- Finding the Sweet Spot in Entrepreneurship December 19, 2019
Yonsei alumna Kim Kyungha, CEO of cafe and bakery brand DORÉ DORÉ
‘Tis the season to relax and enjoy holiday snacks, from Christmas cookies to piping hot beverages, and a Yonsei alumna is providing cozy spaces that hit all the right spots.
If you go to the first floor of Engineering Hall 4 at Yonsei University’s main Sinchon Campus in Seoul, Korea, you will come across a unique café. A typical café usually has tables placed closely together in a seating area, but here you can sit on a chair, lounge on a sofa, or even chill on the floor. There is also a seminar room where you can hold private meetings, such as mentoring sessions. In a sense, this place feels more like an open library than a café.
Mahogany Cafe at Yonsei University
This place is Mahogany Café, run by Yonsei alumna Kim Kyungha (entering year of ’04, Urban Planning & Engineering), CEO of café and bakery brand DORÉ DORÉ.
Café created by an engineering graduate
Urban engineering and food service may not seem to mix well together. However, according to Kim, “the purpose of a startup is not simply about selling products, but also providing a space that people can enjoy and creating a sense of community.”
“Our brand designs its concepts to provide an experience based on customer expectations. The “doré” of DORÉ DORÉ means “golden” in French - I wanted to fill people’s everyday lives with golden warmth. That’s why I opened many local stores in sunny suburban areas with large, airy spaces between tables for people to come and relax.”
According to Kim, “Mahogany Café was created with the concept of “Coffee For All,” where anyone and everyone can gather together.” She hopes that the Mahogany Café on Yonsei University’s campus can become a space where students can go to study or unwind even if they don’t order coffee.
Turning a hobby into a business
Kim first launched her business in 2006 when she was a junior at Yonsei University. She recalls the early years when she frequented cafés as soon as classes ended - Kim enjoyed cafés so much that she had even created a café map for the Sinchon, Hongdae, and Hapjeong areas near campus.
“As much as I loved going to cafés, I also enjoyed making café cuisine as a hobby and attended one-day cooking classes. I initially shared the food I made with friends, but then I got the idea to sell them. I bought a used showcase stand and began selling my dishes. I expanded my business by buying the space next to my stand, and now it’s already been 14 years since I first joined the food service business.”
The space that the DORÉ DORÉ CEO has created is deeply interconnected with urban engineering. Kim, who had dreamed of becoming an urban development planner while pursuing her studies, admitted, “I preferred planning spaces where local communities can create interesting stories in their neighborhoods rather than developing large-scaled buildings that span thousands of square meters.” She added, “For this reason, I was more interested in being able to add new content to transform a space than developing a large piece of land. And because of my hobby, food service was the best way to go.”
Today, Kim is CEO of her own brand with a total of 34 stores nationwide - including 22 DORÉ DORÉ stores and 12 Mahogany cafés - but her journey was not so easy. Only a decade ago, the social atmosphere towards the food service industry was not so supportive, and there were also many difficulties in launching a startup.
“I started my business at an early age, and it was challenging to work with various people without any expertise. Also, since service providers such as myself are evaluated solely by service quality, customers don’t care about who I am or which university I graduated. It’s all about good service and good coffee. I learned countless life lessons while running my business, such as delivering satisfactory customer service and creating a supportive environment for my employees. I would never have experienced these things if I had worked a regular desk job. There are many times I feel truly grateful.”
Taking the next step: building a sustainable space
Kim’s one-and-only hobby remains the same - going to cafés – and she is now interested in developing sustainable business spaces.
“The food service industry is often perceived to be sparkly and short-lived, but I believe it correlates with culture marketing,” she said. She added that her current primary focus is creating a space that brings together a community where customers can relax and connect.
As part of this initiative, Kim is building a community with her juniors at Yonsei University. In addition to giving lectures via the Yonsei Enterprise Support Foundation, she collaborates with marketing student associations MARP and Y’on to get new marketing ideas for Mahogany Café. Also, Kim participates in a startup mentoring course, serving as a mentor to students who dream of becoming entrepreneurs.
“During my years at university, I had to learn everything about entrepreneurship on my own. I wished I had an advisor who could give me insight on the important things. I decided to participate in these student programs in the hope that my juniors experience less trial and error than me. This is also why I created a seminar room at Mahogany Café - to provide a mentoring service.”
Kim says she is happy because she is doing what she loves. “Many students think that they should quickly expand their startup into a unicorn company by getting huge investments within a year or two, but I hope they don’t rush the process too much,” she emphasized.
“It’s often said that it takes ten years to build a startup. Since there are many challenges throughout the journey, I think it’s difficult to succeed unless you truly love what you’re doing. If you are committed to starting a business, I advise you to think of it as a long-term endeavor and choose something that you genuinely enjoy.”