dane, Balu. Hadinata began preparing his food herself, without realising the humble recipe would flourish into a successful business.
Until then Hadinata, who is Indonesian-Australian, was running a fashion label; Shand, from New Zealand, worked in graphic design and advertising. But they didn’t initially think the business, called Kin, would become so successful. ‘Bianca didn’t see it as a gap in the market. She was doing it for fun,’ says Shand. Following some research, she put Balu on a raw diet of mince meat, egg and plenty of veg – nutritious and side-stepping his allergies – despite unsubstantiated warnings online. ‘All the vets were in the pocket of the commercial dog food industry,’ says Hadinata.
Balu got better, people took notice and orders started pouring in. Today, after outgrowing several kitchens, Kin employs 21 staff, have expanded the recipe book (beef, lamb, duck – you name it) and have gone from making 100kg of food a week to five tonnes, selling mainly B2B. ‘It’s always been profitable, because the growth has been so steady,’ says Shand.
Kin has never taken on external funding and, last year, opened a store in Bali – Kin Dog Goods – with a second space upcoming in Jakarta. Like the business, Sam and Bianca’s household has grown too – it now counts seven hounds, including Balu, who is more sprightly than ever. @kin_dog_food
Syrian street food, Brussels
‘I remember how in Syria we used to make conserves, ferment vegetables and stock up on cheese ahead of winter,’ says Georges Baghdi Sar. Although his family, originally Armenian, fled from Syria to Brussels when he was 11, the memories of the kitchen have stuck with him, especially that of the tannour, the clay oven in which his great-aunt would bake bread in the traditional, tried and tested manner.
This oven is the heart of the household, and the heart of Baghdi Sar’s newest restaurant, My Tannour, which serves Syrian slow-cooked meats, falafel, vegetables, cheese and hot bread, all prepped in full view and eaten sleeves-up; no table service, no reservations. ‘I wanted something traditional, where bread takes centre stage,’ he says.
Simple though this sounds, the most rudimentary recipes are often the hardest, and it took Baghdi Sar, though already an established chef, a while to build up to it. ‘At first I didn’t know how I would work the tannour – all I had were the memories,’ he says.
After training at the prestigious École Hotelière de la Province de Namur and head-cheffing in the south of France, he opened C’Chicounou in 2015 – also Syrian but more wine glasses and waiters. When the space across the road became available, Baghdi Sar knew that this was a chance to dig further into his roots. ‘I bought it over the phone without even seeing the interior,’ he says.
Today, the pint-sized diner is packed most evenings, a welcome mix to the upscale European restaurants in the neighbourhood. The tannour, meanwhile, burns as constantly and reassuringly as it once did in Baghdi Sar’s childhood. @mytannour
Pop-up groceries, Los Angeles
In 2018, Emily Schildt quit her job in marketing to start the Pop Up Grocer. It crisscrosses the US, most recently popping up in LA and soon to arrive in Austin, Texas, where it opens for sometimes 10 days or sometimes a month in spaces with the kind of sleek white walls and branding you might associate with a new boutique.
She comes into contact with thousands of new food and health brands all the time – yet not many of them make her final cut. Everything she stocks must fulfil three criteria. The product must first be ‘interesting’, such as incorporating an ingredient in a new way or meeting demand for a dietary trend; it must also meet nutritional and ingredient standards; and it must have interesting packaging that provides ‘an element of intrigue and discovery in itself,’ she says. If you’re looking for your weekly haul of milk, eggs and toilet paper, then the Pop Up Grocer might not be for you.
A typical grocery store stuffs its shelves with about 35,000 products. ‘With small margins of 1-2% on the majority of items below $10, their profit is reliant upon volume: big carts, big success,’ says Schildt. ‘But this creates a frustrating shopping experience for the visitor. Every aisle is cluttered with a representation of every oversaturated category, demanding a lot of your time to navigate. The choice between five different toilet papers or 15 different nut butters can be debilitating.’
