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HappiLee Korean Kitchen’s Success Secrets: From home-based to multi-store empire

Jona Lee, co-owner of Happilee Korean Kitchen

If you’re in the Philippines and caught up in the Korean cultural wave, more commonly known as Hallyu, there’s a good chance you’ve come across HappiLee Korean Kitchen.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines, along with much of Southeast Asia, experienced a booming interest in K-dramas and, by extension, Korean culture. 

Spotting a unique opportunity amidst this trend, the dynamic entrepreneurial duo; Jona Lee and her Korean husband, Mr. Lee founded HappiLee Korean Kitchen. 

Their mission was to bring authentic Korean cuisine to the Filipino community at affordable prices, recognizing a gap in the market for accessible Korean culinary experiences.

The beginnings of HappiLee Korean Kitchen

Mr. Lee of HappiLee Korean Kitchen with his Korean food creations

Launching HappiLee Korean Kitchen wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision for Jona and her husband, nor was their journey to entrepreneurship a straightforward one.

Jona, after a decade in the airline industry, faced the difficult choice of leaving her job to dedicate more time to her two young daughters. 

This led her to work alongside her husband to start an English tutorial school for Korean students in the Philippines. They offered a comprehensive package, including accommodation, tours, and education, catering to students during their winter or summer breaks.

Their school in Tagaytay flourished, securing a stable income through regular enrolments. However, their stability was suddenly jeopardized by two unexpected events – the eruption of the Taal Volcano, followed closely by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With the world plunged into lockdowns and travel restrictions, they were confronted with a daunting challenge – navigating the pandemic and consecutive lockdowns.

In response, Jona and her husband tapped into their entrepreneurial spirit. 

Utilizing the food supplies initially intended for their students, they pivoted to offering authentic Korean dishes from their modest home kitchen. This initiative marked the birth of HappiLee Korean Kitchen, a testament to their resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity.

HappiLee’s Post-Lockdown Growth

Jona and her husband took a calculated approach to growing their business. They started with a cloud kitchen and, when the pandemic restrictions eased, they opened up restaurants where people could actually come and dine in, after realizing that HappiLee Korean Kitchen was growing in popularity.

Diving into the bustling world of F&B as first-timers, they found themselves swamped with questions. “Where do we begin? How do we set up our systems? And how do we make sure that we maintain speed of service without compromising quality?” They were on a steep learning curve.

One of their biggest challenges, just like for any F&B business owner, was figuring out how to manage all their stock and staff efficiently.

In the beginning, they had to do inventory the old-school way, with printed-out Excel sheets. This proved to be a challenge; as it slowed down operations drastically and made them prone to making costly mistakes. And because Korean cuisine is all about a variety of ingredients, keeping track of everything took twice as long.

With the restaurant up and running, their costs went up too, which meant they had to be extra cautious with how much they spent on staff. 

They ended up needing more hands on deck to monitor how things were running and to keep an eye on their stock levels. This meant Jona and her husband had to spend precious time analyzing reports; time they could have spent elsewhere in their growing business.

Partnering up for Business Success

StoreHub point-of-sale at a restaurant

Jona and her husband recognized that they needed the right systems and strategies to continue scaling their business. Their search for an efficient point-of-sale (POS) system led them to discover StoreHub, an all-encompassing solution tailored to the demands of F&B and retail industries.

What caught their attention about StoreHub was its accreditation with the BIR, simplifying the complexities of tax compliance. 

“When you run a business, you need to ensure that you do it properly,” Jona shares. Moreover, StoreHub’s composite inventory feature also offered a more accurate way to monitor ingredient usage – which reinforced their choice.

Jona was particularly impressed with how StoreHub’s composite inventory feature turned out to yield financial benefits. She explained that she managed to reclaim 5-7% in revenue that they consistently lost in the past due to manual tracking errors. This profit was reinvested into their business, fueling further growth.

StoreHub also provided them with low stock alerts, ensuring that they were always prepared and never at risk of running out of essential menu items. 

Additionally, StoreHub provided valuable insights into ingredient usage patterns across multiple outlets, guaranteeing consistency in quality across all their locations, which was crucial for maintaining their brand’s reputation, especially as they started becoming a cult favorite among Filipinos.

The Future of HappiLee Korean Kitchen

HappiLee Korean Kitchen storefront

Jona and her husband are setting their sights on even bigger things for the upcoming year. With dine-ins making a massive return, they’re considering franchising to allow other entrepreneurs to join in on their journey and help propel the HappiLee Korean Kitchen brand even further.

Jona’s advice to aspiring business owners is straightforward; “Don’t doubt yourself. If you have a focus and goal in mind, all you need is hard work and prayer,” crediting a blend of perseverance, luck, and faith for her success.

HappiLee Korean Kitchen has managed to stand out in the crowded Korean food market in the Philippines by sticking to its roots. Their commitment to authenticity and quality, using ingredients and packaging sourced from Korea, all while keeping prices reasonable, has been key to their growth.

None of this would have been achievable without leveraging advanced technology and tools, which have significantly reduced their time spent on manual tasks, allowing them to focus more on growing their business.

If you’re inspired to start or expand your own venture, book a free demo below. Let’s work together to make your business awesome.

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