We’re kicking off a series of member profiles with the owner of One Degree North, everyone’s favourite chicken rice place in town. Joel Lim shares with us a little bit about himself, what brought him to Korea, and why he decided to start an F&B business here.
Hi, my name is Joel and most of you would know me as the owner of One Degree North.
I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do after university so I tried out being an air steward. It was interesting because I was actually just accompanying a friend but since I got in, I decided to try it out for two years. After quitting, I did sales and marketing for a local company for a bit but I started to hate my job. I guess I was having a bit of a personal crisis.
It was also during this time that I got married and my wife happens to be Korean. So I thought about following my dad’s footsteps to venture out into the unknown by doing something overseas, here in South Korea.
Yes. I wanted to do business in South Korea so I moved here to learn the language first. During this time, I also thought about what I could do in Korea that I have an interest in and which would be a niche market and I identified it as Singapore chicken rice and roast meat. I did a one-year market test with the central kitchen just to see if Koreans would be able to accept this foreign taste. I started by using a central kitchen first because there would be no loss of capital if it failed.
Thankfully the business did well enough so I decided to take it further. I went back to Singapore for a bit to plan this business and further develop my recipes. My family was really supportive and I actually have ties to F&B businesses back home. I even had a mentor from BreadTalk so it gave me the sense of security I needed to push forward with the business. I also did research on why my predecessors failed. I would say that the covid pandemic made Koreans more receptive to foreign food because they’re unable to travel so in a way they’re more interested in trying out food from overseas.
I moved here in 2019 and it was a really big change to my lifestyle. First of all, my accommodation here is much smaller than in Singapore. There’s a huge language barrier so I found myself being heavily reliant on my wife for everything, which wasn’t great.
I would say it was not easy adjusting to life here. I’m quite a simple person but I had difficulties making friends. Quite a few of the people I got to know all ended up moving back so it was tough not having that support system.
It wasn’t actually challenging because my wife handled most of the back-end stuff. I think the hardest part was needing to be careful while negotiating terms because people can be dishonest. So you need to make sure that everything is in black and white. You must also be meticulous to ensure that things go smoothly. I would say it was actually quite easy thanks to my wife.
Other than that, the weather made cooking a little more complicated. Cooking in winter here is very different from cooking in summer. You need to change the cooking times for example. Even in winter, the temperature difference from day to day can be pretty drastic so I had to figure out a way to change the cooking times depending on the weather. Also food in Singapore can be served cold but Koreans aren’t too used to cold savoury dishes. It’s not really to the Korean taste.
I feel like most of the Singaporeans I meet here own cars. I guess because cars are really expensive in Singapore, they go crazy here since suddenly you can afford all kinds of cars you would not be able to afford back home. So I see many Singaporeans with their expensive cars here.
Also, I think something nice about living in Korea would be being able to do road trips around the country on weekends!
Business-wise, I’m just looking to eventually run my business as a business owner rather than being self-employed. So, moving on to getting the business to run without me. If all goes well, I also hope to open a second outlet by the end of the year.
And when things are a little stable, I’d like to begin family planning!
Find a Korean wife! I’m joking…
I’d say make sure to keep close contact with Koreans. You should definitely try to make good Korean friends because they will be invaluable. It will be better than doing things on your own because the locals will know best. Let the locals face the locals, especially since there’s a language barrier!
I’m not a very academic person - if I have no interest in something, I won’t do it. But if I’m interested in something, I’ll make sure to get it done!
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