When Yen Aun Leow started an industry placement at Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, he could only dream of running his own venue on South Australia’s world-renowned isle. Now, six years after graduating from Adelaide’s International College of Hotel Management (ICHM), Yen is the co-owner of Cactus Kangaroo Island. We spoke to Yen about how he went from graduate to foodie entrepreneur.
What brought you to South Australia to study?
I was studying for my Diploma in Hospitality Management at YTL International College of Hotel Management in Kuala Lumpur. I wanted to complete the bachelor degree, so I came to ICHM in Adelaide, which partners with my school in Malaysia and gives students the chance to further their studies in Australia. My sister was in Adelaide, so I knew how lovely it was and it was an easy decision to come to finish my degree.
How did you end up co-owning a cafe on Kangaroo Island?
After I graduated from ICHM, I took up a placement at the Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island. I started as a housekeeper and ended up as assistant lodge manager in just over four years. I fell in love with Kangaroo Island. It feels like home over here to me.
I spent a couple of years travelling and working in McLaren Vale as a restaurant manager, but I knew I wanted to end up back on the island. That’s when my friend, Louis Lark, and I decided to open our café. I met Louis at the Southern Ocean Lodge, and we’ve become a great business team. We opened Cactus in November 2017, and things are going great. The locals have really embraced us and our first summer season was fantastic. We’ve got outside seating and a lively vibe, so I think it’s a fun place for locals and tourists to hang out.
How do you think studying in Adelaide has helped you to achieve your graduate dreams?
Adelaide is a little gem. It’s a great place to study. It’s big enough to have everything you need, but when you want to get away the beach, the countryside and the wineries are all in easy reach. The people are also really nice. It’s a wonderful community.
Doing the course at ICHM has been great too. The course is accredited by the Swiss Hotel Association and gave me a fantastic education which has helped me follow my graduate dreams. I’ve always wanted to be a chef and work in hospitality. I’m really happy that I chose the right place to study which led me to my life in this beautiful place.
What would you say to students thinking about coming to Adelaide to study?
Enjoy the sun, enjoy the beach, enjoy the wine. It’s a great place.