The Ewha branch of Sobang is located near the front gate of the school, welcoming the students with a delicious and healthy meal. Photo provided by Sobang.
Continuing her third year of leave of absence from Sungkyunkwan University, Kim Min-young looks back and asserts that her choice of venturing into a professional career was not mistaken. Though she encountered opposition from her parents when establishing Sobang, she now contiues her journey with people who truly trust her and support her choices. Sobang is a social enterprise that serves as a platform to sell farmers’ crops by selling household dishes in restaurants that Kim set up on her own.
While her business ideas were novel, the task of putting them into practice was tough. Since it was her first time in business, lack of preparation led her to doubt herself as an entrepreneur.
“Business isn’t something that I majored in, or excel at,” Kim said. “The early phases were a series of disappointments from others and my own mistakes. The moment I realized my mistake in not trusting people, I found ways to deal with those issues. Even though it still is undoubtedly hard, I have a little more composure now.”
With the expansion of Sobang into eight different branches, some may label her business as ‘successful.’ However, Kim views the success from a different angle. She does not want to be framed as the exemplary model for start-ups or be seen as a ‘sucessful’ business woman.
“‘Not going out of business’ would be a more appropriate interpretation of Sobang than the word ‘successful,’” Kim remarked. “As a social enterprise, our goal is to provide a platform for elderly farmers to conveniently trade their crops, and the key is sustainability to keep such platform ongoing. Rather than monetary gain and recognition for success, all I want is to make sure such platform is sustainable.”
To do so, Kim’s choice was to take less profit and focus on providing products at an affordable price so that customers continue to visit Sobang in the long run.
“If we wanted higher returns as a business, stopping at one or two branches would have been the best,” Kim said “With eight branches to take care of, the scale of investment required and amount of work to manage all the branches is unimaginable. However, the more branches we have, the more crops can we sell their elderly producers and go one more step closer to Sobang’s goal.”
Kim also added that the co-workers are valuable assets that helped her focus on sustainability. From the chairman of the company to the head of each department who comes to work from daybreak to prepare side dishes, people are the engine that runs the company.
“There are a lot of hardworking people in our company,” Kim said. “Sustainability and less profit naturally means less income, but we work with a mindset that this is a necessary process for developing the business and they concentrate hard to bring out the best. I’m always grateful to them.”
As Sobang develops, offering company housing and regular health check-ups are all benefits she is considering to adopt for employees. It is both for the welfare of her co-workers, and the betterment of the company.
“My wish is for all the customers to enjoy a comfortable meal for themselves,” Kim stated.
That is why each table at Sobang has lamp lights that brightens up each customer’s seat and the workers dress in dark navy, as it is a color that is not normally seen in food.
“Everything else except for the meal and the customer should fade into the background of the restaurant,” Kim said.
Kim also closed off wishing a rosy future for Sobang.
“My simple wish is to make Sobang into a faithful brand where people automatically link it to a peaceful place where they are sure to be treated with a healthy and satisfactory meal.” Kim said.