ProfileThe ‘Kangkong King’ has big dreams

The ‘Kangkong King’ has big dreams

Frank Anthony Gaw wants to transform the commonplace water spinach into a world-class Filipino product—and provide more jobs for farmers

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Businessman Frank Anthony Gaw always makes a splashy entrance with some statement fashion.  He arrives for the interview in a bright green foliage-printed Uniqlo shirt over jeans and a hefty Ingersoll watch. The 31-year-old businessman follows the peacock theory of dressing up in bold colors to stand out from the rest of the room, with the aim of leaving an impression.

Frank Gaw shows off the eight variants of kangkong chips.

The leaf patterns on the shirt are a reference to his growing business, Kangkong King, water spinach chips.  The brand name is likewise a pun on King Kong, the giant ape with human intelligence. The business’ mascot, the ape with a crown, is a nod to Gaw’s Chinese zodiac sign, the monkey.

His Kangkong King Food Corporation, of which he is president, is a small-scale enterprise with big dreams: to transform the commonplace water spinach into a world-class Filipino product—and provide more jobs for farmers. Its unique selling point is clean, hand-grown kangkong fried in coconut oil. Of the seven flavors, the salted egg, the original, and barbeque are the most popular. To reduce wastage, the stems are donated to the zoo for animal feed.

Co-founders of KKK Food Corp. Anne Gaw, Frank Gaw, and Andrew Tan-Lee

 The original Kangkong King is a hot cup of water spinach, fried and flavored in front of the customer in select malls. The sizes of the cups are named after the various monkey species—tarsier for a small serving, the medium-sized chimpanzee, the large-sized orangutan, and the ape for the extra-large serving. During the pandemic, Kangkong King pivoted to packaged chips, which have maintained their nutritional value, freshness, texture, and shape despite a long shelf life.

Each pack contains chips that are handmade leaf by leaf, weighing 60 grams.

Since the company’s inception in 2019, sales have been doubling every year as the production moved from their home kitchens to a professional commissary in Malabon. The workforce has increased from a handful to 50, and the network of kangkong farmers in Bulacan, Rizal, and Pampanga is growing steadily.

The five-year-old product has passed local and international manufacturing and safety standards, including halal requirements and those of the United States Food and Drug Administration. The certifications have allowed the product to be sold not only in major malls, Kultura, SM Snack Exchange, partner stores, and e-commerce sites, but to be exported to Filipino stores in the United States, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Italy.

Visualization

Gaw cites The Secret by Rhonda Byrnes, a book about attracting what you want through consistent visualization and manifestation, as his inspiration. Since childhood, he always dreamed of having his own chain of tasty snack foods. The image kept recurring in his mind.

Part of Frank’s monkey collection

“When I want something, I write it down and tell God. But it also takes hard work and good character to achieve your goals,” he says.

Though a graduate of human resource management from the College of Saint Benilde (CSB), he became a serial entrepreneur, selling cars, trucks, condos, and spa services.

One day, while munching on kangkong chips at a Filipino restaurant, Gaw thought of developing his appetizer into a convenience food in various flavors. He enlisted his long-time buddies Andrew Tan Lee, who is skilled in operations, and Benjamin Ng, a research and development (R&D) specialist in formulating the water spinach chips and their flavors. When they joined a weekend bazaar at Fisher Mall, sales at their kiosk were brisk. In schools, the flavored fries lured students to eat vegetables instead of snacking on junk.

“I didn’t eat vegetables before this,” says Gaw. “Kangkong has become my favorite because it’s fried like tempura.”

The two products of Kangkong King: The packed chips (left) and the freshly cooked, available at kiosks (right)

Gaw used up his savings from his businesses and sold his car to invest in a kiosk at Robinsons Manila.  The first brick-and-mortar outlet was launched on his birthday, Sept. 5, 2019 with the guidance from his father, business and feng shui consultant Francis Gaw. The latter also assisted his son with the rent and advised him to place the cashier in an auspicious spot to attract fortune, while the cooking station should avoid facing North (ruled by water) and West (ruled by sundown). Occasionally, the older Gaw would visit the commissary in Malabon to detect evil spirits and get rid of them.

As the business grew, the father built a three-story edifice, where the son rented space. The conference room is littered with the younger Gaw’s collection of monkey toys which symbolize playfulness, cleverness, courage and good luck in Chinese horoscope. If he were to acquire an artwork, he says, he would invest in larger monkey models or a painting of the Kangkong King ape.

People person

Gaw attributes the company’s success to his team: Lee, the operations manager; Ng, head of R&D; Jay Tan, the team’s wholesome senior advisor, and his sister Anne Gaw, an industrial design graduate from CSB who created the packaging and corporate visuals and leads sales and marketing.

A company trip to Malabon Zoo with employees’ families

“Frank is a people person,” says Lee. “The employees, the partners, and the customers are his top priority.” During the peak months, Gaw would visit the kiosks and the commissary, boosting the morale of a tired staff or attending to shoppers.

In his entire life, Gaw has only experienced romance once. With his busy schedule and huge dreams, the young boss says he will think about love and marriage in a few years.

Despite his ebullience, Gaw admits to being vulnerable at times. The last time he “cried” was when he was simultaneously stressed by the pressures of work and misunderstandings. “I realize that I’m only normal. I felt relieved afterwards,” he says.

For leisure, Gaw enjoys traveling to Japan for its vibrant melding of tradition and modernity, and the pristine but fastidiously-prepared food. His favorite spot is Dotonburi, the Osaka district famous for its quirky character and the eat-till-you-drop food scene.

During the interview, Gaw says in jest that he will spend a weekend in Siargao, where he might meet the woman of his dreams. Meanwhile, he is thinking about purchasing a farm to help more farmers.

Visit their website at www.kangkongking.com and Facebook and Instagram accounts at @kangkongkingph or you may contact them at 0945 55 32 555.

Kangkong King’s mall kiosks are located at Robinsons Place Manila, Robinsons Galleria, SM Fairview, Alabang Town Center, and One Ayala Terminal.

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