Think of runny half-boiled eggs, crisp kaya toast and fragrant kopi (coffee) or teh (tea) and Ya Kun comes to mind. Over the years, Ya Kun Kaya Toast has become synonymous with the traditional Singaporean breakfast.
1n 1926, 15-year-old Mr Loi Ah Koon sailed across the South China sea from Hainan Island in search of a better life in Singapore. Mr Loi worked as an assistant at a coffee shop for several years before partnering with two fellow Chinese immigrants to open a coffee shop at the Telok Ayer Basin in 1944. At some point in time, Mr Loi’s partners quit the business, leaving him to fend for himself. Mr Loi was undeterred. Motivated to provide for his eight children, Mr Loi continued the business and even slept on the countertop at his stall in order to wake up on time to serve his first customers at 5 a.m.
Ya Kun operated as a single coffee shop for years until Mr Loi Ah Koon passed the baton to one of his sons, Mr Adrin Loi, to take over the running of the business in 1998. Mr Adrin Loi was subsequently approached by a third party equity firm which was interested in owning a stake in the company and growing the business. Mr Loi was excited at the prospect of expanding Ya Kun, but at the same time, he was determined to keep the business within the family. Hence, he approached SPRING Singapore, the government agency responsible for helping Singapore enterprises grow, for help. With assistance and grants from SPRING Singapore, Ya Kun conducted a feasibility study and came to the conclusion that the company could grow organically, without external investors. Together with his brother and wife, Mr Loi decided that they would expand Ya Kun on their own.
With determination and conviction, Ya Kun embarked on several phases of expansion, in Singapore and regionally. From a single coffee shop in 1998, Ya Kun now has close to 50 outlets in Singapore and more than 60 outlets in countries such as China, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand and The Philippines.
Ya Kun strives to maintain the quality and consistency of its kaya and coffee by preparing them in a central kitchen at Admiralty Street. In addition, the company is constantly innovating and experimenting with new products such as kaya-filled toasted bread balls and ice blended drinks.
For Mr Loi, his personal indicator of success is job satisfaction and he derives this from continuing his father’s legacy. His advice for budding entrepreneurs is to have passion in what they do, ensure that they have a good team of people to work with, as well as to set a good example for the rest to follow.