Salad & Sandwich Talk with Pernille, Co-Proprietor of “Green Food”

It wasn’t long ago that we came across a local startup making and delivering salads and sandwiches around the South of Chengdu and to the Tianfu Software Park. Authentic western salads with high quality ingredients aren’t easy to find in Chengdu, so we were immediately interested. Below is an interview with co-proprietor Pernille Paulson about her fledgling business.

Chengdu Living: Who are you, and what brings you to Chengdu?

Pernille PaulsonI jokingly refer to myself as luxury imported goods from South Korea. I am adopted from South Korea and grew up in Denmark.

I first came to China in the fall of 2012 to take on a job in Beijing. By the time I had been living there for 3 years I wanted to experience a new and different part of China. At the same time I was fortunate to have the opportunity to start studying Chinese and felt that it would also be conducive for my language studies to get out of Beijing.

It was quite natural for me to look towards Chengdu. In Beijing I had become good friends with two Chengdu natives who had taken me to this city a couple of times, which was always a really great experience.

Chengdu Living: What is Green Food?

Green Food is a salad and sandwich start-up whose mission is to produce and deliver fresh, tasty, high-quality homemade food to our customers.

Green Food salad

Chengdu Living: Where did you get the idea to pursue this business?

My initial reason for moving to Chengdu was to study Chinese for a semester. However since I used to have what I call a small Dutch style pancake hobby catering company in Beijing and also helped a friend launch a craft sausage start-up, I always intended to scope out the market here while studying with the aim of hopefully finding opportunities to start a food business.

Luck or destiny would have it that I ran into my current business partner Ella who is a Sichuan native from Yaan (雅安). We actually already knew each other from the international craft scene scene in Beijing. Ella was a bar manager in one of Beijing’s craft beer breweries and additionally worked in a Moroccan rummery and sports bar.

Ella had moved back to Sichuan after living in Beijing for 6 years and was also looking into opportunities to start a food business in Chengdu. Since we were both planning to launch food businesses we decided to join forces to establish and grow Green Food together.

The idea of doing Green Food came about simply from the shear fact that there still to this day are very few options for salad and sandwich delivery in Chengdu.

Chengdu Living: Before you did this, were you eating a lot of this type of food? What type of food, or restaurant, do you especially enjoy?

In general I try to avoid processed foods and sugars and also try to minimize my carb intake but without being religious about it. I enjoy what I would call real food and the best part of enjoying food is to share it in good company with good drinks.

Green Food salad

If I were to pick any favorites I would narrow it down to Spanish, Mexican, Peruvian and Korean food and naturally Danish open face sandwiches.

Chengdu Living: Do you have a philosophy or mindset for creating or expanding the Green Food menu? If so, what is the criteria?

Taste, freshness and quality are at the core of our product and service offering at Green Food. We are careful and matriculate in our handling of ingredients and we strive to be consistent, and reliable. Of course there is no use of MSG and we make our own salad dressings and sandwich spreads.

Our current menu is fairly simple with an offering of four delicious sandwiches and five salads. We are happy about the overwhelmingly positive feedback we have received so far from our customers about the taste experience.

Green Food wrap

We are currently updating our menu to include a “Mix your own salad” options. It allows our customers to customize their salads according to own preferences or dietary restrictions. So whether you are vegan, vegetarian, doing paleo or keto or simply want to feast on a salad with 10 ingredients you now have that option in our new menu.

Chengdu Living: Why is making a high-quality salad or sandwich in Chengdu so difficult?

I think that it is a mix of (in)convenience and cost which can make it difficult to make high-quality salads and sandwiches in Chengdu if it is that you want to make a salad which contains even just a few imported or hard to get products.

In places like Beijing and Shanghai you have supermarket chains that cater to expats in which you can find a very broad selection of imported brand name food items from all over the world so you can essentially find everything within one supermarket. The items might still be pricy which is also a question of high import tariffs but there is also more competition, which pushes prices down. I think the prices for imported food in Chengdu is definitely higher and there is less selection.

In regards to making sandwiches good bread can be hard to come by depending on which bread type it is your are after. Being Danish I prefer dark bread and have rarely come across really good dark bread.

Chengdu Living: Are any ingredients or materials especially difficult to source? What’s making Western food in China like?

As previously mentioned I think really good bread, depending how picky you are about the kind of bread you want, can be difficult to find.

