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This Online Bookstore Proves That Food Literature Isn’t Dead

What started as a mindless 3 am phone call has taken on a life of its own. The Kitchen Bookstore is now the most far-reaching online bookstore in the country

Photo by Jilson Tiu

When Rajiv Daswani called his friend Miguel Angeles at three in the morning to vent his frustrations over local bookstores, setting up The Kitchen Bookstore was the last thing either one expected to do.

Daswani’s frustrations ran deep—from how bookstore staff wouldn’t know the status of their stocks, to how books always seem to either be in poor condition or marred with offending price tag stickers. Angeles, on the other hand, couldn’t care less. “I just wanted to sleep, and suddenly my phone rings. You [wouldn’t expect] someone ranting to you at three in the morning, right?” Angeles recalls. “So to shut him up and to get back to sleep, I told him, ‘why don’t you just make your own bookstore?’ And then he said, ‘Okay.’”

They meet for dinner that same day, and Daswani’s already armed with research. “[He said,] ‘I take it we’re really doing this.’ I told him, ‘you said let’s start a bookstore, so let’s do it!’”

Somehow, it worked. Daswani’s meticulousness and publishing contacts paired

with Angeles’ [desire] to get hands-on business experience worked brilliantly to help them launch what might just be the most far-reaching online bookstore in the country today. And they’ve only been open for two years.

What’s most surprising for the pair though, is how the bookstore now caters even to readers from remote provinces and countries. “There’s a huge provincial market…[even] in far-flung places like Batanes and Sultan Kudarat,” Daswani says.

Despite coming from different backgrounds—Daswani graduated culinary from Enderun and worked previously in Noma and SATS, while Angeles’ expertise lay in marketing—their dynamic is systematic. With books and food as his passion, Daswani naturally has control over the kind of books to be included in their catalog. Most, if not all, of the books they sell are ones Daswani had read himself first. Angeles on the other hand, takes charge of the backend: the paperwork, legal matters, monitoring stocks at the warehouse, and even freight forwarding.

Although they say the bookstore is something they “don’t take seriously,” it can’t be denied that they’ve become an authority for hard-to-find books.

Take Sarap, Doreen Fernandez’ first book on food, for example. They were given only two copies—both sold within two minutes of putting it up on the website.

Another Fernandez work, Kusina III, considered a controversial Filipiniana book on food, was also long requested on their site. The book was shelved because of printing permissions, but because Daswani knew the editor—art critic Cid Reyes—he was able to get copies. “If there are people wanting to do research on food writing, what is available these days? There are no books. That’s the thing.”

What started as a mindless 3 a.m. reply has taken on a life of its own. With the upcoming Anahaw Books (another online bookstore focusing solely on Filipiniana) and a publishing house in the works, The Kitchen Bookstore proves that succeeding in your field doesn’t always mean playing by the book.

What’s most surprising for the pair though, is how the bookstore now caters even to readers from remote provinces and countries. “There’s a huge provincial market…[even] in far-flung places like Batanes and Sultan Kudarat,” Daswani says.

“Someone [also] ordered a book on Hong Kong food and culture… from Hong Kong,” Angeles adds. They’ve also shipped to Dubai, Italy, and Iceland.

Their market has also gone beyond the reach of food literature. “We have customers who write to us like, ‘hey, I know you’re the Kitchen Bookstore and you specialize in food, but I’m looking for some books. Would it be possible if you could get them? And of course, if they’re really good customers, how can you say no? If you can get it, why not?”

What started as a mindless 3 a.m. reply has taken on a life of its own. With the upcoming Anahaw Books (another online bookstore focusing solely on Filipiniana) and a publishing house in the works, The Kitchen Bookstore proves that succeeding in your field doesn’t always mean playing by the book.

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