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Lim Meng Lu, the unexpected restaurateur

Via Malay Mail : After convincing the owner of Din Tai Fung (DTF), an award-winning Taiwanese restaurant, to sell her the franchise rights in Malaysia seven years ago, Lim Meng Lu sold it for a handsome profit late last year.

Lim, 34, who was a newbie in the food and beverage business then, had built up DTF to four outlets with her partner.

The former management consultant at McKinsey & Co in Singapore also owns Mexican restaurant Fresca with her sister and most recently got the franchise for Bankara, a ramen restaurant from Tokyo last December. It is learned that there is yet another new restaurant in the works.

So how did she get into the food business in the first place and what were the challenges she faced?

In her own words:

  • As with all entrepreneurs, we are in the business of creating, building and selling businesses. So as part of the normal business cycle, this is what we did for the DTF franchise… nothing is permanent and if we think the timing is right and it makes good strategic and business sense, then we are prepared to exit and create something new.
  • Of course we have wisened up a lot. When we first started, we had little or no experience so we didn’t really know anything… I’d say the largest challenge and the largest bottleneck is labour.
  • I would say it’s easy to open but it’s probably not easy to maintain, looks harder than people think.
  • The industry is actually creating its own demand because customers, they don’t know what they want, but if you create some concept, then there will be a demand for it.
  • The question is whether the market has the ability to pay for all these things. So this is still a question mark. Purchasing power.
  • Fresca is very different because it is not a franchise. It’s our own creation and therefore it takes time to do brand building. We are very proud of this brand, in two very short years, we’ve developed a very good following.
  • I think it’s got legs… we’re actually on the verge of expanding, we’re probably going into the city centre because that’s where our clientele is telling us that there is where they want us to be. Hopefully within the next six months, so we are working on it.
  • With ramen, we’re late to the game that’s for sure but Bankara is a slightly different offering… because mostly the current players in the market are offering the southern style Tonkotsu ramen, so Bankara is the only player that is able to offer four different soup bases, with four different types of noodles, so this is our unique selling point.
  • This road is long, I’m very passionate about this industry. I have a lot of concepts in my head but I’m not in a rush so I will take my time, I will build it up.
  • The key is also adaptability, I guess as an entrepreneur we are always trying so you just try one way, if it doesn’t work then force correct and try something else until it works.

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