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Quick thinking saves Tri-State restaurant supply business

Restaurant supplier saves jobs helps community
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Posted at 10:29 AM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-30 12:46:38-04

As states begin reopening their economies, a surge in home grocery shopping has become a new leg in the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Apps like Instacart, Walmart’s grocery app and Target-owned Shipt saw downloads increase 218%, 160% and 124% respectively, according to industry website Apptopia.

Kam Siu, co-owner of local restaurant distributor Panda Trading Co., scrambled to be a part of the new landscape in order to save his Lockland-based small business.

“I knew I had to come up with an immediate change in our business model to cover the shortfall in our sales to the restaurants or my employees would be laid off,” Siu said.

Less than a week after the order to close dining rooms, Siu added home grocery delivery to his business model, naming the new venture Panda Fresh Foods.

Among the signature items, Panda Fresh Foods offers fruit and vegetable boxes filled with whatever produce is fresh and available. While you can order what''s available there can be an element of surprise: It’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates -- you never know what you’re going to get. Siu intends to continue the service for the foreseeable future.

As restaurants moved to carry out service, and in some cases closed completely, the changes hit Siu emotionally.

“I had tears building up because I have a lot of friends in the restaurant industry,” he said. “I knew some weren't going to make it out of this, and I knew people were going to lose their jobs.”

Siu said he had no time to lose, though, as he thought of his own employees and food potentially spoiling on shelves.

“Panda Fresh Foods was a result of COVID-19 because I knew I had to do something to protect my team and my company going forward,” Siu said.

His team appreciated his fast acting. Lucas Moeggenberg, Siu’s first employee, does accounting but also boxes up produce in the warehouse.

“The next morning as we all arrived to work, Kam had come up with an idea to make our own food boxes to deliver to houses since he has quite a lot of connections throughout the city,” Moeggenberg said. “We were a little skeptical at first as we weren't sure if there would be enough business for all of us to keep our usual hours/pay.”

It turned out there would be enough business, and it was a strategy that helped people in the community who were reluctant to venture out to grocery stores.

“There were quite a few changes that had to be made, but we were all happy to make them as we knew having a steady job while also being able to help those in need was worth it,” Moeggenberg said.

The Cincinnati community has been instrumental in making Panda Fresh Foods possible, Siu said. “Our entire team is eternally grateful for all the support.”

With Ohio and Kentucky starting to reopen businesses, Siu said he is extremely hopeful for the future.

“It’s important that everyone stays positive and strives to be better instead of giving up,” Siu said. “I knew downsizing my team at the warehouse wasn't an option. I'm working harder now than ever before so I can minimize the effect COVID-19 has on their financial status. I owe that to my team.”