Ya Kun International’s Jesher Loi admits that he is not a foodie and wanted to pursue a career in music. Even with a full-time role as the company’s director of branding and marketing development, he coaches two youth string ensembles, which gives a glimpse into what drives him most: a passion for people.
The grandson of Ya Kun’s founder Loi Ah Kun joined the family business in 2010, first as his father’s personal assistant, before moving into his current position. Although he is part of the founding family, he works closely with the CEO, a professional hire, as well as the board of directors.
He quips, “I’m not a food expert, so I should leave that to the experts. My priority is to maintain the family’s heritage and culture.”
No matter whether it’s expanding the local chain of 71 Ya Kun outlets and nine overseas markets, including China, Japan and Korea, implementing new technologies or launching new products, his objectives are obvious: know your strengths, trust your team, and take care of people. The stories he heard about his grandfather, who started off with a coffee stall in Telok Ayer in 1944, often mentioned his kindness and generosity to others. Loi, who is an only child, wants Ya Kun to always hold the same compassion.
“Some of my fondest memories come from my family putting people first and treating staff like family,” says Loi, who is married and has three children aged between 5 and 9. The 37-year-old says Ya Kun did not retrench any staff during the last two years when the F&B industry was badly hit by Covid-19 lockdowns and yo-yoing dine-in numbers.
Loi used Cherish, the company’s loyalty app, to enable anyone to purchase voucher codes to support needy families and frontliners, who could then redeem anything from a cup of coffee to breakfast plates. He also made sure all cost-cutting measures that affected employees were explained to them personally.
“Values are not conveyed in a mantra chanted daily. What you believe is reflected in the decisions you make in crisis moments,” says Loi.
Ya Kun straddles the familiar and the creative with a menu full of perennial favourites like kaya and French toasts, but also traditional hot desserts, and brand collaborations such as kaya toast-flavoured Pocky biscuits and gelato. Upskilling and better waste management are often balanced with the need to connect with customers on a nostalgic note, such as making half-boiled eggs the traditional way with boiling water.
Even today, Loi’s motivation comes from his parents’ enthusiasm for the business despite their hardships. During the early 1990s, his mother used to answer every note on the notice board at their Far East Square outlet. Now, he reads all the comments and direct messages in Ya Kun’s social media accounts.
Loi says, “If someone comes to Ya Kun, I want the older generation to feel nostalgia, and I want the new generation, who has never seen the original version, to create memories with our modern brand and bring their children along. That makes me happy.”
Photography: Mun Kong
Styling: Chia Wei Choong
Grooming: Sha Shamsi using Dior Beauty and Keune Hairdressing