We had the good fortune of connecting with Justin E. and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Justin, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Mom’s Mala was started in 2018 when I realized I wasn’t able to buy an authentic Sichuan chili oil (or “mala”) at the grocery store. Mala originates from Sichuan and translates to “numbing” and “spicy.” Real Sichuan chili oil is vibrantly red and deeply fragrant, and is a staple condiment in Chinese cooking – as commonly found in Chinese restaurants as ketchup is in American diners. My parents emigrated from Singapore when I was a kid and mala was a staple at the family table growing up, thanks to my mom, though honestly I just took it for granted. Later on, I began making mala myself just to have at home when cooking – refining my mom’s recipe and making it my own. Friends over for dinner would often ask for the recipe. It was then that I realized there was nothing similar to it in grocery stores. Hot sauces/specialty sauces are really in demand these days and I felt people would want this. We now ship product all over the U.S. and have been featured/endorsed by Chris Kimball’s Milk Street, New York Times, LA Times, Andrew Zimmern, and J. Kenji López-Alt. Customers love our product!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This is an impossible question; there is so much to do and so many great local spots! It really depends on what mood everyone is in, but, for sure we’ll stop by Venice (my wife likes Butcher’s Daughter) and Santa Monica, and of course we’d also head east to San Gabriel Valley for some of the best Chinese food in the country (always a fan of Ji Rong in Rosemead).
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My wife deserves all the credit. She put the idea in my head, and we went for it. Naturally she has been the driver and support through it all. And, of course, my mom, for instilling in me the joy of cooking and that food is really about bringing people together.
Richard Luu – https://www.instagram.com/richardluuphoto/