For Lunch, with Love

By The Irrawaddy 18 July 2014

YANGON — In Myanmar, it has long been a common practice for people to pay someone outside the home—either a restaurant or simply a housewife living in the neighborhood—a monthly fee to prepare meals for them.

But now a new option is available for those who don’t have the time or inclination to cook for themselves: lunchbox delivery services that will bring your meal directly to you.

Inspired by Korean dramas, which often feature office workers who order in their meals to save time in the middle of a busy day, the new businesses cater mainly to the needs of urbanites who don’t want to carry food during the daily commute or brave the lunchtime rush at local eateries.

Leading the way in this still novel approach to feeding the hungry masses of Yangon is the Heys Food Catering Services, established in May 2013.

“Mostly we deliver to companies. Some people also want food delivered to their homes, but because of some problems, we haven’t been able to provide our service to them,” said Ko Thura, one of three former chefs and hotel workers behind the thriving business.

Although it still doesn’t make much of a profit, Heys continues to innovate in the hopes that it will ultimately find a formula for lasting success. The key to this has been its marketing strategy,
which relies heavily on the popularity of Facebook and other social networking sites to expand its customer base.

On its Facebook page, Heys emphasizes that it doesn’t use cheap cooking oil or MSG, both of which are common in local restaurants. The company also uses microwavable boxes instead of the usual Styrofoam packaging—another plus for those who worry about the safety of their food.

Of course, none of this would count for much if the food wasn’t very good—but judging from the growing number of customers who keep coming back for more, the cooking is more than up to snuff.

“I buy from them because of the quality, the taste and the packaging, which is much better than what you see out on the street,” said Ko Aung Aung, a satisfied regular who says he orders from Heys almost every day.

Planned a week in advance, the meals—costing 1,600 kyat or 2,100 kyat, depending on the selection—are not confined to Myanmar cuisine: Shan, Chinese and Thai are also regularly on offer. According to Ko Aye Lwin Zaw, another member of the founding trio, Heys strives for variety, despite the challenge of finding affordable ingredients amid ever-rising food prices.

Based in Yankin Township, Heys also faces transportation constraints. It can only deliver to areas where it has received 30 orders or more, and often has trouble delivering on time due to traffic jams.

Despite these hurdles, however, the budding young company shows every sign of being on the right track. Many people have shown an interest in working for them, and they are much in demand as a caterer for parties and other events. There are even plans afoot to expand to the capital, Naypyitaw.

“We’ve been interested in the food business since long before we started this, and we’re crazy about creating food,” said Ko Thura, explaining what drives him and his partners. “We just can’t sit still.”

This story first appeared in the July 2014 issue of The Irrawaddy Magazine.