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That talented home chef next door? She’s on Calioo, app that curates small food vendors in Hong Kong and helps them grow

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 6 days ago
a woman sitting at a table with food: Calioo’s co-founders Nicole Lantin and Kenneth Liu Sun-wai are helping to promote local food vendors selling “the kinds of foods you can’t find in your grocery store”. Photo: Jonathan Wong Calioo’s co-founders Nicole Lantin and Kenneth Liu Sun-wai are helping to promote local food vendors selling “the kinds of foods you can’t find in your grocery store”. Photo: Jonathan Wong

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year, many people had to forgo eating at restaurants and make their own food while working from home. Some, like Anjaylia Chan Ho-yi, began making food for others, too.

Since she was a child, Chan has loved to bake. About a year ago, she began making and delivering cakes to her friends in Hong Kong. "I really care about the people around me and, with the pandemic, we were all stuck at home feeling isolated. So I thought of connecting with my friends through cake," Chan, 27, says.

They really liked her Basque burnt cheesecakes, which are baked at a high temperature until they form a dark brown top, with tea-infused flavours like iron goddess (or tie guan yin), matcha and hojicha.

"Cheesecake can be heavy and rich, and I use tea to balance the cream," Chan, who had been working as a management trainee, explains. Iron goddess tea is the more popular flavour, while matcha is for those who prefer the slight bitterness of the Japanese green tea.

a woman sitting at a table with a plate of food: Anjaylia Chan Ho-yi chose the name Soulgood Bakery as a way to © Provided by South China Morning Post Anjaylia Chan Ho-yi chose the name Soulgood Bakery as a way to

Her friends encouraged her to sell the cheesecakes, which have soft, oozy centres like ripe Brie cheese. Chan chose the name Soulgood Bakery as a way to "connect my good food with good souls".

"When someone creates something with heart, I believe it has soul in it," she says.

Originally, she took orders through her social media platforms, before Calioo approached her about giving Soulgood Bakery exposure and more customers.

"Calioo is gak lei uk in Cantonese, or 'next door' in English," explains Kenneth Liu Sun-wai, one of the co-founders of the online platform that promotes food vendors.

"We believe talented chefs are everywhere, there can be one living next door. That's why our logo has a house and a chef hat."

a bunch of food on a table: Local foods from Calioo. Photo: Jonathan Wong © Provided by South China Morning Post Local foods from Calioo. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Before Calioo, Liu says there was no online platform that curated local food producers, promoting them or helping them with production and logistics until he thought of creating one around two years ago. It was launched as an app in September 2020.

Liu, 33, came up with Calioo after setting up a bar in SoHo, on Hong Kong Island, and a restaurant in Tsuen Wan, in the city's New Territories.

"It's definitely not an easy job, opening a physical outlet or retail. There's a lot of costs involved. You need to look for a shop, you need to have some capital to invest in the shop, including renovations. (So I thought) we should have a platform where we can lower the barrier to entry, and allow anyone to just start selling their food, their product."

Setting up an online platform was not uncharted territory for Liu, who had previously worked for restaurant reservation system Eatigo. Before that, he was at Honestbee, an online grocery store, food delivery and concierge service. Honestbee, which operated in nine cities and regions across Asia, shut down in 2020 because of a lack of funding.

When Liu launched Calioo in Hong Kong the app featured 50 vendors. Now, there are over 500 - selling everything from cakes and cookies, to sauces, noodles and even marinated abalone - and there are plans to have 1,000 vendors on the app by the end of the year.

The vast majority of the vendors are found through social media. They have to be researched before being approached to join Calioo.

a piece of chocolate cake on a plate: A tea-infused Basque burnt cheesecake from Soulgood Bakery. © Provided by South China Morning Post A tea-infused Basque burnt cheesecake from Soulgood Bakery.

"They usually do transactions as face-to-face pickups, meeting in MTR stations, the fulfilment of orders is not happening every day, and the time varies," explains Liu. "We streamline their businesses to pickup points on our platform, and they have a fixed schedule. Now we have a third-party logistics company helping us with delivery."

For the customer, Liu says Calioo promises less tedious messaging back and forth with a vendor, transparency and the option to pay by credit card instead of by bank transfer or with cash.

All vendors have been checked to make sure their food is prepared in a licensed kitchen and they all have the hygiene supervisor certification needed to produce food for sale. If they don't have access to a licensed kitchen, Calioo has one that they can rent by the hour or day.

a cup of coffee on a table: Calioo offers monthly themed boxes for sale. Photo: Jonathan Wong © Provided by South China Morning Post Calioo offers monthly themed boxes for sale. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Calioo started off advertising baked goods, but is now diversifying into other food products.

"We are also a platform for sauces, local delicacies, different types of beverages, and we have plans of expanding that in the future. We want to be a platform where you can access the kinds of foods you can't find in your grocery store," explains Nicole Lantin, 32, the other co-founder of Calioo.

The platform offers monthly themed boxes for sale. This month's is all about spice, featuring spicy Sichuan cashews from Noms of the Day, sriracha garlic bagel chips from Bageliciouz and sakura shrimp chilli oil from Explicit Spices. Prices range from about HK$150 (US$19) to HK$300.

In addition, Calioo holds pop-ups across Hong Kong. Its third will be held from July 28-August 1 on Cochrane Street in Central on Hong Kong Island, and will feature about 30 in-person vendors in the space where the store Homeless used to be. The theme will feature items that use plant-based milk products.

"We still have our tried and true merchants, but here we're trying to showcase the different types of plant-based offerings we have," says Lantin. The carnival-like atmosphere of a pop-up allows visitors to mingle and meet local food producers, which Chan enjoys doing.

In June, Chan took part in a four-day pop-up event in Causeway Bay, and she says it was a lot of work to make extra cheesecakes ready to sell. "I can talk to customers, and it's meaningful for me to get their feedback," Chan says. "The pop-ups are a good way to get more exposure."

In the meantime, she is preparing to scale up her six-month-old business with a six-month pop-up at the K11 Musea shopping centre in Kowloon, starting August 1.

"It's going to be an everyday operation, and it's just me and a family member helping me," she says. "I want to do it well, because Soulgood Bakery is my baby. I care a lot about each cake I make."

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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