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Spirit of Hong Kong

A recipe for success: the social enterprise helping underprivileged home cooks

Founder of Sharing Kitchen brought together 12 underprivileged women and six restaurants to create a new business aimed at helping them get a leg up in society

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 June, 2017, 3:27pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 June, 2017, 8:29pm

Dodo Cheng Yiu-tung had been a social worker for six years when it dawned on him that there was more he could do for the grassroots community near the nursing home where he worked.

As a volunteer in Tin Shui Wai and Tung Chung doing community development work, he met many women who were extremely talented in the kitchen. However, they did not have a platform on which to share their work, so Cheng quit his job and decided to help them.

He founded Sharing Kitchen in April last year. Based on the idea of a shared economy, Cheng brought together 12 underprivileged women and six restaurants to create a new business aimed at helping them get a leg up in society. As home chefs, the women get free use of restaurant kitchens during off hours to cook up their creations to sell. Some of the products are incorporated into the existing menus of the restaurants, while others are sold at independent stalls set up at restaurant entrances.

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As well as lobbying restaurants to allow the home chefs to use their facilities, Sharing Kitchen also arranges for the women to be trained by the restaurants’ professional chefs. For example, home chefs need to learn to use industrial kitchen equipment. The organisation also takes care of the behind-the-scenes work, such as contracts and insurance. Sharing Kitchen takes on the marketing and packaging side of the business too.

“The packaging needs to bring out a home feel, a home flavour. We worked with a designer for some time on this,” Cheng said.

Unlike other businesses, Sharing Kitchen is about giving grassroots home chefs the ability to stand on their own two feet.

“We want our home chefs not only to cook and sell products through us, but also to learn about the business as a whole and become entrepreneurs themselves. We want them to be able to eventually support their businesses on their own.”

That is why Sharing Kitchen considers its home chefs partners. They make product and price decisions together, through which the women can get a feel for the business.

“We are educating our home chefs through this process. They now understand that the prices they set, the cost of ingredients and time spent cooking really affect each other. They need to have a look at the prices of other goods sold in their area to determine their own prices.

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“Also, at home, the chefs cook in a really detailed way, but when it comes to mass production, some things can’t be that precise because production will be too slow. They learn to increase production speed and add expiry dates to the products.”

Sharing Kitchen has been nominated for South China Morning Post’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards in the Corporate Citizen Category. Despite the honour, Cheng and his partners believe that the organisation will always have room for improvement. In particular, they have learnt that for their work to have a lasting impact, they need more than just good company values.

“Although social enterprises create value for our community, that value isn’t everything. That value can generate media interest, and it can bring customers to try our products for the first time, but the products themselves determine whether they keep coming back.”