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When you go to buy a meal-prep service or a meal kit, you’re probably thinking about dinner—not about fighting food insecurity. But that mission is at the forefront of Saranya Cooks Thai, which delivers recipe kits equipped with all of the ingredients and instructions required to make Thai salads, noodle and rice dishes, curries, soups, drinks, and desserts. For every kit sold to residents across the Front Range, owner Zonya Saranya Dawson donates a food box to a local immigrant or refugee family in need.
But Dawson’s efforts go a step further: She’ll find out the family’s preferences, personally shop for the contents of the box to ensure the recipients get foods that both support their dietary restrictions and cultural needs, and deliver it straight to their home. “Healthy, culturally relevant food shouldn’t be a luxury. I don’t like living in this world of ‘beggars can’t be choosers.’ It’s a terrible way of living, of being human,” says Dawson, who has delivered over 440 food boxes since starting Saranya Cooks Thai.
Dawson got the idea for the donations when she served as the victim assistance coordinator for Aurora’s Asian Pacific Development Center (APDC), a nonprofit that supports Colorado’s immigrant and refugee communities through health services, outreach, and advocacy. There, she worked with many clients who struggled to secure necessities like food, water, and shelter.
“The barriers for immigrant families to access food is just enormous. When you come here on a green card, you don’t get to access any of these public benefits until you’ve been here for five years. Then there’s the added language barriers, where to go [to seek assistance], and access to culturally relevant foods, even if they do get to go to a food bank or receive food stamps,” she says.
Dawson, who works full time as the digital and communications coordinator for a nonprofit called Women’s Voice For the Earth, running Saranya Cooks Thai as a side hustle, uses the relationships she established with therapists and case managers at APDC to find families who need support. She’s also worked with Aurora Sister Cities International and Denver Housing Authority to coordinate larger-scale food box donations.
But there are other benefits to ordering a recipe kit from Saranya Cooks Thai, as well, beyond its well-meaning mission. The dishes you’ll prepare—complemented by easy-to-follow family recipes Dawson wrote with the help of her mother and sister—are delicious. In additions to staples like pad thai and tom yum, they give Coloradans a chance to make specialties that aren’t commonly served at local Thai restaurants, such as soup naw mai, a tangy-spicy fermented bamboo salad eaten with sticky rice from Isan (in northeastern Thailand), and guay jap, a comforting Chinese five-spice-tinged soup featuring rolled rice noodles.
Dawson, who moved from Bangkok to Fort Collins 15 years ago, always wanted to open a culinary business. She launched a Thai food catering company in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the popularity of services like Blue Apron and HelloFresh inspired her to start Saranya Cooks Thai in May 2020.
“Those [other recipe kit] services do try to diversify their food, but I don’t think they do a good job of teaching people about the food, using authentic ingredients, and lifting up stories of the chefs that they get these recipes from. I just wanted to do something different,” she says. “My goal is to have a business that is led by food, that starts community conversations, that brings people together and betters the world.”
Dawson is adamant about sourcing all of the ingredients included in her kits at small independently owned grocery stores, such as Little Saigon Supermarket at Westwood’s Far East Center and Lao Market in Westminster. “For me, it’s not about profiting another dollar more by shopping at Costco. That’s not the point. Costco, Walmart, Restaurant Depot— they don’t need my money. These small, family-owned markets need my money,” she says.
As for Dawson’s favorite dishes go, green curry loaded with Thai eggplant, bamboo shoots, and basil is a top pick—but her death row meal would be tom kha, a fragrant coconut curry with chicken. Both specialties, in addition to about 30 others, are available as recipe kits from Saranya Cooks Thai—but they won’t be for long.
Earlier this month, Dawson decided to shift the business to focus on offering a series of virtual cooking classes on Zoom, Facebook, and Instagram Live, which will launch in February, and eventually plans to offer a line of Thai cooking and dipping sauces that will be shipped nationwide. That means the last day to order a recipe kit is this Saturday, January 30.
Dawson is staying true to her mission even in her last days in Colorado by donating a food box for every recipe kit sold before she leaves, giving you the opportunity to bring some joy to both your table and your community.
Saranya Cooks Thai kits ($18–37 for four servings) do not include a protein to give cooks the option to add their own or make their meal vegetarian. The deadline to order is 10 a.m. on January 31, and free delivery is available throughout the Front Range and as far north as Wellington.