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A toast to success
By Meredith Woo
FOR many, home-grown brand Ya Kun Kaya Toast is synonymous with its distinctive hand-sliced, crisp toast served with butter and kaya.
Founded by Mr Loi Ah Koon — after whom it is named — Ya Kun started off in 1944 as a coffee stall at Telok Ayer Basin. The recipe of the proprietary homemade kaya made from egg and coconut jam was handed down by Mr Loi’s wife.
Since then, the business has expanded from a single outlet to 64 branches in Singapore.
Its flagship and founding store has relocated to Far East Square, where it is now managed by the second generation of the Loi family.
Ya Kun’s flagship outlet at Far East Square. Photo: Ya Kun
Ya Kun can be found in Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Myanmar, among others.
Mr Adrin Loi, executive chairman of Ya Kun, and awardee of the Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (PBM), or Public Service Medal, shares his thoughts on the Singapore business landscape.
What lessons have you gleaned from your journey so far?
Managing people is challenging, but instrumental to a company’s growth. I need to give my employees tender loving care, yet be firm and fair. They are my true assets.
It is important to set a good example as a leader. I make it a point to be concerned about my staff’s families. I am exuberant when sharing something new with employees, and believe in sticking together to resolve issues, especially during crises.
What makes Ya Kun different from its competitors?
Our rich heritage and history helps me to strive to be the market leader in our company’s development.
We are the first coffee/kaya toast shop to open in a shopping mall and implement an exchange policy — no questions asked — in all our outlets. We also started local and overseas franchises in 2001 and 2002 respectively.
Ya Kun’s Toastwich® offerings. Photo: Ya Kun
What are some innovative measures you have implemented?
Our menu comprises Asian delights such as laksa, and Toastwich® (hearty local toasted sandwiches) to provide savoury options for our customers. Our chef in the food development department ensures our dishes are delectable, healthy and hygienically prepared.
The human touch is still important, and special to our customers. As much as we would like to automate all our processes, coffee brewing and cutting the toast into thin slices are still done by hand.
To cater to health-conscious customers, we also introduced wholemeal kaya butter steamed bread last year.
How do you stay true to your business principles?
We would rather forego improper business opportunities than compromise our principles and potentially hinder our advancement.
We make it a point to do everything above board. My philosophy is: Follow the rules and you will not make unnecessary mistakes. This also makes the business easier to manage.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. As an entrepreneur, you must be mentally and emotionally prepared for any outcome — be it good or bad, failure or success.
Keep your eyes open, calculate how much you can afford to lose, and have a resilient mind and humble spirit.
Minds can be bought, but hearts can only be won. We need both to succeed.