Three years ago, two college students roamed the Main Gate of Ewha, asking the passing students to participate in a street survey about their preference on salad restaurants. With its result, the two students ambitiously founded Korea’s first fast food salad chain, “Salady.”
Salady, one of the most visited restaurants on campus, began when Lee Geon-ho, a Sociology major of Yonsei University, met Ahn Sang-won, a Business major of Korea University, at a joint business start-up club, Insiders. The two immediately hit it off with original ideas including the concept of an affordable salad restaurant.
“We noticed that classy salad places with its price ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 won were already prevalent,” Lee noted. “Yet, such restaurants are limited to specific consumers. Even outside Korea, it’s difficult to find affordable salad places like Salady.”
Not long after the rough blueprint for Salady was formed, Kim Soo-kyoum, a Computer Science major from Yonsei University, joined the team. At the time, Kim already had a high-paying job at a prestigious company. However, his job kept him at work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. After hearing his old friend Geon-ho’s start-up plan, he immediately quit his stable job and joined in.
Although Kim is now the president of Salady in Ewha, customers constantly mistake him as a part-time worker because he is always seen casually working in the back.
“I remember what it’s like to be the youngest in a company, running all the miscellaneous errands,” Kim recalled. “My bosses used to leave me to finish off work even though it was obvious that their help was necessary. There were many nights I stayed late at work alone even until 2 a.m. Because of such experiences, I promised myself not to treat my workers like that.”
In just three years, Salady expanded to nine chains in Seoul. In August last year, Salady held a Free Breakfast Event for international students at Kyunghee University. Two students with the best reason as to why they should receive free breakfasts won free cup salads for all their classmates.
“In Ewha, we’re currently holding a free Americano event for freshmen until March,” Kim said. “All you have to do is show us your student ID card.”
Under vibrant leadership, Kim instructs workers in Ewha to put in almost too much salad despite the increasing prime cost.
“Looking at the uploaded photos on Salady Instagram, it’s quite obvious that Ewha Salady has the most quantity compared to other branches,” Kim said coyly. “I didn’t study so intensively in my college years but students I see have very intense lives; studying hard and earning money on their own. My heart goes out to those buying salads with their allowance too, since I’ve experienced how their parents must work to provide them with such money.”
Despite their fast success, the two friends admitted there were numerous trial and error. For example, the prime cost was more expensive than they had expected because they only used fresh vegetables and refused to leave leftovers for the next day.
Managing Salady while working in the field was also physically challenging. Kim lost seven kilograms in his first month of working in Ewha Salady, while Lee lost 20 kilograms after launching the start-up. For the brave ones who wish to start their own company, Kim had words of advice.
“There were days when I regretted joining the start-up,” Kim admitted with a smile. “I couldn’t let go of the opportunity cost, the money I could’ve earned from my previous high-paying job. The risk of a start-up is as big as the wealth that follows with a booming business. Thus, be very cautious in deciding to begin a start-up. But once the decision is made, burn the bridge, never look back, and put in all you’ve got.”