When starting a business, it is difficult to predict how long the doors will remain open. For Guan Hock Lee (GHL) however, the journey has been going strong for over 70 years.

From their humble beginnings as a small neighbourhood shop selling magazines and toys in Jalan Chevalier at the capital in the 1950s, GHL has now grown into one of the country’s largest distributors of imported gourmet foods.

Image: Azrina Zin

Founded by the late Oswald Sim Eng Boon who came to Brunei in the 1940s, the family business was established with the aim of delivering much-needed supplies in Brunei during the post-war period.

From magazines and toys, GHL began to slowly shift its business operations, venturing into selling fruits at Tamu Kianggeh, one of the sultanate’s oldest open-air markets and after a few decades, the business evolved even further, expanding to the wholesale of foods and beverages by the 1970s.

Guan Hock Lee Food specialty grocery store located in Setia Kenangan 2 complex Kiulap. Image: Yusri Adanan

Progressing from strength to strength, GHL eventually cemented itself in the hearts of consumers with the first GHL gourmet store which opened in Batu Bersurat in the early 2000s, which undoubtedly became a major hit, as the demand for international goods rose in Brunei.

After another two decades, the momentum for the family-owned business kept going, resulting in GHL opening two new stores this year; a second gourmet store in Kiulap and a hobby store at Latifuddin Complex at Jln Tungku.

General view of the Guan Hock Lee specialty grocery storestore located in Setia Kenangan 2 complex Kiulap. Image: Yusri Adanan

“We currently supply a large inventory of food items to supermarkets, restaurants, and other food and beverage businesses throughout the country,” said the founder.

“We specialise in providing fruits, gourmet cooking and baking ingredients, snacks, confectionery, frozen seafood, quality beverages, as well as cooking and coffee equipment,” they shared.

Selection of cheese and dairy product that can be found at the Guan Hock Lee specialty grocery storestore located in Setia Kenangan 2 complex Kiulap. Image: Yusri Adanan

The family attributed GHL’s success in the last seven decades of its establishment to its ability to adapt to changes and openness to new ideas.

“The predominant challenge we have seen is keeping up with changing tastes. We aim to be reactive and our strategy is to be able to meet and provide for new and upcoming trends in Brunei,” they shared.

Image: Azrina Zin

“Over the past 70 years, we have seen a lot of changes in taste and preferences with each generation,” the founders shared.

“These days, we noticed Bruneians have become more conscious of the items they consume. Bruneians are now more health-conscious, and more conscious of where items originate from, as well as more discerning with the quality of the items they purchase,” they said.

Image: Azrina Zin

“Also with globalisation, Bruneians are now looking for more niche products,” they said, adding that in recent years, there has been a growing demand for products from Japan and Korea, which we now provide,” they shared.

Although it has been a busy year for the family in keeping the business up and running, they appreciate their customers and the government for supporting them throughout the years.

“Our company would not be where it is today without all the support that we have received,” they said.

Image: Azrina Zin

As for future plans, Guan Hock Lee is keen on expanding their retail reach with a new, larger supermarket in the next two years. 

“We are also looking into venturing into agriculture and growing our own halal products that can be processed and made available to Bruneians,” they shared.

What’s in store

Whether it is shopping for baking ingredients or just looking for a specific snack food, Guan Hock Lee (GHL) has you covered with its recently opened second consumer retail outlet in Kiulap.

The new store offers wider aisles and better product displays focused on providing quality goods and leading global brands from UK, Europe, Australia, America and Asia.

Selection of Monin syrup that can be found in store. Image: Yusri Adanan

With over 70 years of experience, the local franchise has developed a reputation as the go-to destination for gourmet food products with leading global brands familiar to all restaurants and home kitchens such as Lavazza, Monin, Olitalia, Kettle Chips and more.

Moreover, customers can expect many of the same features and products that have made GHL a local favourite go-to store.

Store assistant sorting out food product on the store shelf. Image: Yusri Adanan

Stepping inside the newly-opened branch, customers will be tempted to fill their baskets as they walk from aisle to aisle that is filled with a colourful display of assorted cereals, candies and more.

When it comes to chips, crisps and crackers, their snack selection is pretty spectacular as well. You can find brand favourites such as Aroma Truffle, Luke’s Organic, Kettle Chips and The Daily Crave, more.

Image: Azrina Zin

Flour, butter, sugar, yeast, you name it, the new branch includes a large baking section, offering an assortment of baking essentials from Hershey’s Baking chips to Liberty Lane Cream Cheese.

Selection of cheese and dairy product that can be found at the Guan Hock Lee specialty grocery storestore located in Setia Kenangan 2 complex Kiulap. Image: Yusri Adanan

Moreover, if you’re thinking of making sushi or Beef Bulgogi at home? Their “East” section is filled with a variety of imported ingredients from Korea and Japan from Nature’s Korean BBQ Marinade Sauce to ready-to-eat unagi.

Besides that, tea lovers are in for a treat! The shop also offers a wide selection of high-quality teas from Pukka, English Tea Shop, Traditional Medicinals Teas and more.

Some of the selection of tea available in store. Image: Yusri Adanan

The new branch which is located on the ground floor of the Setia Kenangan 2 building in Kiulap (same block as Colobaba and Photoplus Studio) has already received a good reception from customers during its opening.

Kiulap is a prime centre in the Sultanate and a highly popular destination for shoppers, it would be a good location for the newly opened store, said the founder of GHL.

Guan Hock Lee friendly store assistant ready to serve and assist customer in need with their shopping. Image: Yusri Adanan

The decision on opening a store at the bustling Kiulap area is also owing to its strategic location near a populated and highly dynamic area, the founders added.

This article was first published on 10 July 2021 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 149

THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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