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A Superior Meal Starter

A Superior Meal Starter

Two Sisters Create Authentic, Asian Meal-Prep Packets

When Kim Pham and her sister, Vanessa, 26, brought Omsom, their Asian meal-starter packets, to market last April, the pandemic had just begun.

This would be a nerve-wracking moment for any entrepreneur. “As first-time founders, as daughters of refugees, as women of color, there was a point where Vanessa and I were very scared,” says Kim, 28. “Our advisors and mentors had cautioned us against launching and suggested we hunker down and launch in 2021 when people were getting back to normal.” The sisters, who live in New York City, were undeterred.

Vanessa, left, and Kim Pham, founders of Omsom
Vanessa, left, and Kim Pham, founders of Omsom.

“Something in our gut told us that people would be rediscovering the joy of cooking at home,” Kim says. Their instincts were correct. Omsom’s initial three shelf-stable meal starters—each packet contains a recipe and all the sauces, aromatics, and seasonings to cook a specific Asian dish—sold out within just 72 hours. Since then, another three products have been added to the offerings and another starter is on the horizon.

From the start, the sisters were also certain of one more thing: They would partner with tastemakers for each product. So far, some of New York City’s top chefs, including Maiko Kyogoku (Bessou), Nicole Ponseca (Jeepney), Jimmy Ly (Madame Vo), and Chat + Ohm Suansilphong (Fish Cheeks) have been on the Omsom team, doing everything from recipe creation to sourcing and marketing. These co-creators also get a cut of sales for every product sold.

It was also very important for the Phams to partner with chefs who were either immigrants or first-generation.

Their meal starters include Asian sauces.
Their meal starters include Asian sauces

“These chefs have the legacy, they have roots, and they will be able to speak better to these flavors than we ever will,” Kim says. “Chefs have a really high bar for quality and taste. This has pushed us in terms of R&D.”

Authenticity is the main tenet of this super-fun brand that features all you need (except for a protein and veggies) to make such flavorful dishes as Japanese Yuzu Misoyaki and Korean Spicy Bulgogi from several Asian countries, including Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, and Korea.

“There’s a lot of dialogue in food media now about appropriation and who gets to be an expert in a cuisine,” Kim says. “We can’t tell you how to eat Thai or Korean food. As founders, we’ve been unhappy with brands that purport to be experts in a certain cuisine when they’re not. That’s another important reason we partner with our chefs.”

Most important, the brand reflects the sisters to their core. “Omsom means rowdy or rambunctious in Vietnamese and we wanted to bring that energy to the product,” Kim says. “If you meet us, we really live that energy of being proud and loud.”

They’ve even convinced their family to see the products’ potential. “Like other immigrants, our parents wanted Vanessa and I to take a more traditional path,” Kim says. “Vanessa went to Harvard, and they definitely believed we shouldn’t get too risky and that we should stay in our lane.” But that didn’t resonate with the Pham sisters.

“I’ve been working at start-ups since I was 16,” Kim says. “When we first started the business our family was supportive, but I don’t think they understood what we were doing.Now they’re our No. 1 supporters.”

In fact, they’re the first to offer advice. “We’ll get a text from our dad with suggestions of people we should send products to,” Kim says. “It feels like a family affair.”

Ultimately, the product is resonating with customers, Kim says. “We get DMs on Instagram all the time with folks saying, ‘I haven’t felt seen or heard by a brand in my whole life in the way Omsom does,’” Kim says.

Omsom partners with chefs to create authentic dishes from an array of Asian cuisines
Omsom partners with chefs to create authentic dishes from an array of Asian cuisines.

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