How Lim Chee Guan’s Bak Kwa Biz Has Lasted Over 80 Years

Founded in 1938, local grilled meat (bak kwa) brand Lim Chee Guan was founded by Lim Kay Eng.

In the 1920s, he left his family in Xiamen and went to Singapore on his own by boat. Here he took odd jobs as a plantation worker and a cafe assistant.

Back home, her mother often made bak kwa during war days, as the meat can be stored for several days. So when he missed his mother, he made bak kwa for himself.

When he saved enough money, he opened his very first stall – a stroller – in Chin Chiew Street, otherwise known as “Tou Fu Kai”.

Lim chee guan new road bridge
The old Lim Chee Guan stall in New Bridge Road / Image credit: Lim Chee Guan

Although business was brisk, the area was known for its gang clashes. Opposing Cantonese and Hokkien gangs often had a brawl right next to the booth, so Kay Eng decided to move her booth to a store along New Bridge Road in 1956 to avoid getting caught in the crosshairs.

He then opened a second store at the People’s Park Complex in Chinatown in the 1970s.

When Kay Eng settled down and built a family, her entire family lived on the second floor just above their store. Business and family are closely linked to him.

Rod Lim, second generation owner of Lim Chee Guan
Rod Lim, second generation owner of Lim Chee Guan / Image credit: Lim Chee Guan

In 1988, Kay Eng handed over the reins of his business to his son Rod Lim. Over the years, Rod’s two sons – Jerre Lim, 45 and Benny Lim, 42 – have joined the family business.

Carrying on the legacy of their grandfather

When asked why they decided to take over the family business, their answer was simple: they have lived in the store their entire lives.

“It was our playground, where we studied and where we worked. Customers loved Jerre and I – two cute, curvy boys who run around, sell stuff and handle money, ”Benny said.

“All the time spent in the company also meant that joining was not really a choice for us, although our father never pressured us.

lim chee guan family
Benny Lim (far left) and Jerre Lim (middle) with their family / Image credit: Lim Chee Guan

Both are university graduates and have had the opportunity to contribute to the growth of the company since their childhood. Under the guidance of their parents and grandparents, they gradually learned the ins and outs of the business.

“When the time came, we naturally felt a strong need to play a bigger role in the business to preserve the fruits of our grandfather’s labor,” Benny added.

However, when the two brothers officially joined the business, there was a lot of disagreement within the family on how to manage and modernize it without sacrificing the value and tradition of Lim Chee Guan.

Since each member of the family is responsible for different departments, they all have different views on how things should be done.

But at the end of the day, they realized that everyone wanted the best for the business, so they came to a “happy compromise”.

As long as we work (together) as a family, anything can be solved.

We have agreed that when we plan to implement new technology, we need to make sure that it does not alter the way our bak kwa is made or the quality and taste of our product.

– Benny Lim, owner of the third generation of Lim Chee Guan

lim chee guan bak kwa
Image Credit: Lim Chee Guan

Although their bak kwa production process remains largely the same, they now incorporate the use of machines to help cut large slices of pork into smaller pieces and to transport meat from a production station to a production station. other.

This helps to maximize the efficiency of the production process, while maintaining the integrity of the taste and texture of its bak kwas.

Sales fell more than 70% last year

Over the years, Lim Chee Guan has moved from his store to a factory in Woodlands, and now Pandan Loop, to accommodate more staff to meet the increased production demand.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the company, however.

“Our sales fell more than 70% in 2020,” Jerre said.

Now that the Chinese New Year is fast approaching, sales are picking up. In fact, the long winding queues are a common sight in Lim Chee Guan stores during this festive time.

lim chee guan long queue
Long queues at Lim Chee Guan / Image credit: Lim Chee Guan

To put it in perspective, the typical wait is around six to eight hours, and the queue can be up to 300 to 500 yards from the store, the brothers shared.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Lim Chee Guan does not allow walk-in shopping for all BBQ bak kwa products at all outlets until February 9, 2021.

pre-order lim chee guan bak kwa
Screenshot of Lim Chee Guan’s website

It also opened up pre-orders online to avoid long queues at their outlets. Due to an “overwhelming response” the site was only shut down after two hours of launch.

Their priority is to develop the S’pore business

From a humble stroller, Lim Chee Guan has grown into a renowned bak kwa brand in Singapore with four outlets in Singapore.

Their new outlets include ION Orchard and Jewel Changi Airport, as they wanted to exploit its strategic locations.

“It will be easy for our customers (and tourists) to locate us better,” Jerre explained.

Changi Lim Chee Guan Jewel Airport
Lim Chee Guan outlet at Jewel Changi Airport / Image credit: Lim Chee Guan

He added that having an outlet at the airport will make it easier for tourists to shop so they can take it back to their home country.

This is a subtle approach to bringing their brand overseas, and it’s interesting that Lim Chee Guan doesn’t have outlets beyond Singapore.

Product quality is one of our main priorities. It’s not easy for anyone to be able to cook a perfect piece of bak kwa – some of our staff have actually taken years to master it.

If we go to overseas, the manpower might be a problem to produce the same quality of products. Therefore, we want to focus on Singapore first, since Singapore is our home.

– Jerre Lim, owner of the third generation of Lim Chee Guan

He added that they wanted to focus on improving their products and how they work before they spread their wings overseas.

lim chee guan bak kwa
Long queues at Lim Chee Guan in the early days / Image credit: Lim Chee Guan

When asked what Lim Chee Guan’s recipe for success was to endure in this competitive F&B industry for over 80 years now, Benny simply said it boiled down to “hard work and dedication.”

“As much as it sounds cliché, there really is no secret to it, or if there is, we would like to know more too!

“But in all fairness, we’re grateful that bak kwa is a product that has come a long way – from a simple method of preserving meat and food during the winter months to what it is today.” hui. We grew up in a household focused on family, tradition and quality, so these are also the three main values ​​that drive us forward.

As a strong believer in the old-fashioned values ​​of honesty and courage, their father still oversees some of the business processes and therefore still plays a very active role in the business.

They stressed that there was no shortcut to success. That’s why they are determined to develop the brand organically, even if it takes time. In their case, it took them over 80 years.

Featured Image Credit: Ong Yi Chao / Lim Chee Guan

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Jothi Venkat

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