Additionally finding good affordable organic ingredients is what I have encountered as another challenge. There are organic ingredients available in the market but they are exponentially more expensive than conventional ingredients. A jin (500 grams) of conventional pork is 10-12 rmb while I have been quoted everything from 45-60 rmb for a jin of organic pork. This is an example regarding meats and the price difference regarding vegetables is less extreme.

Chengdu Living: Is your Danish background, or your experience in Beijing, reflected in the food you make? Are they any regional influences?

There is not any explicit Danish influence in the food that we are currently offering but is certainly something which is in the pipeline.

In regards to the experiences Ella and I have made in Beijing we were fortunate to be part of a booming international craft scene and work with and for some really great entrepreneurs from whom we have learned a lot. We try to apply our experiences in all aspects of how we operate from the daily management, to our social media presence and pro-activeness about collaborating and creating events with other companies.

There is definitely a regional influence to our food. We want to make tasty salads and sandwiches with a local touch. So therefore we for example add lajiao you (spicy Sichuan oil) to one of our sandwich spreads. There are also numerous great local spices and oils and ingredients such as tofu and the Yunnan goat cheese reminiscent of halloumi which we are currently working on also incorporating in our menu.

Chengdu Living: How do Chengdu locals see salads and sandwiches – is it a difficult sell? If so, why?

It is my impression that salads are not perceived by Chinese people to be full, or fulfilling meal. Lettuce based salads are also cold and people here are used to eating warm lunch. I think sandwiches are more commonly known but probably seen more as a snack than a meal.

However, I think Chengduers are quite curious and open to try new types of food. There is definitely also a growing awareness about eating healthily and getting and staying fit. Both from the perspective of losing weight and looking good but also just to feel good and have more energy. More people join gyms and pursue an active and healthy lifestyle where sports and eating healthily are complementary.

I think Sichuanese food is delicious but it is also spicy, salty and oily and can be quite heavy. I think both our foreign customers as well as local customers appreciate being able to opt for lighter option such as a salad or a sandwich.

Green Food salads

Then there is also the whole aspect of food safety in China or lack thereof I should say which is a concern for locals and foreigners. I think our emphasis on quality and our transparent communication with our customers works to our advantage in regards to sales and customer retention. Living healthily and being concerned about food safety also ultimately ties together into a greater concern about sustainability and in China particularly environmental sustainability.

Chengdu Living: What do you envision the future of Green Food looking like? What are your hopes for the business?

We have started out pursuing a low cost low risk approach operating from a small kitchen studio and trying to organically grow the business.

It is our hope that we can grow our business and later move to a bigger location where we can offer dine in while simultaneously continue to grow the delivery aspect of the business.

Additionally I would like to see us create a product and service offering and a brand that people associate with fresh, tasty, high quality homemade food and perceive as being a sustainable and green, innovative and trustworthy.

Chengdu Living: Where can people find you, or order from you?

We are currently operating out of a small kitchen studio inside a hotel in the Blue Caribbean complex. We only do delivery for now and use the kitchen space for cooking and meetings etc.

Green Food kitchen

We do same day delivery within proximity of the our kitchen studio. For delivery further away outside of the second ring we kindly ask customers to pre-order before 9pm the day before.

We are now doing daily pre-ordered delivery down to the software park so that gives you an idea of the range we can cover within Chengdu.

Map & WeChat QR Code for Green Food:

Green Food map

Note: this is not a sponsored post, we just legitimately love what Green Food is doing. If you have any thoughts, leave them in the comments below!

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Charlie

About Charlie

Having lived in Chengdu for ten years, Charlie has traveled to every corner of China and back again, calling the Yulin neighborhood of Chengdu his adopted home.

23 Responses to “Salad & Sandwich Talk with Pernille, Co-Proprietor of “Green Food””

  1. “Ella was a bar manager in one of Beijing’s craft beer breweries and additionally worked in a Moroccan rummery and sports bar.”

    This is so hipster it hurts.

    Seen these boutique home food places come and go. Get in the ordering now, while it’s good. Now is the happy time. As soon as the owner gets tired of all the hard work, or bored and shifts her attention elsewhere to her new shiny project, the salad quality will drop dramatically. The workers she hires will start screwing up the orders as soon as she turns her back. Alternatively they’ll learn how she makes her products and open copycat businesses that sell at a discount and cannibalize the entire market.

