My favourite part about being Malaysian is that we do not eat to live, but live to eat, so talking food with entrepreneur Yong Lim was a bona fide pleasure. “Food is what sealed the bond between my grandmother and I. She would ask me to go to the kitchen and taste different dishes, so my palate has been trained since young … Being in the kitchen is not foreign to me. Now, I also cook for my family,” he says.
From the age of nine, Lim dreamt of a career in food. Specifically, he wanted to start a wantan mee stall. “What happened after that was what usually happens in a traditional Asian family. I grew up to be an engineer,” he admits, having specialised in construction and development. Lim’s dream of owning an F&B business resurfaced after a lifestyle change.
In 2014, Lim hiked to Everest Base Camp, and the following year he began training for triathlons. “I was supposed to go on a diet to control my weight, so I could swim, run and bike faster,” he says. So, he searched for healthy lunch options but was disappointed by the lack of choice and extortionate prices. “I thought, ‘I want to try and do something about this’. I really pushed the idea and thought if I don’t do it now, then I will not have the time to do it.”
When Lim began working, he prepared breakfast wraps for the week. “On Sundays, I would make five wraps, each wrapped in foil and refrigerated. When I wanted to eat it, I would pan-toast it so I could enjoy a hot meal. I would hold it in my left hand while driving with my right and it would be finished by the time I reached my office,” he laughs. With all these recipes ready, his idea for healthy gourmet wraps made sense but moving forward proved to be a challenge.
“Starting out was not easy because I didn’t have any F&B experience. I didn’t even know how to create a business model. The only thing I did was move forward,” Lim says. While doing his family business full-time, he sought advice on his amateur business model. “I would randomly call people who were in the F&B industry and I would ask, ‘Hey are you willing to spend 30 minutes of your time?’,” he says. There were more naysayers who said no one would buy his products or that his ideas were not solid.
Lim faced rejection even when trying to buy kitchen equipment. “The businessman looked at my business model and told me it would not work. I was sad, but I took his opinion, went back to redo my business model and showed it to him again. He said, ‘okay, it is a bit better now, come and see me again next week’ … I met a lot of people this way and I was very lucky that some of them were willing to spend some time with me.”
It was Lim’s perseverance and thick skin that helped him learn from these experienced strangers. He even had to wait a few hours to meet a lady with branding expertise, only to have her shoot down his proposal in 30 minutes. “There was a lot of going back to the drawing board, crying my heart out, and then doing it again next week. I would show them how I could do it differently,” he adds.
This planning stage went on for two years while Lim was still working full-time. When asked about his motivation, he recalls his experience at Everest Base Camp, when there was an avalanche and his family feared for his life. “The one thing that kept me going was that it was too late to go back and you can only go one step at a time. Having that mentality of taking things one step at a time, rather than rushing to the top of the mountain, actually helps you in many situations,” he says.
Wrappe’s big break came when Lim got a weekend booth at the Bangsar Village mall. “The response was fantastic. We were supposed to open from 10am to 10pm. But on Saturday, we closed at 7pm. I had only prepared 250 portions of food, and if I didn’t close shop I would not have anything to sell the next day. On Sunday, everything was sold out by 3pm,” he says. Then he opened another booth at Shah Alam but barely sold half his wraps, quickly learning that the right location was imperative.
What makes Wrappe truly unique, other than the scrumptious flavours, is that all its ingredients are made in-house. “From sweet potato tortillas to delicious sauces, everything is made fresh,” Lim says. After opening a kiosk in G Tower in 2017, Lim’s worries disappeared as people loved his food and there was always a lunchtime queue. Towards the end of last year, Wrappe opened a new outlet in UOA business park while the outlet in G Tower moved to The Linc KL early this year. Lim admits that having the right team was key, especially since he is still fully employed at his family firm. He trains his employees himself.
Lim hopes to apply for halal certification in the future. “We’re hoping to stabilise both outlets, have a strong SOP and a strong team. Then only we’ll license it out to other people. There are a couple of enquiries but I turned them down because I felt that if people are going to trust and invest in our business, we need to be doing well first.”
This article first appeared on July 8, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.