CEO Series

Exploring New Ventures, MyeongDong Topokki’s CEO Bares It All On What Being An Entrepreneur Means

Malaysia is a cultural melting pot and home to multiple races and ethnicities. Because of that, we’re spoilt for food choices, ranging from nasi lemak to tacos and kebabs. There’s just too many to choose from.

Our country also doesn’t shy away when it comes to embracing new trends. We had a period where coffee shops, KBBQs (Korean Barbecue) and bubble tea shops were popping up everywhere.

That’s when Vincent Lua, the CEO of MyeongDong Topokki, found an unexplored market for Korean street food.

When he visited South Korea, he fell in love with the bright lights and street food that they have. But, when he got back to Malaysia, he realised Klang Valley lacked shops selling Korean street food.

He was determined to change that, thus MyeongDong Topokki was born.

We caught up with Vincent to get a behind-the-scenes look on the operation of MyeongDong Topokki and his personal journey as an entrepreneur.

It’s More Than Just Topokki

On the inspiration of the name, Vincent said it came from a combination of Myeongdong street, known for their food and fashion, and topokki is the king of street food in Korea.

He then said the perception that they only sell topokki is unfounded. 

“KFC sells more than just fried chicken, and Burger King sells more than just burgers.”

When he first started, MyeongDong Topokki only had a few menu choices—and that was a problem because Malaysians do not like to consume street food every day.

So, they solved the problem by designing dishes based on the local tastes with additions such as Deopbap (rice with toppings), Jjigae (Korean stew) and Ramyun (noodles).

Image Credit: MyeongDong Topokki

Innovation Is Key To Sustainability

“In order to stay sustainable, restaurants have to grow and innovate. Innovation is our company’s core value and the key to our survival and success,” said Vincent.

When it comes to changing up the menu, he said they have to constantly keep an eye out on global trends and remove obsolete items because simply listening to the market is not good enough.

And speaking of markets, MyeongDong Topokki looks to expand to Indonesia which is home to the world’s largest population of Muslims.

With research indicating that the global halal food market will reach US$ 2.9 trillion by 2024, it makes perfect sense for the brand to capitalise on this as they’ve recently just obtained their halal certification from Jakim in 2019.

Image Credit: MyeongDong Topokki

From just a small kiosk in Sunway Pyramid, MyeongDong Topokki has grown massively, spanning 40 outlets (23 operational, 17 in construction/renovation) nationwide in 6 years.

They even have a food processing centre capable of preparing products and ingredients for 100 outlets.

As millennials make up the bulk of their customers, they designed their outlets to be insta-worthy with bright neon lights, lively décor and an open concept kitchen.

Vincent also said that millennials prefer things to be fast and instant, so their fast-casual concept caters perfectly to that audience.

According to Vincent, he says that each MyeongDong Topokki branch sells about 1,000 bowls of topokki a day, but that didn’t come without its own set of challenges.

Climbing Up The Entrepreneur’s Path

Vincent recalls when he first started, debt was piling up because business was slow.

“There was a lot of pressure and tension, which could make someone unable to sleep or even have the appetite to eat. To overcome this, a person has to have strong perseverance and they’ll have to constantly find solutions to solve these issues.”

He then said that the brand no longer bears any short or long-term debt and they’re cash-flow positive for expansion.

Getting the team to be on the same mission and vision posed a challenge too, but if everyone is on the same page, they can build a strong sense of teamwork to support the growth of the brand. 

Image Credit: MyeongDong Topokki

Originally a banker, he always had a thirst for business. Even before his banking days, he invested in small scale businesses that boosted his selling skills, which is a vital skill for entrepreneurs. 

In 2011, he decided to leave his job as a banker and dive into the property industry as a full-timer.

However, he soon realised that the property market has reached its peak and the prices started to become stagnant, with little business.

But in 2014, one of his friends recommended him to start up a fitness business in one of his unused properties. Heeding the advice, he started the business and fast-forward to today, it has become one of the largest fitness chains in Sarawak.

Lessons To Learn

It wasn’t always roses though. There was an instance during his banking years where he ventured into a business of selling USB drives.

He bought them in bulk from an online seller but was scammed. He thought he was buying 32GB drives, but instead, he got 4GB drives.

“We made a loss from this and from that experience, I learnt one of my first lessons in business—to focus on the details.”

He went on to say that his childhood wasn’t the easiest one, even though he came from a well-to-do family.

Losing his dad early in his childhood and watching his mother shoulder the responsibilities drove him to think of ways to help his mother. 

Learning to be independent and not rely on his parents was one of the lessons he learnt. He then said that the experience built him to be stronger and more persistent.

“Entrepreneurship is not what it always looks like on the outside. Many wouldn’t know about the sleepless nights and endless stress. You have to be well-prepared to handle the ups and downs of the business. You also have to be persistent, as success doesn’t come instantly. Because of that, many people give up. But, it will always be a fun and exciting journey.”

– Vincent Lua, CEO of MyeongDong Topokki
  • Find out more about MyeongDong Topokki here.

Featured Image Credit: MyeongDong Topokki

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