Decades ago, a group of friends received a suggestion from the owner of the coffeeshop where they loved to hang out: Since you love coffeeshops so much, why not open one of your own? The seed planted by that question bore fruit in 1990, when that group, led by Mr Lim Hee Liat, opened their first coffeeshop together in Yishun. Right from the start, the then-23- year-old Mr Lim had to teach himself everything about the industry through networking sessions, visits and observations, and customer feedback. Despite having no formal training, driven by his self-motivation, humility and business instinct, Mr Lim guided the business from strength to strength.
Passionate for excellence, he placed great emphasis on understanding customers’ preferences, and evolving to keep abreast with them. (Even today, Mr Lim makes consumer taste his business, personally approving every new foodstall in KIMLY’s coffeeshops.)
Mr Lim’s dedication to his customers paid off, with that single coffeeshop multiplying into 25 under his management by 2003, the year that he decided to take the business to the next level. That year, the name “KIMLY” was born with the launch of KIMLY’s food division, as their first Zi Char stall was opened in Taman Jurong, followed in 2004 by the first KIMLY Mixed Vegetable Rice stall in Marsiling.
Mr Lim’s foresighted leadership and extensive experience his team had amassed ensured KIMLY coffeeshops maintained full stall occupancy, earning it a position of trust among coffeeshop operators, allowing KIMLY to secure plum coffeeshop locations in mature estates.
Nevertheless, anticipating difficulties in maintaining full occupancy in the future due to difficulties in sourcing good foodstalls, Mr Lim was adamant that KIMLY add a third food product into its portfolio. In 2008, that became KIMLY’s Dim Sum line of foodstalls.
Recognising the tremendous potential of the industry but also its intense competition, Mr Lim realised sustained growth required a rethinking of the traditional business model. Moving laborious food preparation off-site, KIMLY set up its central kitchen in 2008 to manufacture the food used in its outlets, improving productivity and ensuring quality.
Spurred by its success in the coffeeshop sector, KIMLY entered the food court sector, opening its first FOODCLIQUE air-conditioned food court in Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 2011. FOODCLIQUE quickly established a strong presence in Singapore’s institutes of higher learning.
Today, the small business that group of friends began one proud day in 1990 has grown into a giant of the local F&B industry, with operations stretching islandwide appealing to customers from all walks of life. Constantly upgrading and updating itself to cater to every community, KIMLY looks to a future of growth and expansion as part of the fabric of Singaporean food culture.