    Why don’t they use MSG? It’s not a toxic waste product. The MSG scare was debunked decades ago. Science, bitches. Glutamic acid is a natural flavor enhancer as well as a natural byproduct of some aging and fermentation processes. Better known as umami, the fifth taste, makes food taste better. It just does.

    You know what the most risky food ingredient is? Ten million times more toxic than any naturally occurring delicious umami flavoring? Beansprouts. Stay the hell away from those.

    • Charlie

      Hi Harland,

      Boy, you are cynical. Places come and go in Chengdu regardless of what they do, I have never seen business turnover like this anywhere – it is simply in the nature of a rapidly developing place going through growing pains. My thinking is the same as yours – get in the ordering now, while it’s good. It’s condescending to say you know what will happen to this business – no one knows, but why wouldn’t you give the proprietor the benefit of a doubt since they are devoting their time to something that offers so much value to people in Chengdu? I agree that people will open copycat businesses, and I have already heard of some similar businesses starting, but I do not see that as a bad thing. Better this than 10,000 hotpot restaurants in the city, so we can have more culinary options.

      I’m with you on MSG. It remains controversial though and a lot of people still want to avoid it. Not all diets strictly follow science or logic and some people are explicitly avoiding chemical flavor enhancers.

      • Well, these “good idea” food places come and go. I’ve seen this story a dozen times, someone thinks she can make good food, starts making it, everyone loves it, it starts getting big and she finds out just how much work it is and quits. It’s a sad situation but whattaya gonna do? Make hay while the sun shines, say I.

        MSG is not controversial in the least. The science is in, the debate is settled, the conversation is over. It doesn’t cause cancer, doesn’t cause headaches, it never did, and Chinese restaurant syndrome is a hoax. If you don’t follow science or logic then I guess you’re a Trump supporter. Anti-scientific attitudes have no place in modern society and I have no problem calling people out on it. It’s people like you who cause vaccinations to be so “controversial”. Umami is a natural taste and it is right up there with sweet, sour, and the rest.

        • Charlie

          All things come and go, including restaurants good and bad, it is just the way of things. Rather than lament potential future events which have not yet happened to this place I will instead be enjoying their good food. To each their own.

          MSG remains controversial because people’s perceptions of things are usually not perfectly in line with the most up to date scientific literature. Feel free to take issue or call me a Trump supporter (?) but I don’t really see the point.

    • Dan

      Not sure who took a shit in your salad today, Harland, but it must have left a bad taste in your mouth. Perhaps you have a food/restauranteur blog to promote, since you seem to know everything about the subject?

      I, on the other hand, know little but what I’ve seen, and that includes several “boutique home food places” that have gone from out-of-apartment operations into very successful brick and mortar eateries. Mike’s, MunchWich, and Swasou coffee (near my office) come to mind, though I’m sure you’re probably drumming your fingers on the table, checking your watch, and rooting for their demise. I prefer to take the approach of: check these places out when they generate buzz, support it if I like it, and hope for the best. I don’t really have a stake in any of these businesses other than the fact that I like their food (have yet to enjoy Green Food), but to root against them out of hand and in public forums seems like a waste of energy, at the very least.

      The fact of the matter is, this is a low-cost low-risk model, so yes it indeed attracts amateurs, but it also just makes sense to anyone with the gumption to put something out there and test the market.

  2. These places do come and go. But it is nice that there are a lot small businesses opening in Chendgdu, and that they offer a lot of products and services that were not available a few years ago. Generally I feel that as a consumer we benefit from the risks that these entrepreneurs take. And some of the business survive and thrive. There are more than a few local staples in this town that started out as crazy dreams. So I’m not sure what is gained from dissing their potential. Also, decrying things as super hipster is a super hipster thing to do. I agree with the point about the irrational stigma against MSG though.

  3. I tried both the salads and the sandwiches and they were super fresh and tasty!

  4. I don’t care if they come and go. As long they are there it’s a blessing. Yes, it until they ruin the salad.

  5. Is there a website/phone number?

  6. I’ll take Harland’s side. The proprietor of this new restaurant might need a dose of cynicism to realize that western style restaurants have been opening and closing in this country for years and years. Chinese people have very little interest in authentic western food (after all, Sichuan food is of the best in the world). They want a western “experience”, but have zero interest in quality. Just go to a “western” bakery to prove my point. If the new owner of the deli can understand this fact, it might save her some cash. That said, I have complete respect for Chris at Rumba who has basically sold a foreign concept to Chinese folk. I don’t know how he’s done it. Mike’s and Redbeard’s and the rest sell only to fellow lao wai, hence their miniscule dining spaces (no disrespect), but Rumba has somehow sold the concept to giant parties of Chinese. I love it. Best foreign restaurant in Chengdu. I have no relationship with them, but yeah, they got it.

