When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020 and lockdowns fell into place, storied chefs and novices alike sought solace in the kitchen, nurturing sourdough starters and propagating windowsill produce. Sisters and entrepreneurs Kim Pham, 31, and Vanessa Pham, 29, similarly found their way back to their foodie roots, surmising it was the right time to launch their culinary company, Omsom.

Born in Boston to Vietnamese immigrants, the pair cooked up a food brand that sells pouches packed with sauces, aromatics, and spices that pair with a specific recipe listed on Omsom’s website. The buyer needs only to purchase protein and vegetables to whip up the dish at home. With the goal of making Asian flavors accessible to American shoppers, Omsom’s lineup boasts pantry staples for dishes like Thai Krapow and Japanese Yuzu Misoyaki.

In Vietnamese, om sòm means rowdy or rambunctious, and that unabashed authenticity is the ethos at the center of the brand. From the dynamic neon packaging to the lineup of dishes from innovative recipe developers — like Maiko Kyogoku, owner of Bessou in New York City and Deuki Hong, owner and executive chef of Sunday Bird in San Francisco — Omsom sets out to subvert expectations of what modern Asian cooking can look like.

Photo courtesy of Omsom

“Omsom is explicitly our way of reclaiming the complexity, integrity, and nuances of at-home Asian cuisine,” Kim said. “This is our opportunity to give third-culture Asian Americans like us access to a real taste of home and show non-Asian Americans what it means for this category to be done right.”

We spoke to Kim about pursuing passion projects, the model minority myth, and building a bold business.

Spoon University: You both started your careers in different fields. How did you find your way from startups and consulting to food?

Kim Pham: As first-generation Vietnamese-Americans and daughters of refugees, food is not just a love language for us, it’s a way for us to re-engage with our identities. My sister and co-founder Vanessa and I have long wanted to start a business together — we’re best friends. Growing up, we never felt represented by the “ethnic” aisle in mainstream grocery stores, so we wanted to build a company that reclaims and celebrates the multitudes in Asian flavors and stories.

We cut our teeth in startups and consulting, but always knew that food was our heart and soul. It simply felt like a matter of time, and so when we both found ourselves thinking about our next move, Omsom just made sense!

SU: How does your relationship as sisters inspire your business model?

KP: Omsom is truly a reflection of our personal missions of reclaiming and celebrating the multitudes in Asian flavors and stories, which we grew up seeing dumbed down, diluted, and whitewashed. We wanted to build something rowdy as a middle finger to the model minority myth that these communities are so often flattened and erased with, so Omsom truly feels like a manifestation of Vanessa and my wildest dreams.

SU: Why was it so important to you to make these flavors and recipes you grew up with accessible to shoppers?

KP: We grew up just south of Boston, as the daughters of Vietnamese refugees. Our town was largely white (95%+) and for much of our childhood, we struggled with our identities and felt burdened by the shame associated with being different.

SU: In keeping with the spirit of Omsom, all your packaging and merch is very bold and vibrant. How did you conceptualize your branding?

KP: So much of the Asian [consumer packaged goods] category has been dominated by tropes and stereotypes — think bamboo fonts, panda bears, and dragons — a reflection of an outdated, reductionist view of cuisines and cultures that are anything but monolithic.

Photo courtesy of Omsom

In bringing our proud and loud energy into visuals, we were most inspired by heat and fire. These expressions came to life with visual themes like growth, extension, and haze. You can see wavy shimmers on the cuisine types and [universal product code] stickers, as well as the stacked brand name on the sampler packaging. The samplers themselves are modeled on a matchbox with a sliding drawer that replaces the matches with Omsom’s sauces, and the color palette is rooted in bold, fiery tones. On screen or shelf, Omsom’s brand signifies an intention to make you think about what a next-gen Asian brand can look like — one that isn't rooted in nostalgia or Orientalist stereotypes, but instead feels active, exploratory, and adventurous.

SU: How do you choose the chefs you partner with?

KP: Each chef, or Tastemaker, is both celebrated in the industry but more importantly, works to redefine it. Each Tastemaker has connections to each particular dish that runs deep. At the same time, they are all also collectively pushing the future of these cuisines in America. They, like us, understand that modern Asian food doesn’t have to look “one” way anymore. We’re humbled to support and work with chefs at the frontier of that thinking.

All of our Tastemakers receive royalties from their product in a holistic business model that offers additional revenue streams for these industry-shaping chefs and paves the way for truly healthy, collaborative relationships between CPG businesses and the restaurant industry and unites the Asian American food movement on all sides.

SU: What is the impact you hope your brand will have?

KP: Omsom was born to reclaim the cultural integrity of Asian cuisines that are often hard to prepare at home or diluted in mainstream grocery stores — and that will remain our long term goal.

Photo by Emma Fishman

You can currently shop Omsom online and at retailers nationwide like Whole Foods Market and select Target locations, and we're looking forward to expanding our footprint in grocery stores all over America (and maybe one day, globally!) and ultimately redefine the new American pantry. Asian flavors should not be confined to the supermarkets’ “ethnic” aisles, and we’re constantly striving to make that change — not just for us, but for all of the under- and mis-represented communities. Stay tuned and follow our Instagram to see what’s next for us!

SU: What advice do you have for members of Gen Z who aspire to start their own company?

KP: Tough times are brutal, but also force a distillation of what’s real — who you are as a leader, who your core audience is, and what’s most important about your product. While the pandemic forced Omsom to return to a bootstrapped, scrappy mentality, it also reminded us what we’re good at and who we are for — and that’s building with heart for a community that has long been underserved. Take this opportunity, painful as it can be, to remove all the distractions and bells and whistles and focus on your north star as a brand.