When Bella Kim followed her heart to London in 2015, despite being welcomed into her future husband’s large extended family, she says there were times she felt terribly homesick. “I missed my mom’s cooking, so I went searching all of the local Asian restaurants, looking for authentic Korean dishes that tasted like home.”
Nothing quite hit the mark, so Kim decided to cook her favourite Korean meals herself. Creating authentic Korean dishes eventually led her to launch Bella’s Acacia Catering, a line of hand-crafted kimchi and other packaged products that are retailed locally, and most recently a café that bears her name.
“We specialize in vegan-friendly, nut-free, allergy-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free food, and offer unique flavours,” says Kim. She has expanded twice, but still does all of the shopping herself, going out two or three times a week to hand-pick the premium, fresh ingredients that she sources locally.
When Kim first started cooking her family recipes here in London, one of the biggest challenges was finding the right ingredients. “I tried all types of cabbage — even cabbage grown in Canada doesn’t taste the same,” Kim says. But she persisted, and when she started sharing her home cooking with friends and family they soon started asking her to prepare food for them.
Demand grew, and Kim decided she should offer catering as a business. She connected with an advisor at the Small Business Centre when she launched Bella’s Acacia Catering, and has stayed connected with the SBC throughout her entrepreneurial journey.
Kim opened Bella’s Acacia Catering working out of a rented commercial kitchen in Old East Village in 2018, while she was still a full-time student in the Business-Accounting program at Fanshawe College. Kim recalls nights when she worked in the kitchen through the wee hours of the morning and says 15-hour days were often the norm.
Although her initial goal was to be a CPA, in 2020 Kim decided to step away from school and channel her energy into building her catering business. She moved her operation to the back area of the London Food Incubator at 630 Dundas Street as soon as space became available — in the fall of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic.
“The business was struggling, so I decided to take my packaged food to farmers’ markets and pop-up events — basically anywhere that I could connect with the public. Some people didn’t even know what kimchi is, so I had to educate them,” she says.
Her persistence was rewarded with a growing loyal customer base — so much so that in November 2022 she moved to a larger space, closer to the building’s front entrance, with room to set up a small eat-in area. Through her business advisor at SBC, she was able to access funding, which helped with the cost of renovations, the purchase of kitchen equipment, dining tables and chairs, and some marketing expenses.
Although Kim continues to do all of the shopping and cooking for Bella’s, she now has three to four part-time workers who help with food prep, cleaning and sterilizing, and packaging. The business is split fairly equally between food orders for catering, pick-up and dine-in, and packaged products that can be purchased at Bella’s, Remark or Momo’s at Western Fair Market.
Having dine-in seating means Kim can meet more of her customers in person, but she would also like to expand her wholesale business by distributing packaged goods through local grocery and more specialty stores. She’s confident that demand for her food will continue to increase, she got the persistence she needs to grow the business…and she’s ready to work more of those 15-hour days.
Learn more about Bella’s Acacia Catering.