Coffee company movers and shakers

SINGAPORE — Cafes can be found in almost every corner of housing estates in the heartland, but behind the humble staple of the neighborhood lie multimillion-dollar business empires and larger-than-life characters with compelling stories.

Kim San Long

The cafe chain, one of Singapore’s largest, with more than 30 outlets, is a third-generation family business.

Kim San Leng started as Kim San Eating House in Hougang, established by Mr. Hoon Moh Heng in 1950.

His then 17-year-old son, Hoon Thing Leong, started working at another cafe his father had opened in Jalan Besar, scrubbing toilets, cleaning spittoons and being a general dogbody, working every day from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. .

He also had to learn how to defend himself to protect himself from gangsters, who were a regular threat at the time.

After seven years as a waiter in Jalan Besar, he borrowed money from his father to open his own cafe in Bukit Timah.

Later in his career, in 1990, after taking over his father’s business, he made news after buying a cafe in Bishan for $3.52 million, $2 million more than the starting offer. .

However, it was not always a bed of roses for Mr Hoon, with his forays into magazine publishing and noodle-making in the mid-1990s in his drive to diversify – both ventures failed.

He had to sell two stores to make up for nearly $3 million in losses in the noodle business, which he struggled to keep afloat for nearly five years before finally conceding defeat.

His son, Mr. Andy Hoon, however, had more success branching out into the kopitiam business, establishing regional bubble tea chain Ochado in 2010 and local fast food chain Yellow Submarines in 2013.

The late Mr. Hoon Thing Leong, who died in April last year at the age of 72, was not only a coffee king but also a published writer.

Her book featured 80 of her weekly columns published in the Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao, which chronicled her successes and failures. When the book was released in June 2014, 10,000 copies were sold in five days.

Chang Cheng