Jan 1, 2015
Lyn Lee, founder of Awfully Chocolate, reckons the local F&B services industry still has a long way to go before we are on par with our Japanese counterparts.
It all started out with a bunch of us hanging out and chatting about our respective jobs, having just entered the workforce not too long ago at the time. Being the chocolate nut that I am, I had this idea of the perfect chocolate cake – one that we could eat every day without ever getting sick of it. One conversation led to another then, one day, we decided to put our words into action. That was, in essence, how Awfully Chocolate was born in 1998.
None of us were trained in F&B, retail or hospitality before (although I’d like to consider chocolate-tasting my area of expertise!), but we refused to let our inexperience hold us back. We combined our different talents and skills together, and found ourselves doing things in a very non-conventional way – which was perhaps why people noticed us in the first place. Who else would open a cake shop without displaying the one product they offer? To this day, I still think that for a group of friends with zero background in this industry, we were pretty bold in our choices – though our choices had always made sense to us.
Prior to Awfully Chocolate, I was a lawyer for two years. People always ask me if it was a difficult transition from corporate to entrepreneurship but, to be frank, it felt like an absolutely joyous leap. I’m grateful for having studied law, of course. Apart from not being as intimidated by contracts, you develop this yearning to find out how to decide upon fair, correct answers. You can’t simply accept things at face value. So when something doesn’t seem right – for instance, if certain clauses in a contract appear unreasonable or unnecessary – I have no qualms speaking up. Law school has been good for that.
But above and beyond clauses and fair treatment, I believe there’s something else that needs to be addressed in the F&B services industry in Singapore. Whenever I visit Japan, I am constantly floored by the professionalism and honour to which the locals give their jobs, regardless of what they are doing. I say that, because I once stood mesmerised watching a car valet carrying out his duties in the snow – the way he put 110 percent into it, you’d think he was a CEO. Where do you get that kind of work ethic? From as early as nursery education, schoolchildren in Japan are taught to clean up their own desks at the end of each day! That is one shining example of how you cultivate a healthy sense of pride in even the humblest of jobs; it all has to start with the basics.
Incidentally, I was in Tokyo and Osaka recently for a short but lovely two-day business trip, during which I met up with a couple of chocolatiers and visited six chocolate factories. We have a FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) range of chocolates called Awfully Good To Go, which is currently available in supermarkets in Singapore and Hong Kong. We’re now targeting the European market, which, as we know, is home to some of the world’s finest chocolates. This is why our next step for Awfully Good To Go is for it to wear a distinctly Asian identity so it would stand out from other brands in Europe – and I believe we will be able to achieve that by working with Japanese manufacturers. They represent everything I love about Japan, from their meticulous attention to detail and excellent service to their remarkably fresh produce. We are still in talks with some of the manufacturers, so stay tuned!
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