A networking session at PasarMakan. Photo: Ling Low.

“Everybody eats at least three times a day and people will not stop eating so there are many, many, many ideas about what can be done [in the market],” enthused Audra Pakalnyte, co-owner of Plate Culture (an online platform connecting diners to hosts who cook dinner for them).

Audra was one of several speakers who talked to food entrepreneurs at last Saturday’s PasarMakan event. Organised by WokCha, this was the first event held in Malaysia to drive the local food scene through dedicated workshops and talks.

From a shawarma food stall owner to the Managing Director of an international food delivery service, the participants were a very mixed but nonetheless very open group. The main course of the day was the series of presentations by noteworthy players in the field, representing PlateCulture, The Kitchen Table Supper Club, Food Panda and ZeePearl. Each shared their experiences and inspirations.

Audra started off the session by talking about how a trip to her Thai friend’s house for home-cooked dinner sparked the creation of her online private dining platform. She then spoke about the bigger implications of how a simple meal at a culturally different household has changed some of her customers’ perspectives on racial stereotypes. Dining in a stranger’s home can therefore have an individual, local and gradually global impact.

Marcus and Mei Wan of The Kitchen Table Supper Club & Bakery came on after and stressed on the importance of creating the right environment for intimate dining and how that plays as huge a role in flavouring a meal. They also shared their plans to turn their supper club into a full fledged restaurant, and their desire to nurture new talent through a mentoring programme.

Snapper ceviche with tomato tartare and lotus root chips. Photo courtesy of the Kitchen Table Supper Club.

MD of Food Panda, Malaysia’s biggest food delivery service, Claudio Abitante spoke candidly about the struggles his organisation faced in its daily operations and fielded questions from a very interested audience about making mistakes and strategising business expansions. Working with over 400 restaurants, he highlighted the main challenge of finding reliable delivery drivers.

The last speaker was a chef of 38 years – Martin Gerber, now CEO of Zee Pearl (an F&B software development company) who laid down the nitty gritty of running a full-fledged kitchen and how much discipline and planning has to go into how one prepares food in the F&B industry. Bad planning in the ktichen can lead to food waste and the loss of money.

Audra said, “I really enjoyed The Kitchen Table’s talk. They are foodies or food industry people by training and they came back to Malaysia…they have a very strong food philosophy and this is what inspires! To have people not just chasing for the dollar signs; running businesses not just for money but for really solving a problem also or having an impact.”

Organisers WokCha, whose purpose is to “invest in food people” wanted to create a place for food entrepreneurs to share experiences and network. “Today we have a lot of activities that revolve around food like food exhibitions but there is no one single platform to connect the food entrepreneurs as well as the investors,” said Chu Boon, one of the organisers from WokCha. “Funding is one of the big issues in any start-up.”

 

WokCha aims to give food start-ups a better foundation by educating them in business basics.

 

He also notes that food start-ups really need to learn how to pitch their ideas to investors and in order to do that, they have to put themselves in the investor’s shoes and think of what they will be looking for. “We don’t teach people about how to cook because they should already know that. We want to teach them about business fundamentals.”

Overlooking the “business portion” of things is a costly mistake, opines Chu Boon, as many restaurants open with fanfare and then close down after just a short time. WokCha aims to give these food start-ups a better foundation by educating them in business basics and connecting them to potential investors.

A little exercise to get their point across was the Food Venture Hack that they held at PasarMakan. Participants were put into small groups and told to come up with inventive food business ideas to pitch to a panel of judges. A whiff of performance anxiety was in the air as teams prepared to face the panel with their recently put-together presentations.

Although mostly hypothetical, some participants brought forth their very own small ventures for evaluation. What they received was concise (and sometimes harsh) feedback from experienced industry people.

Audra noted that sometimes food entrepreneurs get so caught up with their work that they forget to talk to people and therefore miss out on the opportunity to share their problems and find solutions by talking to other people who own start-ups and have similar struggles.

“What I like here (Food Venture Hack) is that people just present their ideas and of course, usually feedback is harsh but this is where you rectify ideas, you pivot it and you change it, share it, talk about it and ask for people’s advice. Because I think the worst thing that you can do is sit at your computer, think of crazy ideas and don’t get feedback from outside.”

WokCha hopes that events like this can help create the dialogue needed to aid food start-ups in their initial formation and later growth. For start-ups in their infancy, the organisers hope to be a sort of coach to them, walking them through the steps of how to market their ideas. Networking sessions will also hopefully help to introduce growing businesses to prospective investors. This first PasarMakan event is only the start and we’re sure it will be the first of many.

Poskod.MY is the official media partner for PasarMakan.