sonyo kimchi toronto

Toronto woman selling out of kimchi she started making after moving in with grandparents

A Toronto woman who started up a side hustle selling kimchi after moving in with her grandparents is now selling out.

Sonyo means granddaughter in Korean, referring to the fact that Sonyo Kimchi founder Jacqueline Lee learned how to make kimchi from her grandmother, who learned from her grandmother before her.

"I was previously working full time and living in King West. My grandpa's health has not been great after cancer treatments and a rather invasive operation a few years ago and the pandemic really made me realize how finite time is," Lee tells blogTO.

"I moved in with my grandparents to help take care of them, 89 and 90 years old, so that they can continue to live independently, versus in a long term care home, etc., and be near their friends and the community they love."

However, she's now putting a twist on those family recipes by making her kimchi gluten-free and plant-based.

"I started Sonyo after seeing my grandma cook meals from scratch and learning more about my family's heritage," says Lee.

"It's been a way for me to connect with my identity and share it with others who have been so open to trying our kimchi, I'm so grateful for that."

Kimchi is not traditionally vegan since it uses fish sauce and/or shrimp paste. Lee noticed that vegan versions would take out these ingredients without replacing the umami flavour.

"After a lot of research and recipe testing, we developed a dashima (kelp) and shiitake mushroom stock to use with the chapsalgaru (sweet rice flour) to make the base of the kimchi paste," says Lee.

Using the sweet rice flour instead of regular flour also makes her recipe gluten-free. Her process of making kimchi takes more effort and time, but ultimately can be enjoyed by more people.

Not only is her kimchi good for more people, it's better for the planet as Sonyo uses a closed-loop recycled jar system. And people are starting to catch on to her new and improved kimchi.

"At first it was made to order, but then orders were coming in steady so I started to make batches at the start of the week to deliver throughout the week," says Lee.

"But even now we're selling out so I've been trying to reach out to different businesses and see where I can improve on process to be able to meet order requests."

She has lots of regulars who make weekly or bi-weekly orders.

"There's someone who even comes all the way from Windsor to grab a large jar once a week when they are in town for their in-office day," says Lee.

Support from other businesses and business owners has been critical for the growth of Sonyo, Lee reaching out to people from businesses like The Poet Kitchen and Alchemy Pickle for advice. Swan Dive and Loveless even let them use their spaces while indoor dining was shut down. She's even collaborated with a DIY bao kit business.

"I'm loving spending time with my grandparents and hoping to get more comfortable making kimchi in larger batches," says Lee.

"My grandparents grow so many veggies in their backyard in the spring/summer months so I'm eager to see which dishes come out of those. Maybe we can work on some new recipes with the seasonal vegetables coming in."

Right now Lee is making kimchi and caring for her grandparents full time. She makes the kimchi at their house but is looking into options for commercial kitchens for possible larger-batch preparation.

"It's enough to cover basic things but it's certainly nowhere near income replacement," says Lee. "As the cost of living keeps going up, it will be important for me to balance ensuring their care and any future plans but I'm optimistic for what the future holds."

Right now you can purchase Sonyo Kimchi via their website for $12 for a 12-ounce jar (litre jars are $25). Lee currently makes the deliveries herself.

Lead photo by

Jacqueline Lee

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