Raised in a household of cooks, Aaron got his start as a chef at age 9 by assisting his father at home. He later began doing part-time kitchen work after school at 14 and went on to work in professional kitchens as an adult.
In May 2020, Aaron left his job in a commercial kitchen to work as a private chef for private dinings, events, and homes. The 24-year-old would also upload cooking tutorials online for people to watch and learn.
“One recent private dining I did was cook for the chairman of Genting Group and his whole family. Went to his house and cooked a family-style dinner,” said Aaron when Vulcan Post asked about his client base.
“Then MCO hit, and hit again, things were at a rough state, me being jobless, doing freelance cooking and private dinings became a lot more difficult to execute due to limitations.”
Unemployed while stuck at home, he turned to a friend, Yue Yang, to launch Junk Jars together.
Bottling It Up
With private dining out of the picture during MCO, the duo brainstormed what they could do about deliveries that everyone else was hopping on. They didn’t want to sell regular cooked food and compete with other restaurants.
So, they landed on selling ready-made condiments that could complement existing meals or be used as an ingredient for cooking. It was a more sustainable product and something different to offer in the plethora of food options on Grab, Foodpanda, etc.
Aaron’s co-founder Yue Yang is no stranger to e-commerce himself. He’s a full-time web graphic designer for a retail company and had a hand in a bottled kimchi business during the first MCO. When that failed, he was aching for another go at it.
His confidence in running Junk Jars was heightened by Aaron’s long history with food too; he believed the private chef had the expertise to grow Junk Jars into a sizable venture.
While Yue Yang handles the business’s marketing, Aaron is the brains behind its Malaysian inspired flavours. They are:
- Coconut Belachan Crunch,
- Smoked Green Chilli Padi Pesto, and
- Salted Mandarin X.O. Sauce.
Each jar has 200g worth of seasoning and costs RM29 each. Aaron explained to Vulcan Post that working in Bali and coming from a Peranakan family were the root and inspiration behind incorporating such ingredients into his products today.
However, convincing Malaysians to try such flavours may be difficult, especially as an online store unable to introduce the condiments at bazaars and events via tasting sessions. Hence, they found other ways to market it.
Convincing Customers Virtually
Most of their customers have the same reactions for their products. “How do I eat it?” and “What can I do with this?” are some of their most frequently asked questions.
To curb this, the team would post up cooking tutorials on Junk Jars’ Instagram to showcase how they can use the condiments in a dish. For example, they’ve made a Chilli Padi Pesto Rice Bowl, and a Salted Mandarin XO Char Siew.
As an online shop, the partners also collect customer reviews and feedback to educate more followers. Further, they’ll compile Instagram Stories in their Highlights section of how customers themselves use the products.
“We Malaysians take pride in our ability to take spicy food, and I guess that is where Aaron’s expertise comes in. He can take a familiar taste and add a twist to it,” said Yue Yang about their flavours.
As Yue Yang has a full-time job while Aaron freelances as a private chef, jars are sold on a pre-order basis and shipped out over the weekend. They’re still operating out of Aaron’s home kitchen for now, but the chef has plans to move it to a restaurant he’s also setting up on the side.
Additionally, Aaron hopes to one day wholesale the jars in grocery shops when business picks up.
Featured Image Credit: Yue Yang and Aaron, co-founders of Junk Jars