The Story Behind CombiniCo

Get to know more about St Andrews' favourite minimalist Korean-Japanese food and beverage company in our interview with co-founder and managing director, Juno Lee.

The Story Behind CombiniCo

What motivated you to start Combini?

Juno: I started Combini with my co-founder, Alex. He was actually my academic father when I was in St. Andrews. We started when I was at the end of my second year and it was the end of his fourth year. Since we first met, we were always looking to do something together. I think that's something we had in common. He was coming from a design and animation videography background, and I'd experienced starting a business before. So naturally, we started looking for something to do together and we thought that the most relevant problem we could solve in St. Andrews was having access to a convenient, delicious Korean and Japanese meal that's healthy and delicious, and also convenient to consume. We thought that lacked during our time in St. Andrews. So that's why we started Combini.

How did you go about setting up Combini?

Juno: When starting Combini the biggest challenge was finding premises. Pre-COVID times, St. Andrews was a very competitive place for commercial leases and properties. For two young non-University graduated students to try to secure a 10-15 year lease on a commercial property in St. Andrews was almost impossible. But we were able to overcome that through really getting in touch directly with the landlords and forming a genuine relationship with them so that they could see that we had the capacity to do what we needed to do and create a successful business.

What are the core values behind Combini?

Juno: In one sentence if I could sum up our core values I would say that it is to work with a passionate group of people to deliver delicious, healthy, and convenient Korean-Japanese meals that spark joy in our university town.

A selection of CombiniCo's fresh, healthy, minimalist dishes.

How has Combini developed since you opened?

Juno: So it's our third year now and it's been a rollercoaster really. The first year was intense. In the first six months Alex and I were doing everything at the store, from morning to evening, and then we started to grow the team to an extent where we had about 50 full and part time staff combined. We opened our second store, which is CombiniCafe on Market Street. We raised an investment round on Crowdcube crowd equity platform just before COVID as well.

What are your goals for the future?

Juno: We've come a long way in the past three years and I think that, given the circumstances with COVID, the most important thing is to make sure that the business is sustainable throughout the rest of the pandemic, recover well after, and be able to be in a position to grow again and to welcome our staff back and make exciting projects happen.

What do you think sets your Business apart from others?

Juno: I think first and foremost that it was started by two students. That makes us unique in several ways. The first is that the issues we're trying to solve were relevant to us and therefore relevant to the rest of the students. I think that's why we were welcomed so warmly initially. I think that because we had no prior experience in food and beverage, we had to come at it from a very unique angle, which I think benefited us in terms of how we ran the team, how we recruited, to how we went about developing our menus, to trying to build a unique retail store experience, how we interacted with our customers online in our social media presence and so forth. I think our youth was the differentiating factor, and the passion.

Why did you choose to work with Ecoeats?

Juno: We chose to work with Ecoeats first and foremost due to the fact that it's a net-zero  food delivery service in St. Andrews. Every rider is riding a bicycle or a driver is driving an electric vehicle and I think that sets a great standard for the future. I think food deliveries in general especially have proven to be such an important thing during COVID. Most of the food consumed in town from restaurants are through deliveries. So I think it's evident that Ecoeats is now serving a real purpose in town, especially for the consumers as well as the restaurants themselves. We're grateful for that.

How have your operations changed due to COVID-19 restrictions?

Juno: Our operations have changed a lot, and several times throughout the pandemic. Right now we are just operating with two staff in the kitchen, one staff in front of house. Most of our orders are deliveries and we're also trying to do our best to serve customers who come to our front door as well.

What is your favourite dish to prepare and eat?

Juno: To prepare, I would say the rice sandwich. We don't serve them at the moment, but that used to be my go to product to make because we had to make 50-60 of them in a short span of time - I love the speed and the pressure. To eat I personally like the tempura oyster mushroom Japanese style curry. That's one of my favourite dishes.

Order zero emissions delivery or contact-free collection from CombiniCo and CombiniCafe via the Ecoeats app.