Share on:

The Peak Circle: Building community through heritage

Jesher Loi, third-generation scion of Ya Kun International and The Peak Circle member shares his mission.

It took me nearly seven years to know my place – not just within the company but in the community as well. I am a third- generation owner, the one who grew up with the business and who will carry most of the pressure. But when entrusted with the wheels of a fast-moving, well-oiled vehicle, you inevitably search for the roadmap.

I’m not talking about the fancy navigation systems with the voice-overs and weather forecasts. I’m referring to good, old-fashioned paper maps you have to chart and read. Sometimes, the roads are empty, and you can see straight ahead. Other times, you only see the exit from the map the moment you pass it by. That’s how I feel sometimes when finding my footing within and outside the company.

The first thing I learnt about arriving at a destination is that it takes time. Individuals will have that epiphany at varying times. What is crucial is not showing them the destination but the road that will lead to that self-realisation.

(Related: Business lessons from Joshua Lung, founder of popular spa chain Healing Touch)

For me, it was hearing the media, customers, friends and strangers talk about Ya Kun that made me understand what this local coffee chain and their dining experience mean to them. It helped me to formulate a clear idea of what I wanted it to embody. Listening to non-Singaporeans speak about Ya Kun and what it represents while watching them savour the experience also contributed to this.

Even watching our youngest generation eat at Ya Kun can be insightful. When these kids can select what they want off the menu even before they are old enough to drink coffee, you know you have made an impression.

The other thing I learnt is that there is no penultimate destination. When you sit as a third-generation owner – and not as the founder or the one who grew it from two to 100 outlets – it constantly reminds you of your place and that your mission sits resolutely somewhere along an unbroken ownership chain.

(Related: Real change, not band-aid solutions, are what’s needed in sustainability and skincare, says founder of Bskin Chia Su-Mae)

You realise that you are more of a steward rather than an anchor. Understanding this perspective helps you when reshaping the brand.

Ya Kun’s tagline – The Toast that binds… Kinship, Friendship, Partnership – was born out of a keen observation of its clientele – business associates meeting on weekdays and afternoons, friends lunching together or gathering after work, and families grabbing breakfast on weekends. Ya Kun has captured every facet of society.

Tens of thousands of customers come through our doors daily. Whether they are deciding what they want to eat, ordering at the counter, interacting with our staff, dining or chatting, we are setting the stage for them to create “comfort memories” in a place where they feel comfortable enough to let your guard down.

From the nostalgia to the aroma and the atmosphere to the content, our place in the community is to facilitate laughter, discourse, collaboration and affection – all over a simple cup of kopi – and to endeavour to preserve that.

Jesher Loi is the third-generation scion of Ya Kun International and a member of The Peak Circle, an invitation-only community for change-makers and thought leaders.

(Related: Meet the real estate CEO who’s also the drummer of an indie-pop band)