Getting to Know a Local Refugee Owned Business

By: Elizabeth Khounlo, IIC Marketing & Communications Intern

Entrepreneurship is often a long and difficult road, especially challenging as a refugee or immigrant learning to navigate in a new country. In recognition of November marking the celebration and empowerment of global entrepreneurs, Iowa International Center got to know a local refugee-owned business.

GoDeli is a family delivery service in Des Moines that began in December 2020. The Theppanya family created GoDeli, focusing on providing service to those who could not make it to the grocery stores and convenience for cooks to utilize time in their kitchen with ingredients they need at their doorsteps. 

The owners of GoDeli noticed many people were ill or affected by COVID-19 and were unable to go to the grocery stores. Older generations would typically ask their children or grandchildren to make their grocery runs. One of the owners of GoDeli, Phonemany Theppanya, said they offered their service as an avenue in case people were sick, busy or working. “We thought of GoDeli as an opportunity of how we could help.” 

Phanh and Phonemany Theppanya are sisters who were born in a Thailand refugee camp and arrived in the United States in 1986. The sisters created GoDeli along with Phanh’s son, Savanhphone, and his girlfriend, Sarah Ha. Savanhphone and Sarah both have many family members who are also refugees and immigrants. 

Although refugees to the United States, entrepreneurship was nothing foreign to Phanh and Phonemany. Their parents would go fishing in the summer, garden, mushroom hunt, and bring their findings back home to sell. “We kind of grew up with that business mind already, and we knew growing up we wanted to run a business. GoDeli was just an opportunity that we jumped on,” Phonemany said.  

Coming from a refugee background, Phonemany said it’s made GoDeli more customer-focused in understanding their customer’s mindset in what they can provide for them. For example, GoDeli will select the more affordable option from another store for the same product if they know it’s cheaper elsewhere. “We know cost is probably what they’re looking for. Being an immigrant and a refugee to the United States, you kind of had to find ways to save money,” she said. 

GoDeli partners with several local vendors and small businesses, including Baysy Inthachack, Thai Grocery, Mi Casa Bakery, Coco & Nini’s, and Annally Thachith. However, they also offer delivery of items from businesses outside their partnerships.

As more patrons go out to restaurants and grocery stores than from the pandemic’s start, Phonemany believes there’s still an opportunity of service for GoDeli in the community. She noted that many Asian restaurants don’t have delivery services or use third-party delivery services like Doordash. However, Doordash requests a fee from restaurants or business owners, unlike GoDeli. Also, Phonemany acknowledges the convenience of delivery services as a request in the community. 

GoDeli is currently working on expanding to the wider international market in the community and an app. “We will do whatever it takes to make our partners and customers happy. We’re here to serve the community, and that’s what we want to do,” Phonemany said. 

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