Ya Kun Kaya Toast
Ya Kun Kaya Toast (Chinese: 亚坤加椰面包) is a Singapore-based chain of mass-market, retro-ambience cafes selling toast products (notably kaya toast), soft-boiled eggs and coffee. Founded by Loi Ah Koon in 1944, Ya Kun remained a small family-run stall for decades, but have expanded rapidly since Loi's youngest son headed the business in 1999. They have over fifty outlets, mostly franchised, across six countries, and are a Singaporean cultural icon, known for their traditional brand identity and conservative, people-centric corporate culture.
In 1926, Loi Ah Koon (黎亚坤) emigrated from Hainan to Singapore, where he worked as a coffee-stall assistant, then started a stall selling coffee, crackers and toast at Telok Ayer Basin, together with two other immigrants, who later dropped out, leaving him to run the stall alone. He married while visiting relatives in Hainan and after his wife settled down with him in Singapore, she suggested cutting each slice of bread into half and combining the toast with her homemade kaya, which created their signature kaya toast. Registered in 1944 as Ya Kun Coffeestall (Ya Kun being Ah Koon in Hanyu Pinyin), the stall gradually developed a reputation for delicious kaya toast and friendly service. The couple, their eight children and seven other families lived in a three-storey shophouse across the road, where the Hong Leong Building now stands, and as the children grew up, they helped stir the kaya, run errands, charcoal-grill the bread and eventually, manage the stall.
Ya Kun Coffeestall moved to Lau Pa Sat in 1972, but high rents and renovation of Lau Pa Sat in 1984 sparked a return to the Telok Ayer Market; nevertheless, the stall continued to attract "customers who came every day, some from as far as Jurong or Woodlands". In 1998, the market closed down, so the stall relocated to Far East Square and was renamed Ya Kun Kaya Toast; the following year, Ah Koon died and his youngest son, Loi Boon Sim Adrin (黎文深), took over the business, determined "to keep his father's legacy going". Realising that Ya Kun had a lot of goodwill and potential, Adrin decided to expand the business, so the family opened a second store at Tanjong Pagar and, in 2000, began franchising the brand. Since Ya Kun were incorporated in 2001, launched their first overseas outlet (in Indonesia) in 2002 and expanded their menu (adding ice cream toast and the Toastwich), they have won the 2004 and 2005 Superbrands Award, the 2005 to 2007 SIFST Product Award and the 2008 SPBA-CitiBusiness Regional Brands Award.
Products and stores
Ya Kun Kaya Toast have over forty Singaporean outlets, about half of which are franchised, and over thirty overseas outlets, all franchised, across seven countries (China, Indonesia, Japan, Myanmar, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines); they plan to expand to Brunei, India, Malaysia, the Maldives, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates in future. The stores have a retro ambience, with wooden tables and stools, Chinese calligraphy of the company name, posters about their history, traditional methods of preparing food and customer service reflecting Chinese family values. Unlike their main competitors, they have a limited menu that revolves around their core product, kaya toast, with cheese, peanut butter and ice cream as alternative spreads for their thin, brown, crispy bread. To appeal to a wider demographic, Ya Kun also sell French toast and Toastwiches (their Asian alternative to sandwiches); set meals combine any type of toast with soft-boiled eggs and a beverage, usually coffee or teh tarik.
Prices at local Ya Kun stores are slightly higher than those at kopitiams, but lower than prices of comparable products at Western coffeehouse chains operating in Singapore, while food at overseas Ya Kun outlets is relatively expensive. All outlets obtain their ingredients from the same suppliers and some ingredients, notably the kaya and coffee powder, are made at the Ya Kun factory in Bedok, using recipes that only a few of the Loi family know. The chain are "widely regarded as an institution of good kaya toast" and "a Singaporean cultural icon" that the Singapore Tourism Board has promoted as a tourist attraction. A Ming Pao review praised the "crispy but not hard, fragrant but not burnt" toast and fresh kaya, while a Straits Times review described the toast as "evenly sliced" and of "the right texture", the eggs as "cooked to perfection" and the teh tarik as "not too milky and not overpoweringly sweet either".
Ya Kun Kaya Toast comprises two companies, Ya Kun Singapore, which manages the Ya Kun factory and two corporate outlets, and Ya Kun International, which oversees the chain of outlets and franchising activities. Adrin has an 80 percent share of Ya Kun Singapore and his younger brother, Algie, has a 20 percent share, with other members of the Loi family actively involved in daily activities, while Ya Kun International is fully owned by Adrin, with John Ong as managing director. Their corporate culture is conservative and people-centric, with emphasis on preserving their brand identity as their chengnuo (承诺, "commitment" or "promise") to their customers, sustainable growth over actively pursuing new opportunities, nurturing family-like relationships among staff (they do not fire or retrench workers) and avoiding aggressive conflict with competitors. Although Ya Kun do not publicly disclose their financial figures, a 2009 Lianhe Zaobao article estimated that the company had an annual revenue of S$8 million, while a 2012 article in The Star stated they had 300 employees.
- Tan Lei, "60年烘焙出来的商誉 [Good reputation of brand built over 60 years]", Lianhe Zaobao, 29 June 2003.
- Teo Pau Lin, "Kaya war spreads", The Straits Times, 17 August 2003.
- "Toast of the town", The Business Times, 24 June 2003.
- Koh 2010, pp. 1–6.
- Tan Yi Hui, "Toast to sweet success", The Straits Times, 9 March 2009.
- "Ya Kun wants to keep the old charm", The Business Times, 5 July 2002.
- Low Shi Ping, "A toast to expansion in Asean", The Edge Singapore, 3 December 2007.
- Hu Yuanwen, "品牌助企业打开海内外市场 [Branding helps companies crack into overseas markets]", Lianhe Zaobao, 10 August 2010.
- "The Ya Kun Family"
- Xu Fugang, "品牌就是对客户的承诺 [Our brand identity lies in our commitment to our customers]", Lianhe Zaobao, 14 May 2009.
- Koh 2010, pp. 7–19.
- Chen Junwei, "咖椰吐司有心 [Toast with a heart]", Ming Pao, 18 September 2008.
- Koh 2010, pp. 81–96.
- Sandra Leong, "Toast to toast", The Straits Times, 16 April 2006.
- Toh Yong Chuan, "Expansion plans a-brewing at Ya Kun", The Star, 29 October 2012.
- William Koh (2010). The Top Toast: Ya Kun and the Singapore Breakfast Tradition. Cengage Learning Asia. ISBN 9814281654.