There is an old Latin phrase “mens sana in corpore sano” that translates as “a healthy mind in a healthy body”. Throughout the generations, the phrase seems to have evolved to “a beautiful memory in a beautiful place.” Like a mild fragrance or an old familiar song, beautiful places remain as fragments in our memory. And here is the one who makes places to remember. SMT reporters listened to the story of Jang Shinhye, the CEO of Positives, as told through letters from a special café.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. Before we begin, would you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Let me start by saying thank you for offering me the chance to share my story. I’d like to share with you today my life as a mother, a wife, and a career woman. I will also tell you a bit about my plans for the future of Café Positives as its CEO. It is my hope that students at Sookmyung Women’s University can learn from my story and grow into intelligent wise leaders, who may one day even become CEOs of their own company.
What exactly is Café Positives?
Positives is a more of a ‘space’ rather than a café. It is a place where people can relax by removing themselves from the stresses of daily life. I also feel it is a space where visitors are free to pop in and enjoy themselves. Positives offers guests a place to stay as well as all the perks of a café. At one time, Positives was merely a small thirty to forty year-old house located in Chuncheon of Gangwon province. Time ran its toll on the old house and it succumbed to the wear and tear of weather and age. Eventually, no one even glanced its way when they passed by it. I took this shabby worn down home to new heights by keeping most of the old and renovating some of it, bringing it to life again. Simply put, ‘Positives’ is a reinterpretation of an old place, showing the value of new things.
What made you choose the house in Chuncheon as the starting point for ‘Positives’?
At first, I suffered from the dilemma of opening in Seoul or somewhere in the courtyside, outside the metropolitan area. Having grown up in Chuncheon, I felt that Seoul or foreign countries offer more changes to fulfil l thirst for culture compared to Chuncheon. Seoul and Chuncheon are actually quite close, but they are very far in terms of cultural attractions. Returning to Chuncheon as an adult, I realized the richness of culture and nature in Chuncheon, far surpassing that in the large urban city. Yet, I soon realized Chuncheon had not yet established many places where people could come to share its culture and nature, so I made the decision to begin my venture in Chuncheon.
What did you do before founding ‘Positives’? It must not have been easy to suddenly step up to the position of CEO. What made you sure about your decision to launch ‘Positives’?
Until the age of 30, I studied continuously, eventually completing my doctoral. In my younger days, I dreamt big and wide about the things I’d accomplish in life, but I never sincerely enjoyed studying. It felt more like work than a path to my dream. I had lost my direction in life as well as my goals. One day, I awoke from that life and started wandering about seeking a new direction. I once worked as a broadcast reporter and was an offi ce worker. I start realizing my past dreams. Then, I went to Nepal as a volunteer worker. Having been impressed by their artisan works, I started importing some of the works to Korea and sold them here. I guess ‘Positives’ really began then. The importing business was tough, being diffi cult to manage alone. Still, it was meaningful. Koreans were able to purchase foreign works of art and Nepalese benefi ted from earned income. I decided, out of many possible ways to help, promoting the purpose of the project and raising funds for it was the best way I could help. That business project was the starting point for the operation of Positives: a way of stepping towards the future by preparing for it now.
What is your management philosophy?
I think it is important to make the impossible look possible. Instead of following others, I face head on any challenges even if I am leery of the outcome. If I anticipate failure, I try harder from a new angle. For example, it is commonly believed that few customers will visit a café when it rains, but ‘Positives’ knows there are people who enjoy rainy days. We are constantly brainstorming ways of attracting customers to the café on rainy days. First and foremost, we change our perspective of the idea that rainy days equates to few customers. Second, we target people who enjoy the rain. By changing our view, we are able to dissolve the notion and we came up with the idea of playing songs or videos related to rainy days for those visitors that enjoy the rain. Like this, we continuously strive to come up with ways to make rainy days better. Everything does not work out as planned at all times, but by trying, you can have better outcomes than not trying at all. That is my managerial style.
You are known for your fresh take on interior design, menu concepts, and so on. Where do you get the inspiration for your beautiful cafés?
Details like menu uniqueness and décor according to the season are essential elements to Café Positives. As a result, marketing, planning, and interior design play a big part in Café Positives. I love these aspects to the job, and that is probably the reason I’m in this business. I love to travel. I can’t count how many part time jobs I took just to earn enough money to head off on another trip. I became penniless in my thirties due to frequent journeys, but I don’t regret my choice. The people and cultures I interacted with on my travels are the inspirations for my café. All throughout my journeys, I made detailed accounts of my adventures and the people I met. I wrote accounts of the day in my notebook, typed in short memos on my phone, and even took numerous photos so that I could look back at them from time to time. While planning a new café, I looked back on my memories to get ideas. I aim to provide my customers with the same emotion and ambiance I get when I recall a certain time, place, or individual.
You spend a lot of time on menu creation. What are some of Café Positives signature dishes? Where did the ideas for those menu items come from?
Café Positives signature menu items would have to be its fruit juices and sandwiches and they are made with seasonal fruit and vegetables I grow personally. A good dish is born from the love of preparing food for others. I also try to provide patrons with wholesome healthy food as well. As a student living in Seoul alone, it was hard to eat right. I missed home-cooked meals. My mother always cooked for us using produce and fruit from her hobby farm. I believe the creation of good cuisine starts with good ingredients. Like my mother, I only use natural ingredients in the dishes, which makes guests feel a sense of comfort from the café and the food. I promise to continue to use only natural ingredients for all menu items at Café Positives.
What are your future goals for Café Positives?
You can find us on Instragram at @positives_ coffee. I hope to make Positives much more than a café. I am also managing other businesses related to the café. These include Positives Farm, which is also on Instagram at @positives_farm. It is a store devoted to the sale of seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables. I also manage Letters from Positives at @ lettersfrom_positives on Instagram. It is a bakery. I want to gather more people in spaces of Positivies with various activities. From autumn of this year, I am planning to start a new business. It will involve the selling of shoes with part of the profits going towards helping Nepalese people. I dream of branching out the company into all kinds of areas. The journey will be long, but I am prepared to do my best to accomplish it and provide the best service for all that visit Positives.
Except for your goals for Positives, what does the future hold for you personally?
I am in my mid-thirties right now, but as I get closer to being forty, I will start an in depth study of my field of interest. Then, I see myself lecturing in my mid-forties as well as continuing to manage my various businesses. I hope to live through constant learning. No matter how old one is, there is always something to learn and share with others. I can say this confidently because I’ve already made a vow to myself to do it. I live by the motto: ‘enjoy unfamiliarity in life’. Rather than living only for the present, I would like to constantly develop and improve myself to broaden my fi elds of interest. A life of sharing what I earn from learning is my dream.
Lastly, could you leave some words and advice for Sookmyungians who wish to establish their own businesses?
Before pursuing a job or acting upon your dream, get into the right mindset. Consider how you will face challenges and difficulties. Get ready for the worst, but expect the best. All jobs differ, but passion and effort are what will lead you to success. Set yourself a goal and no matter what, establish clear values and do something you enjoy. Early successes and failures are not as important as enjoyment in work. Loving what you do and taking a positive attitude towards your work are the keys to long-term success. Before Positives, I often evaluated myself as having neither patience nor expertise. However, these comments are no longer applicable as I have found my calling and I am passionate about my work. Hence, evaluate yourself critically, but do not be concerned about how others see you. Do what makes you happy.
- CEO of Positives