Since summer, Chef V has been serving her Singapore-style crabs and Southeast Asian cuisine at two pop-ups, Marimakan Crabhouse and Marimakan Seattle, with customers typically paying via Venmo. Last week she hit a snag: Venmo suddenly froze her account with no explanation.
The first of the month is a scary time to have funds become suddenly unavailable, especially as a single parent with rent on the line. Even though she was scheduled for a long-overdue vacation, Chef V worked extra days to cover rent; her friends also quickly launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the frozen funds. After contacting Venmo and a four-day wait, her funds were finally released — now she has plans to repurpose the crowdsourced funds.
“I worked non-stop for two weeks, and [my customers] were just paying me through Venmo,” Chef V says. “I think it was just too many transactions because I didn’t stop, and Venmo flagged my account.”
As the sole operator of Marimakan Crabhouse and Marimakan Seattle, as well as a single parent, Chef V doesn’t always have time to keep a close eye on Venmo transactions or make transfers as soon as a payment comes in. For pop-ups in their early stages, especially with already limited resources, a Venmo freeze could have painful consequences, including losing their ability to operate or pay expenses for an indefinite amount of time. Chef V’s rent scare means she’ll be pursuing other payment options from here on out. “I’m going to stick to Zelle for now, but in the future, I’m also looking into different payment options like a website or [another online] ordering system,” she said.
The GoFundMe campaign raised around $500 in a few days, and was deactivated when Chef V’s Venmo funds were released. Now she’s considering putting a part of that toward her hospital bill for the second-degree burn on her hand sustained while working, and wants at least half to go toward feeding the community. Still in the brainstorming phase, Chef V envisions giving away 60-80 servings of Singapore hawker center food, or fried noodle dishes. Giving back is already baked into her business. “I give back to the community because that is something I never had anyone do for me before … If I hit my target, or whenever I have extra meat, I’ll just give it to whoever needs it,” she said. “If someone needs food, I’ll cook for them.”
Marimakan Crabhouse and Marimakan Seattle were recently featured in local news documenting the increase in Southeast Asian food and pop-up vendors in the city. (Masakan is another Malay family pop-up that started in Seattle last year.) Offering Singapore, Indonesian, and Malaysian family recipes like nasi lemak and prawn mee, Chef V is perhaps best known for her boiled crabs and for sauces that don’t skimp on spice. She gets live crab from local markets and prepares them in signature sauces like mubai garlic, seasoning with crispy chili, garlic, and a hint of umami; Singapore blackpepper; and salted egg yolk topping. She’s had regulars travel all the way from Portland for her boiled crabs.
Having worked virtually non-stop since launching her pop-ups, Chef V is currently taking a two-week break. Follow Marimakan Crabhouse and Marimakan Seattle on Instagram to stay up-to-date about future pop-ups and events.