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From hostess to CEO, how Norma Chu is making an Asian food empire


This is part of a series at Food Dive of Q&A’s with iconoclasts in the industry doing interesting things and challenging the status quo in the food industry. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

 

Name: Norma Chu

Where do you live: Between Shanghai and New York City

Occupation:  Founder, CEO, DayDayCook

When DayDayCook was listed on the NYSE in 2023, it was the culmination of founder and CEO Norma Chu’s two great loves — Asian food and finance. Chu, who started her career in banking, launched DayDayCook in 2012 first as a platform for home cooks wanting to expand their recipe repertoire. Now, the company offers easy, convenient ready-to-heat, ready-to-cook, and ready-to-eat products. The company focuses on innovative and healthy meal solutions and describes itself as a “leading content-driven consumer brand.”

Norma Chu

Optional Caption

Permission granted by Norma Chu

 

The Hong Kong-born entrepreneur moved to the U.S. with her parents when she was 11 years old. Learning a new language and being immersed in an entirely foreign culture was daunting, but cooking traditional foods and sharing meals was one way to make any place feel like home. 

DDC is expanding at a rapid pace — both in the US and China. This summer, DayDayCook acquired Nona Lim, the San Francisco-based producer of fresh, better-for-you noodles, broths and stir-fry kits. Both women-led companies share a focus on delivering convenient, nourishing, and authentic Asian fare. Nona Lim was the first to make fresh ramen available in mainstream retail groceries for home cooking and is now available across the United States. Other brands under the DDC portfolio include Yai’s Thai. 

FOOD DIVE: What was your first job?

NORMA CHU: My first job was as a hostess at a local Mexican restaurant. We moved to Seattle when I was in eighth grade and Beatrice, one of my best friends in middle school, was Mexican, and her dad owned the restaurant. 

I was new to the US and I realized all my friends had part-time jobs, so I told my mom that I didn’t need any more pocket money— I was going to get my own part-time job and make my own money. I started working at Beatrice’s dad’s restaurant. It’s called Tapatio Mexican Grill, and it’s in Newcastle, Washington. It was kind of funny that you walk into a Mexican restaurant and there’s a Chinese girl at the door, but my friend’s dad, my first boss, was the nicest man ever. 

FOOD DIVE: What inspired you to focus on your current work?

CHU: It started when I moved back to Hong Kong. Cooking was one of my passions — cooking and the stock market. I realized that a lot of my friends, didn’t cook; they thought cooking was really difficult, or it wasn’t cool. So I wanted to change that perception. 

So that inspired me to start creating content and encouraging the younger generation to enjoy cooking. That started it and everything we have done since comes back to that original mission, which is to promote cooking culture — in particular, Asian cooking culture. By starting with content, and through the products that we create, we’re really thinking about how do we make cooking easier and more accessible and more fun. 

You can replicate our recipes within 10 or 15 minutes using our very simple instructions — then you can DIY your own ingredients and that’s the whole concept: to make something that seems complicated a lot easier and encourage people to try more Asian cooking at home.

FOOD DIVE: What is the biggest change you have seen in the industry?

CHU: The demand for convenience is more apparent now than ever before. Back when we started creating recipe content I knew short-form content was on the rise. But today, about ten years later, people’s attention spans are even shorter. 

Back then I would make videos that were around three to five minutes, and then you would cut the highlights into one minute. But now it’s like five-second or 30-second videos. And I think it’s the same in terms of how much time people want to spend in the kitchen. 

And the second trend is the demand for a bigger variety of recipe options at home—and what we call the discovery journey. I think it’s a new trend that we see where maybe pre-pandemic, people were more used to cooking from this fixed recipe library that they were very comfortable with. It’s always a combination of eight to ten dishes. But then now, more people are willing to try new things in their home kitchen, which drives a lot more room for innovation and room for products like ours to go mainstream. I think these two trends are more apparent and they’re global. 

People also want food that tastes good and is good for you. Convenient meals and prepackaged meals have been around for a very long time — that it is not new. But I think the supply chain and the ability to create these convenient meals has really leveled up in the past decade or so. Today, what consumer wants, they can actually get — which is premade meals that both taste good and are actually good for you. 

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