Ya Kun



Ya Kun is a chain of cafes that is best known for its coffee and kaya toast.1 It started as a coffee stall at Telok Ayer Basin before the World War II and was formally registered as a business under the proprietorship of Loi Ah Koon in 1944. Ya Kun now has franchise operations in Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines and China.2 The business has remained under the control of the Loi family.3

Origins
In 1926, Ya Kun’s founder Loi Ah Koon, nicknamed “Ah Koon”, came to Singapore from Hainan in China and found work as an assistant at a coffee stall after linking up with the local Hainanese community.4 After working for 10 years, Loi partnered two other Chinese immigrants and set up a business selling coffee at Telok Ayer Basin in 1936.5 His partners eventually left the business, but Loi continued to run the shop serving coffee, tea, charcoal-grilled toast and eggs to a clientele that included coolies, merchants, moneylenders, police inspectors and boat operators.6 In 1944, Loi formally registered the shop.7


On a trip back to China, Loi got married.8 In 1936, his wife, Neam Kia Shai, returned with him to Singapore and joined the business, making the kaya spread that made Ya Kun famous.9 Loi also started roasting his own coffee beans using margarine and sugar over firewood.10 He and his family shared a three-storey house with other families on Cross Street, opposite the coffee stall.11 Loi often slept on the countertop of the stall in order to wake up on time to serve the first customers at 5 am.12

Over the years, Loi’s coffee stall grew into a familiar name due to its good coffee and kaya toast.13 After over a decade at Telok Ayer Basin, Loi moved the stall to Telok Ayer Market (today’s Lau Pa Sat) in 1972.14 There the stall was renamed Ya Kun Coffeestall, “Ya Kun” being Romanised version of Loi’s name.15

When the market was scheduled for renovation in 1984, Ya Kun moved across the road to the Telok Ayer Transit Market.16 In 1998, the stall moved to Far East Square, where it remains to this date and became the chain’s flagship outlet.17

Expansion and franchising
In 1998, the patriarch was in ill health and his eldest son, who was running the stall with him, was nearing retirement age. Adrin, the youngest son, and his brother Algie decided to take over the business and thus established the outlet at Far East Square in the Central Business District with S$10,000. Workers in the nearby offices brought brisk business and the shop broke even within two weeks. Loi passed away from colon cancer in 1999.18


Adrin holds an 80-percent share in the business, while Algie holds the remaining 20 percent, with many other family members involved in the running of Ya Kun. Six months after opening the Far East Square outlet, the brothers opened another in Tanjong Pagar. By 2000, Adrin and his brother were selling Ya Kun franchises. Over the next decade, Ya Kun grew to comprise over 30 outlets in Singapore and 20 overseas.19

In 2003, Ya Kun unveiled its first overseas outlet in Indonesia.20 Today, Ya Kun boasts outlets in countries such as China, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and Thailand.21

Ya Kun menu
Ya Kun is well known for its coffee and kaya toast served in the so-called kahwin (Malay for “marry”) style, where kaya and butter are sandwiched between slices of brown toasted bread.22 Ya Kun’s signature thinly sliced toast had come about because Loi’s wife used to slice bread thinly to cut costs.23


Besides its kaya toast, Ya Kun also offers traditional favourites such as the French toast, butter sugar toast and kaya butter on steamed bread.24 Customers can order these along with coffee and soft-boiled eggs as a set meal.25 They can also find other selections such as curry chicken noodles, mee rebus, nasi lemak and ice-blended drinks.26

Ya Kun’s kaya spread, initially made by Loi’s wife at their home on Cross Street, is now produced at its factory in Bedok. Its production is a well-kept secret known only to members of the Loi family involved in the process. Some 15,000 jars of kaya are produced each month.27



Author
Alvin Chua




References
1. Boss, give me kaya toast and kopi-o. (1997, October 5). The Straits Times, p. 13; Ya Kun kaya toast. (1997, October 5). The Straits Times, p. 57. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com//the-ya-kun-story/history/; Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Find us: Overseas. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com/find-us/overseas
3. Tan, Y. H. (2009, March 09). Toast to sweet success. The Straits Times, p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. The Ya Kun secret. (2003, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com//the-ya-kun-story/history/
5. The Ya Kun secret. (2003, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3; Buenas, D. (2003, June 24). Toast of the town. The Business Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. The Ya Kun secret. (2003, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3; Buenas, D. (2003, June 24). Toast of the town. The Business Times, p. 18; Tan, M. (2004, May 29). A toast… to Ya Kun. Today, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com//the-ya-kun-story/history/
7. The Ya Kun secret. (2003, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com//the-ya-kun-story/history/
9. Loi Ah Koon. (1999, February 12). The Straits Times, p. 56; Apparoo, S. (2005, January 12). Ya Kun Kaya Toast. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com//the-ya-kun-story/history/
10. Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com//the-ya-kun-story/history/
11. The Ya Kun secret. (2003, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3; Tan, Y. H. (2009, March 09). Toast to sweet success. The Straits Times, p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com//the-ya-kun-story/history/
12. Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com//the-ya-kun-story/history/
13. Koh, W. (2015). The top toast: Ya Kun and the Singapore breakfast tradition. Singapore: Cengage Learning Asia, pp. 1–3. (Call no.: RSING 338.76164795 KOH)
14. Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com//the-ya-kun-story/history/; Ya Kun Kaya Toast. (2007, May 20). Today, p. 57; The Ya Kun secret. (2003, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com//the-ya-kun-story/history/
16. Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com//the-ya-kun-story/history/
17. Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Our history. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com//the-ya-kun-story/history/; Ya Kun Kaya Toast. (2007, May 20). Today, p. 57. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Tan, Y. H. (2009, March 09). Toast to sweet success. The Straits Times, p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Tan, Y. H. (2009, March 09). Toast to sweet success. The Straits Times, p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Tan, Y. H. (2009, March 09). Toast to sweet success. The Straits Times, p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Find us: Overseas. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com/find-us/overseas
22. Boss, give me kaya toast and kopi-o. (1997, October 5). The Straits Times, p. 13; Ya Kun kaya toast. (1997, October 5). The Straits Times, p. 57. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. The Ya Kun secret. (2003, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Menu: Traditional favourites. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com/menu/Traditional-Favourites
25. Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Menu: Value set meal. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com/menu/value-set-meal
26. Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Menu: Asian signatures. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com/menu/Asian-Signatures; Ya Kun International Private Limited. (2014). Ice Blended Frostyz. Retrieved 2016, April 25 from Ya Kun International Private Limited website at: http://yakun.com/menu/ice-blended-frostyz
27. Tan, Y. H. (2009, March 09). Toast to sweet successThe Straits Times, p. 45. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive and complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Subject
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Manufacturing industries>>Food, beverages and tobacco
Baked products industry--Singapore
Trade and industry
Commerce and Industry>>Industries
Chain coffeehouses--Singapore
Beverage industry--Singapore