As someone who bakes every Sunday for friends and family, American Shaun Smithson has always shown love by sharing food. This passion for food is also keenly felt by the other three co-founders – including chairman Kishin RK, 36, one of Singapore’s youngest billionaires – of his food tech company Tiffin Labs. So, naturally, it was all hands on deck when they launched the Food Is Love Foundation to provide meals for those in need during the Covid-19 crisis.
“I’ve always had food as a centrepiece in my life and appreciate the joy it brings to people. During these challenging times, providing meals allowed us to share our passion and respect for food by giving back in a tangible way,” says the 51-year-old.
His Singapore-based company, which owns 10 restaurant brands including Publico Express and Huraideu Korean Fried Chicken, aims to meet the needs of the global in-home dining market.
The Food Is Love Foundation buckled down to work by partnering the Free Food For All charity to prepare and distribute food to the elderly and young families whose breadwinners had lost their jobs. While families in need were of key importance, their aim was also to help the essential workers caring for the community. To that end, they sent meals to the medical workers at Singapore General Hospital and other healthcare facilities. Since the launch of the foundation on April 18, they have delivered over 25,000 meals.
“This chance to show people how much they mean to us has helped my family feel even more at home.”
One of Smithson’s priorities was to provide meals suited to the community’s needs and preferences. Based on a combination of data as well as consultations with Nizar Mohamed Shariff, founder of Free Food For All, the team took pains to adjust and customise the menus. What helped was the fact that Tiffin Labs could leverage on its culinary teams. “The meals were local favourites such as mee goreng, teriyaki chicken, Hainanese chicken rice and pasta.
Where we could, we tried to ensure the recipes were unique and personalised,” he says. Together with his team, he was able to assist with food deliveries on the ground on occasion and meet beneficiaries. “People were genuinely thankful. I was humbled
by their appreciation and how the interactions showed a mutual respect for one another. We have all been through tough times and have had to deal with challenges.
For his second home
This experience allowed me to be both introspective and grateful,” he reflects. Smithson adds that there are plans to introduce this ongoing initiative to other markets as Tiffin Labs expands beyond Singapore. “Our team is excited to work with organisations that make a difference in peoples’ lives.” For the F&B veteran who moved to Singapore from Washington DC with his wife, daughter and mother-in-law 18 months ago, being involved in this grassroots initiative also gave him the opportunity to connect with the local community.
It also touched his family and strengthened their ties here. “We fell in love with the country and its people, and we’ve felt welcomed from the start. This chance to show the people how much they have meant to us has helped us feel even more at home – like we belong here and made a difference.”
Paying It Forward
Running a food distribution foundation during Covid-19 helped Tiffin Labs co-founder Shaun Smithson forge an even closer bond with the local community.
“Growing up, my father travelled a lot for work and my mother did not drive, so we often got rides from our neighbours. We were appreciative of how people treated us and, as we grew up, we always tried to return that in kind. My mother taught us to understand that others maybe going through tough times and she lived by that through her giving and caring spirit. That’s probably why taking care of others is something that brings me joy.”