Across the green-coloured walls, lies a portrait of an Asian couple, with the words “food for my family” strongly written beside them.
Once in awhile, Bomi Oh would occasionally glance at this picture, which sits comfortably next to the entrance of her newly opened Kmart outlet in Serusop.
Bomi introduced the couple featured in the artful photo as her parents – the persons who are mostly responsible to build a market for Korean products in the country.
Her family business which branched out from Brunei’s first-ever Korean specialty restaurant Sarang to both Hallyu Mart and Kmart draws their strength from strong familial ties and value, besides maintaining the traditional face-to-face interaction with customers.
Where it begins
Bomi was only 17 when she arrived in Brunei with her parents back in 2007. It was her father’s decision to leave their lives in Australia to set up a business in the sultanate — which may be a wise decision since the Sarang Restaurant is still standing strong in the market.
Despite running a stable restaurant, Bomi said owning a convenience store had always been a long held dream for her family.
When the Korean Wave finally hit Brunei, Bomi saw that opening up a specialty store seems like a sensible step for her family.
This then led to the opening of Brunei’s first Korean specialty store, the Hallyu Mart in Batu Bersurat; and this concept was then expanded into Kmart, which was opened at Gadong in 2017, and Serusop this year.
Bomi and her family first decided to open up Hallyu Mart to latch onto the growing popularity of the Korean pop culture in Brunei.
When the store was first established, Bruneians were already engaged with the growing Japanese popular culture – which led Bomi and her parents to believing that the same could be done with her culture.
Fast forward, the first Kmart was then opened in Gadong in 2017. Ever since then, the family-owned business has steadily expanded into two more locations spread out across the Sultanate.
Bomi and her father Yong-Gi runs all of the branches of Kmart and maintained the original front Hallyu Mart; while her mother ensures that operations at Sarang Restaurant remained smooth.
Kmart, the newest generation of the Korean specialty chain
Kmart is popular among Bruneians for its dine-in concept and has gained a cult following. Open daily from 10am to 10pm the store blends both elements of Korean and Japanese convenience stores which includes a dining area for customers to enjoy the to-go food available.
While Kmart stores have traditionally contained its fast-casual component, the new location in Serusop feature more of a restaurant set up with ample communal seating and also a new take out section named “Omma Gimbap”.
The section specialty is in Korean fast food ranging from $2 to $5, the Omma Bimbap’s options include Gimbap, Tteokbokki, Bibimbap, Ramyun, Omurice and more.
The menu caters from YamYam Sarang restaurant with a selection of hot and cold Korean sides dishes (Banchan) which includes fresh kimchi, stir fried eggplant, among others.
Moreover, customers will be able to enjoy a wide selection of popular ramen noodles: Samyang noodles, Neoguri, Kimchi, Rates from spicy to mild.
Besides the variety of Korean street food, the new location also serves the signature YamYam chicken from the family’s Sarang Restaurant in Batu Bersurat.
Beyond the shelves stocked with Honey & Apple Twist crisp and every colourful flavour of Samyang Noodles, Bomi said it has taken them a year to open up the latest location and added “as the stores have expanded, so has the products.”
Many of their Korean snacks are all unique and not sold in other convenience stores in Brunei, attracting customers with its product differentiation.
According to Bomi, most of the products are all direct from South Korea.
“In the beginning, it was a challenge for a family to bring in products. Now, we work with a lot of direct suppliers from South Korea that supply all the products for us and has helped manage our inventory really well,” she said.
Aside from the products, Bomi takes pride in the level of customer service they offer at their store as they treat all of their customers like family.
Although it has been a busy year for Bomi and her family in keeping the locations up and running, they appreciate the business and the support it has gained.
“The foot traffic has been good and the response has been very positive” Bomi said. “We will keep growing as much as possible.”
The Bruneian | Bandar Seri Begawan