Bea Aurelio-Saguin & Christy Innouvong-Thornton, Co-Founders of Tuk Tuk Box: Spreading the Food, History & Beauty of Southeast Asian Cultures
Location: San Diego, California & Bangkok, Thailand
Services: Specialty food retailer business, offering curated Southeast Asian subscription boxes and products
We are excited to have finally connected with Bea and Christy to learn more about their team and business. With their professional backgrounds of giving back to their communities, they are continuing to celebrate and educate others about our Southeast Asian cultures, even during this pandemic. Read more to learn about why you should be supporting Tuk Tuk Box today! - Jas
What are your roles at Tuk Tuk Box?
We, Bea Aurelio-Saguin and Christy Innouvong-Thornton, are the Co-Founders of Tuk Tuk Box. We are all friends and have worked well together over the years. Christy is also one of the founders of the non-profit organization called, "Courageous Kitchen." She is highly involved in refugee-serving organizations. Allison and I used to work at an Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Social Justice Organization- Christy and I started Tuk Tuk Box together. Allison is our Operations Manager.
What made you become interested in having a specialty food retailer business to promote Southeast Asian food?
Bea: Tuk Tuk Box is my “vehicle” of learning about my family’s deep history and diving into my questions growing up, "Who am I? Where is my family from? What did my ancestors eat and experience, and how did they live?"
Through my travels and global health experience, I still found a big gap and question I kept asking, "Why was there a lack of Southeast Asian focus in addressing health disparities? Why weren’t we at the tables being a part of these discussions?" I started volunteering at Courageous Kitchen 4 years ago and never looked back.
Christy: I started Courageous Kitchen nearly 7 years ago with a friend in Bangkok. We currently serve over 400 asylum seeking and refugee families in Thailand and now, San Diego. It started as English lessons in my apartment which eventually led to pop-ups around the city and later, cooking classes. We also led street food, market tours and classes to generate funds for the organization. Through these experiences, we are able to teach supplementary education, as the refugee families have little to no pathway in Thailand. We do this through mentorship, food education, math, English, and basic transferable skills like budgeting and kitchen management.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we could no longer work directly with tourists in Thailand or San Diego. We had to figure out a sustainable way to generate funds for the families we serve and continue to bring education and awareness of our communities. Through my work, I have had the privilege to work alongside many chefs or food entrepreneurs. I have sent out Thai cooking kits and ingredients to people in my network for years, but with the shutdown, my regular clients didn’t have access to the Southeast Asian food they longed for.
Bea suggested that we offer a subscription box model for those who were missing the classes and cuisine; and so, we set to work - building Tuk Tuk Box and connecting all of the pieces: Food, Southeast Asia, and social impact. Not only offering the customers the items they desire, but a nostalgic experience that engages, educates, and gives back.
What is your favorite part of owning your business so far? What are the challenges?
Bea: As I navigated my way through the nuances of being a first generation Southeast Asian American in school, I developed a strong connection and passion for knowing what made my community what it was and finding out how it shaped me. I went to school and studied history, but my community’s history was never told. One of my favorite parts of owning my own business is that we can bridge the gap and teach others about our community in a way that other people have not. We have full reign on everything that we want to share! Through Tuk Tuk Box, we are pushing the question of, "Why aren't we at the table?”
Christy: Everything Bea said and more. Questions of identity were always on my mind, and especially the frustration of not having representation anywhere. In the media, in the culinary industry, in the workplace. I’m tired of being the only one. Tuk Tuk Box is here to show us that Southeast Asians are visible, we’re loud, we’re proud, we’re unapologetic and we’ve got damn good food. We’re not going anywhere. We want you to read our stories, or try a snack and say “Hey, this looks like my mom,” or “My grandpa gave me this candy when I was little!” Not only the stories but the food will hopefully evoke emotion.
The challenges, of course with any new venture, is capital. We’re doing this ourselves, without a silver spoon in our mouth and with our own savings, building everything from the ground up. It’s bootstrapping, as our parents and ancestors did. We’re resilient because we have to be.
Tell us about your products or services!
Our monthly Southeast Snacks subscription box always has something sweet, salty, and spicy. You get to choose your funk level - a Lil Funky, Funky Fresh, and Funkylicious. The latter of which may have new or exciting flavors like mung bean, squid, and durian. We donate a minimum of 10% of subscription sales each month to Courageous Kitchen. If you’re not ready to commit, you can also make a one-time purchase of any of our items.
If you are a subscriber, you’ll have a different theme every month. Each box highlights a particular culture and community. You will find someone's story within that community, as well as snacks to go along with the history of that culture. In December, for instance, our theme was “Traditions of the Mekong” where we highlighted a few small businesses and products that aligned with the theme. We want to celebrate and teach others about cultures that they may not be familiar with.
You will also receive a QR code that will lead you to our website where you can read more about our featured story of the month. We have stories with the chefs, food suppliers, and businesses that we’ve partnered with, as well as some fun items like our Southeast Noods box, which was a collaboration with our friends from Laos Supply. It features 6 packs of instant noodles, a Lao-themed mask, chopsticks, and stickers among other things.
What else would you like for people to know about you and/or your business?
Thank you for your supporting our Southeast Asian woman owned business and believing in our mission. We are grateful for the opportunity to connect and uplift our community.
Additionally, we are always looking for people within our Southeast Asian diaspora who are willing to share their stories, volunteer, or collaborate with us.
If you are a part of a food business, we'd love to share your products.
Please follow our journey at tuktukbox.com, Instagram, and TikTok @tuktukbox.
Thank you to Bea, Christy, and your Tuk Tuk Box Team for the work that you do for our API communities. As a podcast team, we stand by your mission to educate others about our unique, collective stories as Southeast Asians.