MONCTON – Online multicultural market Sankara, based out of Saint John, has expanded into Moncton with the launch of a meal box service by Sai Krishna Food Services Corp. and Partner Seafood.
Sankara co-founder Lily Lynch said the company had planned to expand to Moncton and got the opportunity when Sai Krishna expressed interest to partner up.
“It was definitely in our radar to expand, it was in our business plan, but we were really excited to hear from Sai Krishna, who’s doing a lot of great things in the Moncton area,” she said.
Lynch said the pivot to meal boxes is one way to support Sankara’s vendors who usually sell their foods at public markets, events or other public venues.
“We decided that with taking extra protection measures such as wearing gloves and physically distancing in licensed kitchens, that we’ll still be able to serve our customers so that they’re happily fed at home,” she said.
The meal box program is also available in Fredericton, and Lynch is in talks to on-board a Ghanaian food vendor in Halifax. Vendors have to provide their Covid-19 cleaning plans to Lynch before they can proceed with the program.
“Our expansion to Moncton was more or less out of an opportunity for creating new revenue streams for a company that’s normally a wholesaler for other grocery spaces,” she said. “Creating that additional space for them to be able to serve their clients is really important.”
Sai Krishna usually supplies hand-made samosas to hotels, restaurants, Casino New Brunswick, universities, cafes and food trucks in the Greater Moncton area. But since most of its clients have closed their facilities due to Covid-19, the company has turned to making ready-made meals.
The pandemic has been tough for owners Raman and Shika Sobti. Raman was temporarily laid off from his job as a chef at tech company IGT, and the slowdown and uncertainty in business have forced them to let go of all six full-time and part-time staff at Sai Krishna. But the couple isn’t used to sitting idle.
So they started an initiative to feed the vulnerable with 1,000 meals, with the help of donations from Partner Seafood and Cavendish Farms. Sai Krishna operates out of a commercial kitchen at the seafood storage facility of Xtreme Cold, the sister company of Partner Seafood.
They provided meals to Food Depot Alimentaire, Crossroads for Women, and the Multicultural Association of Greater Moncton Area, as well as samosas to the local United Way. As that was coming to an end, the Sobtis started looking for what’s next.
They heard about Sankara’s meal box program from one of the businesses they supplied with samosas, Saffron Indian Foods in Fredericton. The signed up and began offering meal boxes with five ready-made frozen dinner dishes, which costs $69 and 10 dinner dishes, which costs $132, last week. Prices are all-inclusive.
This week, Sai Krishna is expanding its offerings to include more vegetarian dishes and will be offering it for delivery in Saint John, too.
Its boxes include samosas, raita, naan, and main dishes like butter chicken, chana masala, lemon chicken, chana masala, and paneer butter masala.
Partner Seafood, which normally exports seafood to China, Europe and other parts of the world, is also offering pre-cooked lobster packages through Sankara’s meal box program.
Some of the dishes in Sai Krishna meal box offering. Image: Submitted
Helping Businesses Stay Afloat Through Covid-19
Sankara is a “cultural broker” that helps facilitate the sale of cultural goods and food, “to give customers a feel from different places around the world, but online,” Lynch said.
Founded in 2017, the for-profit social enterprise allows chefs and artisans to use the platform for free, but its charges customers who buy through its website a small commission fee. Prior to Covid-19, it also offered catering services and events.
But as the pandemic has pushed businesses online, Lynch said she’s seeing people become more comfortable with ordering online. She’s hoping collaboration and e-commerce can help cultural vendors in New Brunswick get out of this alive.
“Sankara’s a platform that’s really open to anyone, so long as they have the qualifications and can cook in a licensed kitchen, they can join Sankara,” Lynch said.
The company works with third-party deliveries, and helps coordinates the orders and marketing for the businesses using the platform.
The meal box program generally offers five-meal and 10-meal packages, with heating instructions. The latter includes snacks as well. Prices generally range between $59 and $140. Orders can be made on Sankara’s website Monday through Saturday, and deliveries are done on Sundays.
For the Sobtis, the partnership with Sankara is their first e-commerce venture. They see it as an opportunity that they wouldn’t have looked at had things gone on as normal, Shikha said.
“For people like us, this is motivation. One thing is that people are liking the meals, they’re giving very positive feedback, and…last Sunday we got six orders of five meals, so we sold 30 meals,” Shikha said.
“We don’t keep a lot of margins, but whatever we are getting, at least there is something to look forward to. If this grows, we are hopeful we can give employment back to people. This would at least help us to remain. We’re not at the worst where we have to shut down our business. We’re doing all the means to survive.”
Shikha says if all goes well, they want to offer the meal boxes in other cities across New Brunswick.
“I think we want to give motivation and positiveness to all the businesses who are struggling that this will end. Start looking for the opportunities,” she said.
In Fredericton, where Sankara has been present for about a year, chef Sherry Gad, owner of the food truck Salt & Maple, also started taking part in the meal box program four weeks ago.
With events and festivals cancelled and uncertainties around whether breweries will be open, Gad decided to do something else for the time being.
“I decided to join it because it was a very good idea to have the people who are staying at home, working from home, who are not used to cooking every day and making your own meal….it was very good for me too, and my business,” she said. “I’m not quite sure how things are going to work, but I’m doing my best. If I’m going to be able to go out with the truck, for sure I will go out.”
Now she uses her truck to cook food for the meal boxes. Originally from Egypt, Gad’s offerings take customers around the world with dishes from Asian, Europe, North Africa, North America and the Arab world.
“I would love people to try the meal boxes. I would love to let people know about the chefs who have talent, they don’t have restaurants that they can come and visit, but we still can cook very nice food in a clean and licensed kitchen,” she said.