28 January, 2015

That Girl: Calista Goh, founder of Anything But Salads

28 January, 2015

This week’s That Girl is the brains behind one of our favourite health food stores, Anything But Salads. This cute store stocks healthy and delicious snacks that we’re a little bit addicted to here at Sassy HQ! Not only is Calista Goh a genius in the kitchen when it comes to creating these munchable snacks, but her story is definitely one of the most inspiring we’ve ever heard.

We catch up with Callie to find out what her favourite secret shopping spots are, how she filters through all the health info on the web to come to her own conclusions and what her top health tips are. Read on to get the lowdown on the motivational story behind Anything But Salads…

that girl - callie abs black and whiteFill us in on your background and where you grew up? How did you end up in Hong Kong?
I was born in Singapore in May 1985, to a beauty queen mother and a professional, hardworking father. I grew up in Singapore during my early years and migrated to Hong Kong with my family in 1992. I lived, studied and played here till 1997 – when my parents felt the uncertainty of the handover and we moved back to Singapore. Dad had a full-time job in China, so the family spent half of each year shuttling between Singapore and Beijing (later Shanghai).

Growing up, I enjoyed the privilege of living and visiting many different countries. To be honest, I’ve always considered myself a citizen of the world. There’s no particular place I call home because every city, town, house, room, country, or environment is home to me. And that’s who I really am – a vagabond of experiences and culture. A child of the Earth! I ended up in Hong Kong, again, in 2007. My fiancé (at the time) had moved to Hong Kong for work and I followed suit while completing my degree in UK. I moved back to HK officially at the end of 2011 to start Anything But Salads. Since then, it’s been my home.

that girl callie abs - home 2Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I live in a quaint little ensuite at Tai Ping Shan Street, Sheung Wan. This street is part of a larger community that everyone’s beginning to refer to as “POHO” – I love it! There’s a bustling artistic and vintage vibe ebbing through the veins of the neighbourhood. Cute little cafés and tea shops are open just around the corner and urban myth has it that this is along the path of a troupe of blazing dragons who fly down from the top of the Peak towards the ocean daily. I’ve been told it’s good Feng Shui. I wouldn’t know – I picked my home because I picked the shop location (yes, I am a self-confessed lover of my business and I chose to be as close to Her as I could!).

that girl - callie abs home

A trademark of my home, and the most personal and sacred space in any of my home spaces, is my altar. I am spiritual. Not religious. Spiritual. And the anchor of my home is found in the semi-precious stones I handpicked lovingly during my travels, as well as the Hawk’s feather I have to do some shamanic cleansing at home. I am also a creative and artistic individual – I love the poetry of words and the fluidity of brushstrokes. As such, the walls of my home are always peppered with postcards, quotes, photographs and other objects I curate during my extensive travels abroad.

that girl callie dog

Beyond that, you’ll now know it’s my home because I have a gorgeous toy poodle, Gaia, who drapes herself in unabashed glory and splendor across my bedspread, fresh laundry and dirty laundry. She thinks she’s Queen of the bed. I beg to differ.

that girl callieWhere do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I love food (I mean, look at me, I’m a health foods entrepreneur and opened 2 other restaurants prior to ABS!), so I shop for foods – good foods.

The usual shopping places apply of course:

My ‘secret finds’ would be anything off the beaten path:

I adore little hole in the walls and exploring new food places. It keeps me entertained and my tummy occupied!

For clothes and the likes – I have stopped shopping for a year and a half. Rather, I have chosen to sell most of my belongings for charity – to help raise awareness for various non-profits e.g. Liberty Asia. But if I had to shop, I prefer online shopping, e.g. ASOS, or shopping overseas. My fashion style is eclectic but I feel most at home in Urban boho chic.

What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
I don’t drink – I just never liked it. I prefer cafés and home cooking. But see above list for a list of places I go to fill my tummy!

that girl callie abs - graffitiWhat is your favourite place in Hong Kong?
A small rocky cliff on Dragon’s Back. I go there from time to time to pray and meditate and relax. I love taking my dog up there and we just sit and watch the big expanse of the ocean while enjoying the breeze. 

What do you do to relax/in your free time?
I meditate, work out (functional training), dance, sing in the shower or while packing laundry, take my dog out for long hikes or have a quiet moment with a cup of tea early in the morning. I also love going to the movies and laughing with my friends.

I’m currently hooked on the series Homeland – so that’s taking up most of my time! In fact, my productions team and I put it on as we produce our food! Some people call it multi-tasking. I call it “having a f*ing awesome time!”

Any New Year’s Resolutions for 2015?
Tonnes! But it all falls under one big umbrella category – “Take care of myself better”. This includes emotionally, physically (I’m working to get back into my bikini modelling day physique), spiritually and financially. 

that girl - calli abs store

Tell us how you started Anything But Salads, where did it all begin?
I have always been into health and wellness. Truth be told, I was never a really skinny individual. Since I come from an Indoneisan-Portugese-Chinese heritage, I had curves a normal Asian/Chinese teen would not. In my family’s terms (who are strictly Asian in thinking and traditions), I was “fat”. I became extremely conscious about my health and wellness – working out, drinking lots of water – I did everything everyone told me would work. But it got me nowhere. If anything, it resulted in me having a tumour in my intestine at age 24. Clearly, there was much more to health than just food quantity and exercise.

