When the COVID-19 pandemic forced New Yorkers into quarantine, a young man named Joseph Boo began to wonder what he could do to help save his dad’s business. A Bay Ridge, Brooklyn native, Boo is the son of Malaysian immigrants. His father made a living as a produce wholesaler, selling Asian produce and grocery items to restaurants and supermarkets. But in March 2020, with stores and restaurants closed, Boo’s father had no one to sell to. Ever the entrepreneur, Boo started developing a website to sell the bulk produce items and deliver them directly to customers’ doorsteps. Asian-veggies.com went live less than a month later, on April 16th. As one of Joe’s close friends from high school, I was not surprised by this quick turn around, nor by the success of the site over this last year.
While Boo’s initial impetus for creating Asian Veggies may have come from the desire to help the family business, that certainly hasn’t been the only mission of the organization. During the height of the pandemic, the site made Asian food accessible, which was particularly crucial for elderly people who were nervous to leave their homes. Plus, as Joe explained to me, getting Asian specialty food items was already difficult unless you lived in certain pockets of the city. Asian Veggies makes it possible to get products from snow pea shoots to dried tofu skin delivered a day after placing the order. This niche is, in part, what Joe has attributed to the rapid success of the site. Great press from Grubhub, The Washington Post and NY1 hasn’t hurt either.
Since the launch of the site almost exactly a year ago, Asian Veggies has seen a revenue growth of 610 percent. What Joe describes as a “no-frills” website (“every photo of the produce was literally taken on my kitchen counter”) that started with 30-40 items for sale, now features 650 items. At first, deliveries were limited to Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. Now, people who live in the Bronx, Nassau on Long Island, and two counties in New Jersey are placing orders.
But Asian Veggies is doing much more for the Asian community than just delivering groceries. In late April of last year, the site partnered with Welcome to Chinatown (a grassroots initiative focused on supporting businesses in the lower Manhattan neighborhood) and the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC) to develop Greens for Good. The initiative raised over $14,000 in donations, part of which was used to purchase almost 8,000 pounds of produce from the Asian Veggies site to give to elderly residents at a housing community managed by the CPC. The rest of the donations were used to help a Chinatown bakery, which had been providing free meals for the Chinatown community during the lockdown.
This year, amidst a recent surge in heinous hate crimes against the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, Asian Veggies is again turning its focus to social justice. From now until April 26th, the site is donating all of its profits to supply vegetables to a Chinatown-based organization called Heart of Dinner. The initiative, aptly named Heart of Veggies, will provide care packages full of fresh produce to be delivered to AAPI seniors.
A year ago, I had asked Joe about the future of Asian Veggies post-COVID. “Well, Jean, that’s the five million dollar question,” he said. “There are a ton of exit strategies, but one option is that I can continue with this venture, see where it takes me, and basically build the business from the ground up, and that’s pretty alluring. Right now I’m leaning towards that option, because I’m starting to realize that this could be something a lot bigger.”
You can get fresh produce and Asian specialty items delivered to your door and help support the elderly AAPI community in New York by ordering online at Asian- veggies.com until April 26th.
All photos courtesy of Joseph Boo and Asian Veggies