Data scientist John Nguyen (pictured) who lost his corporate job due to the coronavirus crisis is now making $15,000 a week selling restaurant-ready Korean barbecue boxes
A data scientist who lost his corporate job due to the coronavirus crisis is now making $15,000 a week selling restaurant-ready Korean barbecue boxes.
John Nguyen, from Sydney, was one of almost a million Australians left unemployed just before Easter after Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced strict social-distancing measures to minimise the spread of COVID-19.
‘I was really down and depressed, especially having just purchased our family home last year. When I found out that I had lost my job, I felt very stressed about how I was going to make my mortgage repayments,’ Mr Nguyen told Daily Mail Australia.
‘For weeks I couldn’t even contact any recruiters as they themselves were on leave or working reduced hours and not answering their phones. Everything was on hold due to COVID-19.’
But the 37-year-old actuary was determined to get back on his feet by starting his own brand called Eat Box Now in the midst of a global pandemic after he saw an opening in the market.
Within two weeks of launching, he sold nearly 1,000 boxes, turning over $15,000 per week (picture of a customer with her Eat Box Now meals)
What is Korean BBQ?
Korean BBQ is a traditional meal shared among family and friends over drinks. It involves cooking meat and vegetables on a hot plate or grill as you eat with sides and dipping sauces.
‘My friends were all talking about how much they missed Korean BBQ, the social experience and how much they were feeling isolated,’ Mr Nguyen said.
‘I thought “wow wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could have the Korean BBQ experience in the safety of their homes and zoom their friends to stay connected, experience the same meal and drinks…” and that’s how the boxes came about.’
His first week of deliveries started over Mother’s Day weekend between May 8 to 10.
Within just two weeks of launching, Mr Nguyen has sold nearly 1,000 boxes – turning over $15,000 per week – and his brand is on track to reach an annual gross of $1 million per year in sales.
‘I’m happy that we are able to provide such a great experience for our customers delivered straight to their homes. It is nice to know we are providing something special, unique and memorable during isolation and these crazy times,’ he said.
All the ingredients are sourced from Sydney local producers such as butchers and suppliers
‘Even though we had to get this off the ground very quick and it can be very stressful at times managing an influx of orders, it is definitely rewarding to see all the positive reviews about our food and all our customers sharing their boxes on social media.
‘Given the current situation with COVID-19, it can be a little hard to predict how the economy will go as well as the changing nature of customer behaviours and how this will impact the demand for our boxes.
‘But at the current rate of customer interest, we’re projected to reach an annual gross of $1 million per year in sales and hope we can scale up within the next 12 months.’
As a start-up business, Mr Nguyen said the ‘massive demand’ he noticed since launching ‘blew our expectations out of the water’.
‘When people say to me our boxes are “better than the Korean BBQ restaurants” that makes me really happy. It is also nice validation knowing we are doing something right especially for the people who are trying this for the first time,’ he said.
Korean BBQ is a traditional meal, which involves cooking meat and vegetables on a hot plate or grill as you eat with sides and dipping sauces
The 37-year-old (pictured with his wife Janine) was determined to get back on his feet by starting his own brand called Eat Box Now after he saw an opening in the market
How does Eat Box Now work?
Eat Box Now is an easy and convenient way to enjoy a meal and drinks with friends during isolation.
The brand focuses on Korean BBQ, a unique experience where you can cook, eat delicious premium meats and drink traditional Soju with friends and family.
There are three kits to choose from, including dinner for two ($89), a deluxe box for four ($169) or the ‘Iso party box’ for six ($325).
But there are special deals on the boxes every week so customers are encouraged to check the website for more details.
The boxes are delivered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 10am and 8pm.
All the ingredients are sourced from Sydney local producers such as butchers, suppliers and supermarkets.
‘We package it together on Thursday and Saturday in our commercial kitchen to deliver the freshest produce to the customers,’ he said.
Mr Nguyen said his meal boxes are different from other brands on the market because they are ready to cook and eat within minutes of arriving at the door.
‘Our boxes are a complete restaurant dining experience at home. They are ready to cook, eat and drink in about one minute. They don’t require 30 minutes of cooking from scratch like other meal kits,’ he explained.
‘We are also fresher than ordering take out from restaurants as our meat is cooked and eaten instantly by the customer and not reheated in a microwave.
‘We also offer a complete Korean restaurant dining experience with all the meats, sides, salads, dips, Soju, and even the grill and hot plate all in one box delivered to your home.’
Mr Nguyen was one of almost a million Australians left unemployed just before Easter after the government introduced social-distancing measures to limit the spread of COVID-19
Mr Nguyen said his meal boxes are different from other brands on the market because they are ready to cook and eat within minutes of arriving at the door
The boxes are delivered all over Sydney, from Penrith to Bondi and Dee Why to Miranda on Fridays and Saturdays.
Mr Nguyen said he hopes once restrictions are completely lifted, Australians will continue to enjoy the dining experience at home.
‘With social distancing rules such as 10 people per venue, this will certainly change the way the restaurant dining space will operate,’ he explained.
‘For one, it kills the ambiance when there are more cooks and waiters than customers sitting in a space designed for 100 people. People go to restaurants for the social element and these news rules are making it harder to experience this.
‘Personally, I’d like to keep my social distance, even once isolation eases. I don’t think people will want to rush back out to restaurants full of people and especially for Korean BBQ where people are cooking in an open space.
‘So why not cook your meals in the comfort of your own home, with groups of friends or over Zoom and then enjoy the rest of the night.’
Mr Nguyen and his wife Janine on their 10 year anniversary getting take away during isolation at the restaurant where they had their first date
His next plan is to expand his business interstate due to popular demand.
‘We’ve had interest from other states such as Melbourne and Queensland. So, we are thinking about expanding our reach to service those customer demands,’ he said.
For those who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, Mr Nguyen said ‘use this time to reset, reprioritise and do things which you never had time to do before like start a business or a side hustle’.
‘It was definitely a terrible situation for me to be in at the time for sure,’ he said.
‘But it really gave me time to reflect and think about what is important in my life and made me cherish the little things in life. Looking back, it’s a blessing in disguise.
‘There are opportunities in every disaster. We may not be able to change the past with COVID-19 but you can make the future. We’re Aussies, resilient and can adapt and innovate.
‘I know times are tough for a lot of people right now, but I just hope my story gives some kind of inspiration to other people who have lost their jobs. There is light at the end of the tunnel, so keep your head high and believe in yourself.’