    • Charlie

      There is a kernel of truth to what you say, but I disagree, and I’ll tell you why.

      There is no indication from this interview that the proprietor of this small delivery company is going to take over the world with salads. Discounting their ability to expand to a large side is uncalled for because it is (remotely) possible and that was never a stated goal in the first place. Go inside Grandma’s Kitchen or Peter’s and tell me what you see – it is 90% local patrons eating Western food. I can imagine you and Harland rolling your eyes at the proprietors of either of those restaurants saying they didn’t have a chance, but you would be wrong.

      But for the sake of argument, let’s say that Green Food indeed does appeal only to expats in Chengdu. What’s the problem with that? There are plenty of expats here to support a niche food delivery business run by two people out of a small kitchen.

      And Rumba as best foreign restaurant in Chengdu, again I disagree. The last time I went there they had spaghetti on their menu. I asked why and the answer was “Because Chinese people like it”. It can’t even come close to touching the authenticity of places like Mike’s, Johnny’s, Iron Pig BBQ, etc. Because all of those establishments are run by people who are focusing squarely on the food of their home countries that they grew up with. There is nothing fake about any of those places.

      • Why would spaghetti not belong in a Latin Bistro? Weird comment

        • Charlie

          Because spaghetti is Italian. I spoke with the owner of Rumba about it, his reply: “It’s not Latin, but it’s what Chinese people want”. While I can understand the practicality of that mindset, that is the kind of compromise that I hate. I would be similarly turned off to visit a Japanese restaurant with burritos on the menu, or a Chinese restaurant which serves sushi. Authentic eateries have the discipline to say no to things that fall outside their area of expertise. While at Rumba I was with a good friend who’s a F&B veteran with two decades of experience and he had this to say: “Almost everyone compromises here. This is China”. I’m not a F&B industry insider but that has been my observation as well. This only makes the authentic places even more rare and special. So be it, speaking personally, I only regularly patronize a very small number of establishments anyway.

          As far as Rumba’s longevity: I guess we’ll see about that. But that is not as important as what is high quality, authentic, affordable, and available now. That is what this post is about.

  7. “The proprietor of this new restaurant might need a dose of cynicism to realize that western style restaurants have been opening and closing in this country for years and years. ”

    To be fair, opening any restaurant in China has the same risk as opening a restaurant in the US. The investment maybe lower but this is also an industry that has a 95% failure rate. It should also be noted that Chinese owned establishments fail at the same rate as Western establishments (At least I believe so, no statistics to back that up). The local owners have the same fears as what has already been mentioned above. How often have you seen someone open a restaurant in a location that has had multiple failures in the past few years?

    In the book “The One Hour China Book: Two Peking University Professors Explain All of China Business in Six Short Stories”, the authors strictly advise against trying to compete in the food industry. It is a tough market with a high failure rate. With that being said, I have a lot of respect for those who try to make it in such a competitive industry.

    Too bad there is no website with a menu. I don’t know why everything is going towards wechat codes/groups for PR. Are websites, newsletters, etc. a thing of the past? There are other places that are doing this as well, not just this one establishment. Guess I am out of touch with today’s times…

    • Charlie

      They have a website which is in development – when that is available, I will post that information here. In China, WeChat seems to be the “Facebook, Twitter and website” for a lot of local businesses all in one.

  8. Ray
    Ray (sdplisskensameguy) Reply April 8, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    I gotta say I thought the Cuban sandwich at Rumba was pretty good, and the owner seemed like a nice guy. They do very well cos they play some good Latin music and people are actually dancing (and some do it very well!). It’s a fun night out at that place….

  9. Green Food is doing well, and why not at least Pernille and co are doing something they love and is making the business work for now, I wish I had the guts to at least try something without fretting about failure.

    After reading some of the negative comments I thought to myself the owner didn’t use your money to run the place, you aren’t paying the bills, you are not taking the risk that small business owners do and if it doesn’t work out you are not going to be held responsible so stop hating. Honestly some of the comments are just dreadful, live a little, spread the love and eat some Green Food it might make you smile!!

    I wish Good Food well, at least they are taking the risk and using the initiative to do something and like everything all good things come to an end so enjoy it while you can.

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