The year leading up to the discovery of the tumor was painful – in all senses. I couldn’t eat without pain, I couldn’t wear my clothes as I had a perpetual bloat in my tummy… Eventually, the tumor (which was the size of a 2-inch sausage) was removed and thankfully was benign. The years leading from that surgery involved an absolute new appreciation for foods. I could no longer stomach conventional, processed foods. I had to “eat clean“. But I didn’t know what “eat clean” meant. I was in UK at the time, and a visit from my childhood friend resulted in a trip to Saf, London’s first raw food cafe at the time, and a gloriously painless meal. I was stoked. I finally found something I could eat.


Thus began my self-study into the world of nutrition, foods, food preparation methods, alternative medicine, detox, health and wellness. I juggled my final two years of law school with courses at Saf, then I moved to HK with my then-fiancé to do a graduate programme. I really struggled with eating healthy here as there weren’t many options except salads drenched in commercial dressings with canned foods.

Now you know why my business is called “Anything But Salads“. I was so sick of unhealthy salads masquerading as health foods, and I knew all people needed was the OPTION to eat better. I gave up my career in law and threw myself wholly into entrepreneurship. ABS began as a snacks business, as I knew I wanted portable health. I knew that lifestyle changes had to be simple and easy. Unfortunately, the market wasn’t ready for healthy snacks, and I received many requests for catering instead. So ABS took a detour and we went into catering. My life during the year of ABS catering was ridiculous. I ran deliveries myself, I came up with recipes myself, I managed inventory, PR, marketing and didn’t have a life. I worked really hard… the vision was greater than myself.

So Noel (co-founder of ABS) and I decided to close ABS for 3 months to restructure the business. In August 2013, ABS reopened as a snacks manufacturing company. We came back with a stronger vision and a bigger mission. This time, I didn’t just want to revolutionise the way some people ate, I wanted to revolutionise the way the world ate. Today, ABS is all about democratising health foods. We’re all about social change and social advancement through foods. Read the full story here.

that girl callie store

What were some of the most memorable moments setting up Anything But Salads and why?
We have a saying in Anything But Salads – every day is a GREAT day. Every moment is precious to us and so every moment is memorable.

But if I had to pick, I would say that some of the most memorable ones are all the “hard” ones – you know, those instances where you’re sitting there, tired to the bone, but plugging away to make your dream work? I have slept on my kitchen floor because I didn’t have time to go home to shower and change before delivery the next morning; pulling all nighters to make an H&M catering event happen (I was the only person in the company at the time); sitting with Noel, figuring out how to put together a video using iMovie so that we could submit our application for an accelerator programme (which we eventually won!) and more.

These moments are the most memorable ones because I stand here, with the benefit of hindsight, looking back and giving myself and everyone who supported us a big hug and pat on the back. It makes us appreciate the little ‘wins’ even more and makes every single moment more precious. Looking back now, I am so proud of my team – we have come a long way.

that girl callie doorDo you think your background in law has helped you with starting up your own business?
Most definitely. I have another degree in Psychology and Business as well – so the trifecta of Law, Psychology and Business most definitely helped. Law helps me in making smart decisions about intellectual property, my company’s rights and it also empowers me with knowledge on how to read, draft and analyse a contract. Law helps me protect my business better.

Psychology makes me aware of consumer behaviour. I am always aware that we would not be where we are today without our fans and customers. So for us at ABS, customers come first. I made it part of our corporate culture to always listen to what our customers are saying and to tailor our products to their needs. Psychology also provides a good foundation upon which excellent customer service stems from. We were nominated Most Valuable Service company in HK for 2015! So we’re stoked about that. And business… well, I think that’s pretty evident how it contributes! *grin*

What challenges have you come across setting up ABS? Any advice for people interested in starting their own business?
The challenges are the same common ones for most start ups – funding how to use funding wisely, the business plan, the customer segment, the connections and attracting the right social capital with nothing more than a vision and an idea. The other more physical challenges involve meandering our way around the food factory licensing requirements, the high costs of rent and defeating the stereotype that healthy foods are (1) boring, (2) not tasty, (3) 100% plant-based (untrue) and (4) low in fats. Educating and changing consumer behaviour is the most challenging task we have to date. 

that girl callie - food

There’s SO much information out there about health – with lots of differing opinions. How do you filter through it all to come to your own view on what is and isn’t healthy?
We read – a lot. I have the benefit of a psychology degree so the training helps me understand the value of scientific studies. At ABS, we rely firstly on the science, then take that with a pinch of salt (as most studies are inconclusive, merely suggestive) and experiment on ourselves and also pay close attention to what naturopaths and alternative medicine practitioners have to say about their practical experience with clients.

We listen. We experiment and we study. Balance everything and keep our minds open.

What are your Top 5 favourite products from Anything But Salads?

– Life Rawnola

– CACAO organic herbal mushroom chocolates (all 4 flavours!)

– Living Almond Butter

– Organic Chai Masala Kombucha

– Organic Raw Spirulina Honey

that girl callie abs - end photoTop easy tips/changes people can make to live a healthier lifestyle now?
Upgrade your current food favourites to healthier options. Don’t make drastic changes – do it slowly and incrementally. For example, swap your average beef steak to an organic grass-fed beef steak. Swap normal potatoes to sweet potatoes and incorporate dark leafy greens to your diet instead of lettuce (which are useless for health).

What are your hopes and dreams for Anything But Salads?
That we continue doing society a service by substituting commercial market spaces with healthy food options. That the youths of today (“Millennials”) have healthy options and will want healthy options domestically and internationally. We hope to expand our mission and vision to USA, Europe and China; spread the word and educate more on health and nutrition. We want people to be healthy naturally.

Working with Mother Nature today to inspire a better tomorrow. Anything But Salads is set to revolutionise the way we eat!

All photos by the talented Martice Milton – www.marticemiltonphotography.com. Check out the rest of our That Girls here!


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