Competitive fencer-turned-meal-kit-entrepreneur, Nona Lim had developed some 300 recipes by the time she closed the business, and then made an impressively smooth pivot to packaged goods in 2020. Her new products like Laksa Noodles and Shiitake Beef Bone Broth are influenced by her Chinese heritage and growing up in Singapore.
Asian Comfort Food
The Giving Broadly tasting panel was obsessed with Nona Lim's ramen and laksa—”restaurant quality for home cooks.”
A Conversation With...
What was the path that led you to create Nona Lim in 2020?
I actually launched a different business—a meal kit delivery service back in 2006 while fencing competitively. I almost made it to the London Olympics, got upset when I didn’t, gave up fencing, had a baby, and then decided to focus on setting a real goal. I shut down the meal kit delivery business where I had designed and created all the recipes (some 300+). So by the time I pivoted to creating Nona Lim as a CPG brand, product development was actually really easy. We launched the retail brand Nona Lim in 2020.
Where do you get the ideas for the recipes?
It starts mostly from me. What do I want to eat and what can I not find in the market? I try out different versions in restaurants, and reach back to what I can find in my childhood (I am Chinese and grew up in Singapore), make lots of iterations in the kitchen and from there we try to scale it.
Since everything is made simply with real ingredients, there isn’t a lot of “food tech.” Hence the fresh rice noodles are made in Singapore by a third-generation family-owned business. We cook all the broths ourselves in our facility in Oakland, California.
Did you ever consider giving up?
Many times! This year, with COVID-19, the fundraising environment was brutal. We had to manage a production facility as well as adapt to the market changes. We were able to go from a significant loss last year to almost breaking even this year without growing our revenues. We could not have made it without my husband’s support, an incredibly committed and hard-working team, the support from my board, my faith and pure grit.
It reminded me of competing in the Commonwealth Games when we were down, 40-28, and I fenced the last match, and we won, 45-44. Just not giving up even when things look bleak, being able to stay sharp, stay in the game, and focus on one point at a time.
What was your first entrepreneurial endeavor?
I was 9 and found a bunch of free bookmarks at the local community center. I created some “added-value” by punching a hole and attaching a ribbon. Then I went door to door around the neighborhood to sell them. Together with a friend, we probably made a couple of quarters that we used to buy lemonade.
At age 12, I was recruited to sell Christmas candles and granola bars by a book club on a consignment basis. That went better. I took the candles, went to the shopping mall, and tried to sell to all the different shops. I was so good at convincing people to buy things that I landed a job selling in the shopping mall. Back in those days, they weren’t as strict about minimum working age. So I was working weekends for $7 a day plus a free lunch. That’s how I paid for my school books and my allowance from the age of 12. It definitely taught me independence and to be resourceful, since I grew up pretty poor.