As the founder and owner of a chocolate truffle business, one would assume that Lim Jialiang identifies with being an entrepreneur.
He doesn’t, and prefers the term chocolatier, firmly stating that he simply cannot relate to being ‘the E word’, because “If I’m an entrepreneur then a hawker is an entrepreneur. It’s usually Chinese guys with tech degrees who are called entrepreneurs.”
A Sociology graduate from NTU, Jialiang’s motivation simply stemmed from his love for chocolate and also making it.
During a trip to Paris in 2014, Jialiang was floored by the chocolate available there and in a bid to save money for more, cooked most of his meals. Talk about dedication.
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Not wanting to keep the chocolatey goodness to himself, he decided to make his own flavour combinations, learning from the world.
“I started doing a small home business selling to friends, but I thought there was a market out there.”
With that, he took a leap of faith and started the uniquely-named Demochoco in 2014, albeit only officially launching it March this year.
“It’s wordplay in Japanese. ‘Demo’ means but, ‘choco’ is chocolate. They have very similar sounds so they roll off the tongue. It’s also technically stands for democracy – I was and still am part of civil society in many ways, so it’s an aspiration I add to the brand. I don’t mention the latter meaning so often because you never know the reaction you’ll get here in Singapore.”
Just like its logo and brand, the truffles are also packaged in a distinctive white box with a clean, minimalist design – a collaboration between him and his designer friend and “partner in crime in many ways”.
Being his own boss, Jialiang gets to set his own schedule and work at his own pace. While that sounds enviable to many working 9-to-5 jobs, he reminds us once again that steering your own ship also means that the responsibility of it floating or sinking lies completely in your hands.
“I usually do about 60 hours of week at a minimum, (but) the freedom and the autonomy is worth it.”
His work sometimes brings him from his home in the East all the way to factories in the West, mostly because of production and logistical matters.
An 8 hour workday in an office doesn’t sound too bad now, doesn’t it?
When Overseas Trips Are For Ingredient Sourcing
Not just the type of chocolates you’ll find in supermarkets and stores, Demochoco is a specialist in chocolate truffles, and Jialiang painstakingly creates each batch by hand.
A connoisseur himself, he gets his ingredients from both local and overseas sources – even taking trips overseas to source and purchase them.
With a focus on quality as compared to quantity, the truffles are also made in small batches with seasonal flavours in mind.
When asked if he finds the investment and trouble worth it, he says that due to the nature of the business, even sourcing is considered to be leisure for him because he gets to delve even more into what he loves – travelling and food.
“It’s expensive, but in the long run necessary to distinct myself from other brands. There’s something that Jiro-san (from Jiro Dreams of Sushi) said that I hold very close to my heart. “If you want to make good food, you have to eat well, and know what is good food. If your palate is below that of your consumer, than how can you expect to satisfy them?” ”
Being fluent in Japanese also helps him connect with people, and in turn, get their recommendations for the best of whatever special ingredients he needs – a very impressive feat given that he picked up the language mostly from his years of watching anime.
Now here’s an example you can quote if anyone tells you you’re spending too much time on Japanese animations.
It’s no secret – Singaporeans love their food and even more so, the fads. From salted egg yolk everything to cheese tarts, we literally put a lot of our money where our mouths are.
Not one to keep Demochoco’s offerings stale, Jialiang also frequently creates new concoctions to keep his customers excited.
For example, in line with the SG50 hype last year “where commercialism and commemoration blended into one”, Jialiang quips, he launched the Singapurr Story truffle, which is a clever and delicious mix of shiro miso, gula melaka and shredded coconut.
Recently, riding on the salted-egg-everything craze, he created a salted egg yolk and cereal truffle, a combination of ivoire white chocolate, salted egg yolk and Nestum cereal flakes fried with chilli padi and curry leaves.
“Logistics. Always Logistics.”
With the demanding requirement for the delicate truffles to be kept at an ideal temperature of no more than 8 degrees celsius, one can only imagine the trouble that goes into planning for deliveries.
More than anything, Jialiang lists the biggest obstacle in his Demochoco journey as logistics, a necessary evil for not only him, but many businesses selling perishable items as well.
“There was a point when I got a call from the company that they were no longer doing deliveries for chocolates. I dropped all my work and went down to their main office to demand an explanation, bringing my chocolates there as well. Thankfully it was a rogue employee who made that decision and now delivery service cannot be better.”
Unfortunately, Demochoco doesn’t do international deliveries, so if you’re interested, you’re going to need to buy a ticket here.
“I just wish we gave local brands the time to incubate and grow.”
Not only confined to an online business, Jialiang has also brought some of Demochoco’s goodies out to the recent Coffee Fest and has also collaborated with Applehops for their Second Anniversary Beer Bash.
Part of the ever-expanding F&B industry in Singapore, I asked him about his views and hopes about our local food scene.
“I think it’s growing and diversifying, but in a rather problematic fashion. I just wish we gave local brands the time to incubate and grow. As it stands, we import too many brands from around the region and beyond. More capital is moving in that direction, and in the long term it will weaken the amount of brands that we can globalise here in SG. There are restauranteurs here who do gamble and open their own concepts which I greatly support.”
In the world of business, a common goal is growth and profit, but Jialiang emphasises his wish to “stay true to the original intent of the brand, regardless of how much this expands”.
To end off, I asked Jialiang to recommend a good starter truffle for readers who might be interested in starting their Demochoco experience.
“I would say the single origin chocolate (there’s one every month) is a good entry point. It’s the Alpaco 66% this month, which is woody and floral. You really get the jasmine aroma immediately as you are eating it, so it’s quite interesting. They will never be too bitter unless you really dislike the flavour of cacao.”
You can purchase Demochoco truffles at its online shop here.