A Taste of Good Fortune

Koufu has risen to become one of Singapore’s largest food and beverage enterprises, report CAO YE, WU BIN and XU KE

SINGAPORE, one would find it hard to complete the picture of food court
dining without including Koufu. As a one-of-a-kind, natural blend of
the good old Singapore coffee shop tradition and the modern style of
food court design and management, Koufu has risen to become one of
Singapore’s largest food and beverage enterprises, reporting $100
million in turnover recently. Operating various food courts, stalls and
coffee shops, Koufu has in five years become one of Singapore’s most
recognised brands. Lao Tzu once said: ‘The journey of a thousand miles
starts with a single step.’ Pang Lim, founder and managing director of
Koufu, took that first step as a kitchen helper.

Inspiring story:
Mr Pang feels that every step he took was necessary and meaningful, and
his every effort worthwhile. He stresses the importance of character
building when asked for words of wisdom

Early hardship

Born and raised in a Chinese family, Mr Pang lived and breathed
traditional Chinese culture and values. The early demise of his father
and his witnessing of the hardship endured by his mother forged an
exceptional streak of diligence in Mr Pang. At age 13, Mr Pang had
started working as a kitchen helper, sharing the family’s financial
burden. As he grew up, Mr Pang became a street hawker, a vegetarian
food stall operator, and then a fruit distributor. All these early
experiences helped to lay the foundation for his later success in the
food and beverage industry. Looking back, Mr Pang feels that every step
he took was necessary and meaningful, and his every effort worthwhile.

Light of dawn

In his journey, Mr Pang is grateful to three parties who have helped
him achieve success. The first is his younger brother and uncle who had
backed him when he wanted to switch to the coffee shop business from
fruit distribution. Mr Pang had been in fruit distribution for several
years but had found the going falling short of his expectations.

The second party that Mr Pang is grateful to is the government. He
explains: ‘In 1994, the government introduced the policy of selling
shop houses at subsidised rates in order to help local enterprises.’

This helped him build up his chain of coffee shops very quickly,
hitting 56 outlets islandwide. Mr Pang then gained the informal title
of ‘King of Coffee Shops’.

Last but not least, Mr Pang is
grateful to his wife, Hoon Tien, who has been there for him through all
the highs and lows of his journey. Whether it was the early hawker days
or the now busy corporate life, she has never failed to encourage and
support him.

New beginning

Mr Pang called his
coffee shop business Aik Hua and it was doing well indeed. However, he
detected a change in Singaporeans’ lifestyle and tastes, towards
greater dining comfort even when it comes to traditional hawker fare.
To capitalise on this, Mr Pang boldly gave up Aik Hua, selling the
entire business in 2002. And after six months of careful planning, he
unveiled Koufu – the modern-style food court that we see all over
Singapore today. Time has shown that Mr Pang had made the right call.
Today, Koufu is a major chain of 29 food courts (including halal ones
called Fork & Spoon), eight coffee shops, seven cafes, six fast
food cafes and two shopping malls. It also has two franchise operations
at Jakarta International Airport and Artha Gading Mall in Indonesia.

More branding

Koufu in Chinese means literally ‘mouth luck’, or the fortune of
getting to eat delicious food. As the name for a food and beverage
chain, it certainly whets appetites. At Koufu, the fundamental concept
is ‘Better Food, Better People, Better Life’. Koufu has also made its
mark in the local market by spreading its net far and wide, to cater to
as many as customers as possible. While most coffee shops cater to the
Malay/Muslim consumer by having one or two halal stalls on their
premises, Koufu has gone one up with the Fork & Spoon Food Court,
catering specially to the Malay market.

Koufu has also
introduced VariNice, which offers cuisine that’s not only varied but
pleasing to the palate. Its Pick & Bite rejuvenates the traditional
coffee shop concept by offering a comfortable dining experience in a
cosy ambience, with the aroma of traditional coffee and kaya toast,
half-poached eggs and home-made char siew pao or lo mai kai.

Besides running food courts, Koufu has gone into mall operation as
well, operating Punggol Plaza and Fernvale Point. Marc Leoi, Koufu
general manager, says that the group’s venture into the real estate
business is fundamentally to support the core business. ‘The food
courts operating in those two malls, unlike others which operate at
rented places, do not have to worry about being chased out due to
competition for space.’

The bottom line is cost efficiency and
continuity in operations and management. Also, Koufu gets to package
customers’ shopping experience with its dining concept, all under one

Looking ahead

Amid the current gloomy
economic environment where many others are cutting or freezing
headcount, Koufu is actually seizing the opportunity to expand. Growth
has been so rapid that in just a couple of months, five new Koufu
outlets have been established in various locations in Singapore. Mr
Pang says: ‘The crisis has affected almost every industry, not sparing
Koufu as well. But with the help provided by our government, it has
cushioned the impact of the negative effects.’

In fact, Mr Pang
has continued to look much further ahead. ‘The future of Koufu, 10-15
years down the road, lies in the hands of our next generation of
leaders. To venture into high-end restaurants or to do more real estate
businesses? This will all be dependent on the next generation of
Koufu’s leadership. We must therefore grow a group of talented leaders
in Koufu and this group must have the capability of implementing
Koufu’s vision and concept further.’

Parting shot

The inspiring story of Koufu and its founder has been featured in many
newspapers and magazines. Many look to Mr Pang as the model of a
successful businessman. When asked for words of wisdom, Mr Pang
stresses the importance of character building. ‘Being an entrepreneur,
you will have to face different problems each day. Sharpness of mind
and the ability to always find ways to improve and excel are
must-haves. However, they need to work harder on an even more important
aspect and that is the nurturing of a good character: diligence, hard
work, sacrifice, yearning for learning, positive thinking, honesty and