The tenacity of starting a business again at 69 years old

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Kav Ly, creator of Ta Tung, presents ALOLOCO her new line of business after breaking up with the Gallo Group. Kav Ly (Kompung Cham, Cambodia, 69 years old) is a strong and proud businesswoman. During the pandemic, she sold “her empire” of cooked dishes, Ta Tung, to Grupo Gallo, with which she broke up definitively a few months ago. “We don't work in the same way, they want benefits and I cook quality food,” explains the founder of the first pre-cooked Asian food company in Spain, who has decided to revive her entrepreneurial career at Aloloco, a brand also of pre-cooked dishes. but now with gluten-free Latin American and Asian recipes. “I don't even want to hear about retirement, I have self-employed blood,” she admits with a laugh. At only 19 years old, Ly arrived in France fleeing the Cambodian War. “A few days before I was going to France to study Medicine, a bomb exploded right next to me. I remember my Yamaha 90 on one side of the road and me on the opposite side,” she says. Her mouth tasting blood and being stunned could only mean one thing: “She was alive. I was born again but since then I live with fear at all hours,” she confesses. Even during his youth, fear has not stopped him on his path inspired by strict family discipline: “My parents worked very hard, they had a tobacco dryer and a peanut oil company, and from them I inherited the value of effort and dedication. head of business,” he admits. When she had been in Paris for a few months, the war ended, Cambodia came under Pol Pot's regime and Ly lost contact with her family, isolated in a refugee camp. “Those four years were worse than the war. My parents had given me a lot of money but I didn't want to spend a penny in case they needed it later, so I made a living as best I could,» she admits. Her mother taught her that «a woman should have her own money» and Ly, Pursuing this maxim, she was forced to abandon her career in Medicine. She worked as a cleaner, waitress, cook, nursing assistant and sewing leather in a handbag factory until she arrived in Barcelona in the 1980s. Just a year later, Ly opened the restaurant serving Asian cuisine—China, Thailand, Cambodia, India and Japan― Ta Tung, now Kavly Restaurant in the Gràcia neighborhood. But the success of the place was not enough for her entrepreneurial outlook and, after hours in Ta Tung's kitchen, Ly went home to prepare spring rolls to sell in delicatessens and grocery stores in the area. “I chose my favorite products from the restaurant, cooked and packaged them so that they only had to be heated before eating and went door after door to make them known,” he explains. More information The innovative and revolutionary nature of their products attracted some supermarkets in the city. In 1997, Ly launched a ready-made meal factory with three product ranges—rolls, rice and pasta—in L'Hospitalet de Llobregat. ”The most difficult thing was being the first. Nobody in Spain ate Asian dishes and, even less, packaged, preheated cuisine, it was something Martian. And the difficulties come from the rejection of the unknown,” she confesses. In 2016, the Ta Tung firm had grown so much that Ly decided to expand the business with the construction of a new 16,000 square meter factory in Sant Vicenç dels Horts. When he was “juggling” to recover the investment, the pandemic arrived: “It killed me . Rather, it finished me off.” With her commercial director sick with Covid-19 and with more than half of the staff at home for fear of contagion, it became impossible for Ly to meet the demand of distributors. “Supermarkets asked for more product and the situation became unsustainable. Loneliness and suffering made me give in,” she says. At the end of confinement, the businesswoman sold Ta Tung to Proa Capital, the investment fund that owns Pastas Gallo. “In 2015 they offered me close to 30 million euros for the business but I did not agree, Ta Tung was my whole life,” he says. In 2020, he had to sell the firm for only five million, an amount with which he also had to pay his debts. “The business to which I had dedicated my entire life was left at 60,000 euros, enough to buy an apartment for my children and retire to prepare for my old age,” laments the businesswoman. What affects most is what happens closest. To not miss anything, subscribe.SubscribeThe sales contract to Proa Capital included the rights to the Ta Tung brand and the incorporation of Ly to the business board and the R&D department, as a product creator. In these three years, the chef has patented the sushi rice dish with Teriyaki chicken and the noodles and rice in “bowl” format. The rhythm of control and product strategy of the new company was not in tune with Ly, «my new products only had a place in the client brands because they could not adapt to so many new developments, I am faster than the factory,» he admits among laughter The dissonance between the company that “seeks profits” and the businesswoman who prefers quality and creativity led to Ly's final break with the Gallo Group. “If I stay on the couch I will die. I turned 69 four days ago and I'm still sane for a while,” Ly boasts. At almost 70 years old, the businesswoman explores the field of Latin food with Aloloco, the brand of “highest quality” prepared dishes that offers empanadas, burritos and fajitas with Latin recipes and the chef's “fusion touch.” A new bet to which she adds another line of gluten-free Asian food, a type of cooking that Ly has “mastered” since she was little. In the Gallo Group he leaves “his image, his name and his seal of quality”, but with him he carries his energy and his innovative spirit: “The contract with Gallo prevents me from competing with them until 2025, but gluten-free products are within my limits. contractual. When the contract ends we will see,” she says. For now, the pioneer of ready-made food faces 2024 with two very clear ideas: “I wouldn't get Ta Tung back, I've already turned the page and I know that getting bored, I'm never going to get bored,” she admits with a laugh. You can follow EL PAÍS Catalunya on Facebook and xor sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter