The number of “thank you” messages coming to vegan food delivery service kawkawveg from grateful vegans is astounding. Customers are delighted at getting home-cooked vegan food sent directly to their homes or offices.
“This is inspiring us to do more, to deliver farther than the areas we originally intended. We feel happy that we can get healthy and wholesome vegan food to them,” says the startup’s general manager Praba Shanmugam, 29.
Kawkawveg is Malaysia’s first vegan food delivery service and it is run by three enterprising women.
Kawkawveg cooks up dishes such as nasi lemak, duck rice, tom yum fried rice and fried kuey teow on top of its daily “Meal of the Day” which keeps changing.
The nasi lemak is a top seller. They recently started selling bottled mango chutney, which is fast becoming a favourite.
Kawkawveg only does lunch for now and its food is suitable for both vegetarians and vegans.
Explaining its origin, Praba says her aunty, a vegan, cooks exceptionally tasty food and relatives have always enjoyed eating at her house. Last year, she started cooking for a neighbour who was unable to return home on time from work to cook for her children.
“Later, some vegetarians heard of this and asked if she could cook a meal or two for them. That is when my aunty R Thilaga realised there are many vegans and vegetarians out there yearning for home-cooked vegan or vegetarian food.”
Around the middle of last year, Praba, who graduated in computer networking, quit her job at a public-listed company as she was finding it difficult to take care of her baby.
She was looking for a job that would be nearer her home or which would entail spending less time caught in traffic jams so that she could spend more time with her family.
That is when Thilaga proposed the idea of kawkawveg to her. It suited her, as she could now spend more time with her infant daughter T Ushalini and she decided to take the risk, with her husband’s support.
Thilaga, who is head chef, chipped in: “Actually, it was my son’s idea. He loves my cooking and feels I should help vegans and vegetarians, and through that play a more meaningful role in society.”
So the two-woman operation began. Soon, they were joined by culinary arts graduate S Thurgashini Nair, 24, who was very enthusiastic about a start-up offering vegan food.
And the three women are making waves.
Initially, Praba did the deliveries, rushing to two or three areas to pass the food around lunch hour. However, recently, they linked up with firms providing delivery services such as Grab and EatFun.
Praba says they have been receiving very positive feedback from customers, some of which can be seen on kawkawveg’s Instagram Stories.
For instance, one person wrote, “I don’t like mock meat as I find it hard to chew but today for the first time I enjoyed eating mock meat”.
Some other messages: “Oh thank God you are delivering in my area”; “OMG, the sambal belacan was very nice”; “My husband loves your food so much until not enough”; and “The nasi lemak is so good! It’s just so perfect.”
On Sept 4, one customer sent kawkawveg this message: “I’ve never been this excited about meal times ever – so this has been an amazing experience for me.”
Praba says: “Such feedback is so encouraging for a startup like us. But two people had complaints: one felt our rice portion was small and the other that it was too spicy. So the next time they ordered, we made sure we adjusted it to their taste.
“Sometimes our regulars message us saying they want it spicier or without onions and garlic or without mock meat and we accommodate them.”
Thurgashini says: “Our customers are such lovely people, always giving us feedback; and this motivates us even more to make them happy. I’m as excited to cook as they are excited to eat our food.”
She says kawkawveg’s Instagram account attracts very good response.
Thilaga and Thurgashini cook a variety of food – including Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese styles – to please the palate of people. To ensure vegetables used are fresh, Thilaga goes to the market every morning.
“Although we have certain fixed recipes, we also experiment with different ingredients and dishes to give our customers the best possible. Our main concern is that our food must be healthy, nutritious and tasty,” says Thurgashini.
Regarding challenges faced, Praba says as a three-person outfit they can only do so much. But they plan to expand, and hire more people.
She also notes that they have yet to make “any monetary profit”.
“Our profit now is in seeing the joy with which our customers receive our food, their words of encouragement and that we are helping make a difference. We hope to break even next year.
“If we can make some profit next year, it will be great but breaking even would be enough for now as our goal is to help vegans and vegetarians sustain their lifestyles and to help people become a little healthier.”
Noting the rise in obesity in Malaysia, especially among children, Praba says a balanced vegan or vegetarian diet can help prevent this.
“I read a report recently that quoted Universiti Malaya Specialist Centre paediatric endocrinology senior consultant associate prof Dr Muhammad Yazid Jalaludin as saying that Malaysia has the highest number of obese adults in Southeast Asia.
“The report said 47.3% of Malaysians were obese or overweight in 2015. Several other reports said the prevalence of obesity is highest in Malaysia compared with other countries in Asia.”
Recently, Praba notes, Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye warned that obesity-related cancer is an emerging problem in the country and that it is related to 13 types of cancer.
This, interjects Thilaga, is alarming. She adds: “This vegan business is our small contribution towards the fight against obesity and disease.
“In addition, we are convinced that a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle will engender a better, more compassionate and friendlier world. There seems to be an increase in hostility between people and we believe that what we put on our plate can contribute towards universal peace. After all, we are what we eat.
“So, we want to assist those who care for themselves, for animals and for the environment to become vegans or vegetarians and to sustain this lifestyle. At kawkawveg, we hope to help people become healthier, and the world a little friendlier. That is our overriding goal.”
All images are from kawkawveg.