The experience extends online, too. ‘Take Amazon. And couple this with the changing role of the retail store overall – more experience than point of sale – and we’ve landed on what we think is a solution: a complementary discovery space that narrows the selection and focuses one’s attention. Within each limited-run shop that we open, we feature between 150 and 175 different brands, with a display of around 400 items.’ @popup.grocer
Malaysian-Mediterranean bowls, London
Abby Lee has taken a long, meandering journey to open Mambow, her new Malaysian-inspired daytime restaurant near Spitalfields. She was born in Singapore and lived there until she was 15, regularly taking eight-hour drives to Taiping, Malaysia, where her parents grew up. ‘It’s a small, laid-back village with the most amazing food: sour curries, a lot of fish, spicy laksas,’ says Lee. ‘I used to watch my granny and aunt make spice pastes all the time in these really incredible woks.’
Good food runs in the family. In 1997, when Lee was two years old, her parents and aunty opened a bakery and cafe on the east coast of Singapore called Cedele, one of the first organic bakeries in the region. Today there are around 40 of them. ‘They’d always have a little stall for me so I could ice the cakes. And because you bake through the night I was always like, yes, I can stay up past midnight!’ says Lee.
She came to the UK to study when she was 15, spending summers back home and helping out in the bakery. Lying in bed one day while studying economics at Bristol – ‘Because my parents wanted me to’ – she decided to host a supper club out of her student accommodation. ‘And that was the start of it all. I realised you can just start something yourself. Food was the only thing that got me out of bed at the time.’
She scraped through uni and spent the next few years back and forth between Singapore and Europe. ‘I wanted to stay but kept getting booted out of the EU,’ she says. She studied at Le Cordon Bleu – ‘It made me hard, it was like an army, but French cuisine isn’t my jam’ – and later worked in Italy. Then she applied for an entrepreneur visa (now defunct) and spent two months writing a 55-page business plan for what is now Mambow, where she serves bowls like ‘Dragon bowl z’ with bean rendang, celeriac slaw, balsamic radicchio, leftover pickles and salsa verde dressing. ‘I’m inspired by British vegetables,’ she says. ‘I guess you could describe Mambow as Malaysian-Mediterranean.’ @mambow_ldn
The ice cream side hustle, Toronto
‘Canadians are crazy,’ Luanne Ronquillo, founder of the Toronto-based ice cream company Ruru Baked, says on a bitterly cold morning. ‘We usually take the whole winter off, but this year people have been messaging us non-stop.’
All of Ronquillo’s custard ice creams – available in flavours ranging from blueberry crumble to condensed milk and red bean – are handmade in small batches using natural ingredients. Many of them, like the bestselling black sesame and luminescent pandan, take inspiration from Ronquillo’s heritage. ‘I’m half-Singaporean and half-Filipino, and I love sharing food from my background. And people are really open to so many different food cultures here in Toronto.’
Although she’s a pastry chef by trade, Ronquillo spent a decade working various office jobs before she eventually worked her way back to a professional sweet life. Ruru Baked started as a side hustle in 2017. Her first ice cream – pandan with candied walnuts – was so popular, Ronquillo started making more flavours and began posting about them on her personal Instagram.
Juggling the demand for tubs of ice cream with a full-time job was hard work. ‘When I first started I was only able to churn one litre at a time, so I was spending eight or nine hours a night, sometimes early into the morning, churning ice cream,’ she says. ‘People would order throughout the week. I’d deliver it to them in my car on the weekend with a cooler and some dry ice.’
Collaborations with major brands like Nike, Vitamix and Hoegaarden have followed but it wasn’t until January of this year that Ronquillo made the decision to dedicate herself to Ruru Baked full-time. ‘I want maybe two or three locations across Canada and the US, and maybe one in Asia, but I’ve never really thought about having, like, 50 stores.’ @rurubaked
This article was first published in Courier Issue 34, April/May 2020. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.