bungkus toronto

Toronto man quits day job to start up a small business with his mom that's been selling out

A Toronto man seeking to connect with his mom started a small business with her over the summer offering up Malaysian food. Now, he's leaving his job to pursue a culinary career and help his mom pursue a long-held dream.

Karthy Subramaniam had already started up a food brand a few years back in 2018 with Lost in the Sauce, but in the summer of 2022 he decided to team up on a new project with a partner close to his heart: his mom Siva (short for Sevagamy Suntheresan).

They called it Bungkus (pronounced "boong-koos") after the Malay term for takeout or wrap up, basically indicating you want to take your food to go.

"I started this to connect with my Malaysian culture (my Mom and I are from there originally), connect with and learn from my mom, and provide an authentic Malaysian food experience in the city. The options for Malaysian food in the GTA are few and far between," Subramaniam tells blogTO.

"The flavours are influenced by the different major ethnicities living in Malaysia: Chinese, Tamil, Indian, Indonesian. You really get the best of all in a true fusion experience. As I love to cook and really miss Malaysian food, I wanted to introduce it as many don't really know much about Malaysia or what the food scene is like."

Bungkus debuted at Smorgasburg in Toronto over the summer.

"Almost every weekend, we sold out of our items by 3 p.m., which was a learning experience in also bringing enough to last longer in the day," says Subramaniam. 

"Some of our most popular items were curry puffs (pastries stuffed with a spicy potato curry), cendol (a Malaysian coconut milk-based drink with palm sugar syrup and pandan jellies), mee goreng (fried noodles) and nasi goreng (fried rice)."

Subramaniam's mother owned and operated her own hair salon in Parkdale for 15 years called Salon Latchia, but always wanted to run her own restaurant or food business since arriving in Toronto almost 35 years ago.

"She didn't have much of a support system to start," says Subramaniam. "She's always been a phenomenal home chef and thankfully knew a lot of different Malay dishes. Our mutual love for food and Malaysian culture is what brought us together to start this. I felt like I could learn a lot from her."

During the day, Subramaniam has been working for Freedom Mobile for around a decade, most recently as a channel systems specialist, but now he's looking forward to his last day on September 30.

"Market events and daily activities that I need to do normally happen during the weekdays which have been increasingly difficult to attend and balance as I gain more traction. I don't have a full-time team so if I can't attend, the business pauses. I've always had a passion for entrepreneurship while growing up seeing my mom be her own boss," says Subramaniam.

"After a long time trying to divide my attention between my full-time job and my business, I decided that it's the right move for me to be able to unlock growth opportunities that I couldn't reach without having my time available for it. I find doing this to be more fulfilling long-term."

Subramaniam is in the process of finalizing a kitchen space, hopefully by the fall, at which point he'll open up for online orders for pickup and delivery.

"I want to eventually have my own space or a shared space with other vendors that align with our cuisine to give an authentic Southeast Asian street market experience," says Subramaniam.

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