Soup & Hustle founder Sunta Sem
For Sunta Sem, founder of Toronto-based Soup & Hustle, it all started with a soup craving she just couldn’t shake.
In the middle of Sunta’s busiest days when she was working as a consultant, all she wanted was a comforting bowl of soup full of the Southeast Asian flavors she grew up loving. “This craving lingered, and I started daydreaming about a coworking space called Soup & Hustle that offered a pho or ramen bar so you could grab something delicious in between your daily grind,” Sunta shared. “The idea didn’t stick but the name did, and I began to use it as my brand when I decided to transition into food full time.”
Her first steps included picking up small catering gigs and posting on social media about her adventures in the kitchen. From there, Soup & Hustle slowly began to pick up steam and new opportunities began to arise. Currently, Sunta offers catering, home-cooked food delivery, and a product line for home chefs that is anchored in her hero sauce, WHOA Spicy Peanut Sauce.
WHOA Spicy Peanut Sauce anchors
Sunta's product line for home chefs.
“I was inspired to start my product line with my sauce because of the reactions I heard whenever I served it to people,” Sunta shared. Knowing she also had a built-in audience from her catering gigs that she could tap into, she began to sell her freshly made sauce online by the jar.
“The opportunity to then add home-cooked meal delivery to my services came up serendipitously,” says Sunta. “I heard about the launch of the delivery app we use, Cookin, on social media, and once I saw it, I knew it had to be the next step for me.”
The experience of running a delivery-order kitchen has given her the opportunity to grow the business – and her skillset – in new ways. “Building and managing a constant home delivery sales stream has taken us to the next level,” notes Sunta. “As a business owner, it has helped build my confidence, my operational skills, my menu ideation skills, and so much more.”
As Soup & Hustle continues to scale, Sunta finds knowing where to focus her energy amidst so many competing priorities to be her biggest challenge. “There’s so much to do, so many ideas, so many risks, and so many opinions and expectations to balance,” says Sunta. “A business of one, my days are consumed by procuring products, prepping food, cooking, and cleaning, so it can be difficult to carve out time for the higher-level things.”
Long-term, Sunta’s goal is to have her products carried in
retailers across Canada and the United States.
As she continues to tackle the demands of this early-growth stage, Sunta is trying to break down the process and focus on looking at her journey one day, one task, and one happy customer at a time. To help streamline operations, Sunta relies on PayPal to keep her transactions secure and efficient across all arms of her business.
“PayPal is my go-to for fast and easy invoicing – I use it to manage payments for all of my catering contracts,” notes Sunta. “PayPal Checkout is also what I choose when I’m shopping online, so I knew I had to add it to my online store to make sure I was catering to customers like me who like to pay quickly, securely and easily.”
As Soup & Hustle moves through its second full year of operation, Sunta is focusing on ways to expand her product line while staying true to her playful brand identity and vision. “I’m working on developing more products and have plans to start with a garlic vinaigrette that I’ve developed from a family recipe,” says Sunta. “I’m also taking on more cooking events, such as pop-ups and local markets, to make sure we’re reaching new audiences and really establishing our presence in the local food scene.”
"If you care about your customers, they'll grow your business with you."
Long-term, Sunta’s goal is to have her products carried in retailers across Canada and the United States, as well as to open a brick-and-mortar or food stall location that celebrates her favorite Cambodian flavors from childhood.
When giving advice to other budding entrepreneurs, Sunta stresses how important it is to really understand your customer, and to hone in on how your product or service can help make their life better, even in small ways. “You need to know how your product brings delight or ease to someone’s day, and you need to know what you can do to make your customers feel recognized,” advises Sunta. “I will always believe that if you care about your customers, they'll grow your business with you – and for you.”
Sunta also encourages all business owners to remember how vital it is to slow down and recognize how far you’ve come. “The big milestones come in with a rush of adrenaline, but the quiet of the in-between periods can sometimes make you feel a little lost,” Sunta recalls. “If you remind yourself regularly that success is about the cumulation of wins and not just the big ones, the rollercoaster becomes a lot more enjoyable!”
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