As the coronavirus outbreak devastates Bangkok’s independent sellers and local businesses, particularly in its tourism-reliant old quarter, one is reinventing itself as a lifeline for others.
Just two weeks ago, the owners of Once Again Hostel, a five-year-old hostel on Soi Samran Rat, halted operations and turned the venue into a “delivery hub” to connect street food vendors, restaurants, cafes and more to customers sheltering at home in what’s now a delivery-only economy.
They have also recruited struggling motorbike taxis for delivery.
Called Locall.bkk, it was started by the receptionists working at the hostel, who, due to the crisis, were looking to support themselves but also wanted to help the neighbors – the “uncles and aunties” – whose businesses they usually frequented.
“Our hostel has a kitchen where we cook and serve food, but if we do just that, we are the sole survivors. We want other people to survive too,” said Patcharakamol “Ploy” Pornnisen, 24, who never thought she would go from receptionist to crisis startup co-founder.
Late last month, Ploy and three of her receptionist colleagues walked out onto Soi Samran Rat, where the hostel is located, to introduce the delivery platform to vendors there.
Not all understood how it would work, Ploy said, as their entire world had been regular diners and walk-ins.
Locall.bkk now hosts more than 20 vendors selling everything from phad thai and bua loi sellers to 80-year-old Kor Panich’s mango sticky rice. Most of them could never have afforded signing on with mainstream delivery platforms such as Grab or Foodpanda, which deduct up to 30% commissions.
“Working at the hostel, our strength is being service-minded. We always recommended these places for guests to eat. A lot of them are where we usually eat for lunch or dinner too,” said Yada “Pu” Klinsanit, another Locall.bkk co-founder.
“We are familiar with these people, and we want to support them,” Pu, 26, added.
To complete the circuit between seller and customer, Ploy and Pu said they reached out to local win motosai riders in the area, who also have been affected by the absence of tourists.
Their service today reaches 15 Bangkok districts – with most deliveries to Phra Nakhon, Bang Rak and Phaya Thai – Ploy and Pu said they have grown the number of delivery orders from 10 to 30-ish each day.
“We feel that the uncles and aunties seemed more happy. They even showed a little nam jai,” Pu said, referring to Thai-style generosity. “Yesterday, for Songkran, one uncle gave us phad hoi lai [stir fried clams with roasted chili]. Other stores also gave us some snacks. We’re like close family now.”
Trying to keep it green “as much as possible,” Locall.bkk uses paper instead of plastic bags as much as possible. Packages often go out with encouraging post-it notes to customers reading “Enjoy the meal,” “Bon Appetit” or “We’ll fight this crisis together.”
“During this tough situation, we try as much as we can to make our customers happy, even with small things like responding messages or putting post-tit notes on the food packages,” Ploy said. “Yesterday [Songkran Day] we added orchid flowers or a note wishing a ‘Happy New Year’ in it.”
Ploy and Pu said they are expanding the service to cover more vendors and more districts.
Reach Locall.bkk on Line between 10am and 7pm every day.
Customer must order at least THB300 from any number of restaurants on its list. Initially THB30 is charged for delivery, plus THB7 fee for each kilometer. It currently serves 15 districts in Bangkok.
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