Profile of Awfully Chocolate Co-Founder, Lyn Lee
A Homegrown Brand
Disappointed with not finding a good chocolate cake in Singapore that lived up to her expectations, along with her dissatisfaction with her job as a lawyer, Lyn left her legal profession and embarked on cake-making with a group of friends. They took the time to perfect the recipe through trial and error, and she eventually opened her first cake shop in 1998 in Katong. A single item was on the menu – a simple handcrafted dark chocolate cake.
The chocolate cake became a local cult favourite. Despite the encouraging demand, Lyn chose to be cautious and expand slowly. She only opened her second store in 2004, using the profits she gained from her first store. Today, Awfully Chocolate has more than 10 stores, cafes, and restaurants in Singapore and 23 franchised outlets across China. The menu has expanded to include other cakes and branded chocolate products. Their cafes and restaurants also offer breakfast and lunch items, as well as a bakery and drinks selection.
Awfully Chocolate prides itself on serving quality products that focus on the quality of ingredients rather than quantity. It takes trade secrecy very seriously and is extended to all aspects of its business model, including the chocolate mixes, baking techniques, business methods, store concept and brand packaging.
Only a small number of its employees have access to its proprietary baking techniques. This group of staff, known as the ‘master bakers’, are the only ones that possess the knowledge to train franchisee bakers and play a key role in maintaining quality control with franchisees. Apart from the master bakers, a separate group of employees have exclusive access to the baking mix ingredients and chocolate blends. All discussions with cocoa blend and suppliers are also kept strictly confidential.
Staying Nimble and Relevant
The start of Lyn’s entrepreneurial journey was risky, with many uncertainties. In the beginning, naysayers, including their packaging supplier, were sceptical that the bakery would succeed. Lyn and her friends had no formal training in running a business, especially a food and beverage establishment. However, the team turned this weakness into a strength, and according to Lyn, “part of Awfully Chocolate’s longevity lies in its ability to buck the trend”. Preferring to be contrarians and unique, the team chose not to jump onto short-lived fads and trends.
Running a business is not easy. Lyn shared that a business is an adventure that involves trying and making mistakes. Mistakes are an important value as you learn from them and move forward. As business challenges continue to evolve, Lyn believes that it is important for business owners always to prepare themselves to respond and adapt to new circumstances and opportunities by paying “attention to the macro and the micro, emphasising detail and dedication to higher standards, while taking a long-term perspective.”
After two decades of triumphs and rough patches, Lyn continues to strive to strengthen the brand. She remains optimistic, nimble, and relentlessly injects innovation into Awfully Chocolate to stay relevant.
Lyn opines that entrepreneurship in Singapore can be difficult, and business failures can be very costly. However, she does not believe in shortcuts. According to her, entrepreneurs must work hard and long hours but simultaneously enjoy the journey. For her, the three ingredients in her success are quality chocolate, hard work and passion.
“How Awfully Chocolate’s Founder Went From Connoisseur to Entrepreneur,” BBC, 8 November 2010. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-11701575
“Sweet Success,” Frasers Property, 3 July 2018. https://www.frasersproperty.com/the-library/sg/2018/july/sweet-success
“How Awfully Chocolate Went From Shop to Successful Regional Franchise,” myBusiness. https://mybusiness.singtel.com/techblog/how-awfully-chocolate-went-shop-successful-regional-franchise
“Awfully Chocolate,” IPOS International, 25 July 2019. https://iposinternational.com/resources/case-studies/awfully-chocolate_136
“Location & Operating Hours,” Awfully Chocolate, 2022. https://www.awfullychocolate.com/stores
Jeanette Tan, “23 Years On, Awfully Chocolate Founder Continues Serving Customers & Clearing Tables At Her Shops,” Mothership, 22 May 2021. https://mothership.sg/2021/05/lessons-on-leadership-lyn-lee-awfully-chocolate-interview/