New immigrant Adlena Wong started a food business from her own kitchen in the middle of a nationwide lockdown.

The Singapore-born executive and mother-of-two couldn't find a job after a year of sending out resumes, so she decided to marry her Asia-Pacific communications experience with her love of cooking.

The result was Super Shiok Eats, a home-based takeout in Auckland selling Singapore street food on Facebook. "Shiok" is a Singapore and Malaysian colloquialism that means something like really very nice.

"With the borders closed, people can't travel home to stock up on supplies or eat the hawker food they love, so my food has been able to fill that gap, in a way," Wong said.

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Singapore-born Adlena Wong grew her home-based food business out of lockdown. Photo / Dean Purcell
Singapore-born Adlena Wong grew her home-based food business out of lockdown. Photo / Dean Purcell

Whether it's nasi lemak, a coconut rice dish featuring a spicy chilli sauce called sambal, or ba chor mee, noodles tossed in a savoury sauce and topped with minced meat and mushrooms, Wong is banking on giving her mainly Singaporean customers a taste of home while international travel remains at a standstill.

Through lockdown and out, she kept up a regular stream of Facebook posts from food offerings to calls for menu suggestions, connecting directly with her customers.

A Covid-19 small-business loan from the Government helped to pay the costs of registering Super Shiok Eats as a food business, including getting Wong's home kitchen checked and verified by the Auckland Council.

"I applied during lockdown so it took a while for them to come and do the assessment," she told the Herald.

"It cost nearly $2,000, which can make many small businesses think twice, but I just want to do it right knowing the end goal is to get a food truck."

FROM PANIC TO ACTION

Like Wong, Ebony Hessey was able to find the silver lining in the Covid-19 cloud.

Her homegrown clothing business Ebony Boutique was flagging in the years before the pandemic, but is now seeing a revival as customers go local and online.

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Hessey says online sales jumped more than 200 per cent in July and August, while in-store sales grew 30 per cent compared to the same period last year.

"When the first lockdown was announced we were in major panic mode. Our income streams were suddenly cut off, all our money was tied up in our wholesale merino stock that had just arrived," she said.

Ebony Hessey spent lockdown moving her homegrown clothing business online. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Ebony Hessey spent lockdown moving her homegrown clothing business online. Photo / Dean Purcell.

She turned that panic into action, spending the lockdown improving her website so she could shift the business online while her four retail stores - located in and around Auckland - were shut during alert level 4.

"The crisis has given us a new outlook on the business, giving us a whole lot of time that we don't normally have to really work on the business rather than in the business. Because I wasn't tied up in the store, I could focus on the future."

She also credits the Government wage subsidy, calling it "an absolute life saver".

"We wouldn't be going if not for that," she said.

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CONNECT IN CRISIS

Food and retail businesses around the world are taking a major hit from Covid restrictions, but those that are prepared to slightly alter the way they deliver to meet the needs of its existing customers and reach out to new ones can beat the crisis, says Liz Wotherspoon, director of growth at Icehouse, a business growth centre specialising in small and medium enterprises.

"Especially those that stay connected and manage to communicate really well with their customers through lockdown," she said.

"It's a fine balance, you have to confront the brittle facts and still hold that unwavering faith that you can do something to not just survive, but grow and thrive."

BABY STEPS

Back at her home kitchen off busy Remuera Rd, Wong estimates she is selling about 30 to 40 boxes of nasi lemak a day - baby steps, she says.

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Her New Zealand job search was discouraging, but Covid-19 has given her a chance.

"It made me think, why should I wait for people to give me a job? I'll just do it myself."