“Not a lot of people realize that rice paper comes dry and all you do is rehydrate it to soften it,” says Pin Minyvong of Pins Kytchen in Warren. She’s describing one step in the process of making Nime Chow, also known as spring rolls – the clear-wrapped veggie-filled delicacy she’s become known for. “We used to roll them fresh at farmers markets. It was like a show – customers would see us taking the rice paper, dipping it in water, airing it out a little bit, and putting the toppings inside. That’s absolutely my favorite thing to make because it really sparks an interest and conversation.”
Like many small food business owners, Pin Minyvong’s journey from home cook to catering chef began with Instagram. Documenting her fitness journey in 2014, she started devising low-carb Asian-inspired recipes and posting them on her page, piquing the interest of many followers and friends who started requesting meal prep dishes. “When I got to 100 meals I was prepping in one day for a week, that’s when I realized, I need to get into a commercial space because this is going somewhere,” she says.
Unlike other chefs launching a business, though, Minyvong’s meal prep service (then called Minymeals) sometimes has to come second to her military career. When she was deployed during the holidays in 2020 to Kuwait, instead of cooking from a commercial kitchen space at Hope & Main in Warren, she relied on rice papers sent from home – and veggies and meats from the DFAC – to make spring rolls for friends. She had the idea to give Rhode Island food businesses some international exposure while also making care packages for the troops, so she called Hope & Main founder and president Lisa Raiola. “When you ask Lisa to do anything, she will do about 20 times what you ask her,” says Minyvong with a laugh. Dubbed Operation RI Made, the initiative brought in not one but 40 boxes of local goods.
The time overseas also gave Minyvong pause to reassess the trajectory of her business and strike a work-life balance. “I wanted to be home with family more,” she recalls. “I have a
nine-year-old daughter and she doesn’t know anything else except myself and her father in the military, so she’s always used to one parent being there and one parent not being there.”
In its early years, Minymeals kept Minyvong busy doing farmers market pop-ups, meal prep, and events. The recent iteration, Pins Kytchen, is more streamlined and specializes in innovative Asian-fusion cuisine. “We call ourselves a boutique caterer,” says Minyvong. “We can’t take all the jobs we get.”
Pins Kytchen also gives back to the community through Hope & Main’s Nourish Our Neighbors program. “Think of it like a full circle,” Minyvong explains. Hope & Main pays small food businesses for chef-prepared meals each week, and for every purchase of a meal, one is donated to a food-insecure family. A portion of ingredients must also be from local suppliers. “Not only are we getting paid to do these meals, but it’s also going back into the economy. It’s a win-win.”
Minyvong has always led with a service-minded approach. “It’s not just about the food,” she says. “One of my goals is to be able to employ those in underserved communities.” Growing up a first-generation Southeast Asian-American to refugee parents from Laos, Minyvong can relate to others transitioning to a new country and trying to find work, and wants to employ those facing language or cultural barriers with fair wages. “We can bridge that gap for them and they’ll feel comfortable working at a place where we understand where they came from. That’s where I want to take this.”
Since returning from deployment, Minyvong has been able to carve out the balance she’s craved. She now works part time at the military base and her day job is in the nonprofit sphere as a programs manager for small businesses. When not catering, she’s putting on a steaming pot of pho to share with her family. Minyvong notes that the “Y” in Pins Kytchen alludes to her own name and her daughter’s, and is a reminder of where she started: “It’s a memory of when my daughter was a baby and she would always find me in the kitchen. It was where love was expressed through cooking.” Pins Kytchen services all of RI; follow on @pins_kytchen or visit PinsKytchen.com.
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