Going against the grain
Business and marketing has always interested Hakim, but he felt restricted by cultural expectations. After graduating, he pursued a career path he found wasn’t right for him.
“After RMIT, I went into working in corporate for a few years. I really found that the culture of the corporate world was just not suited for who I am as a person.”
Instead of embarking on a whole new career, Hakim found a way to combine his education in business and marketing with his passion for food.
“My holidays revolve around food; my life revolves around food. Full stop. But coming from an Asian background, whereby a chef wasn't seen as a practical career, I did the next best thing because I guess I had a gift for gab and marketing was the thing that fit me.
“But that passion for food never really left my soul. Even though I was working in an office in marketing, I did a side business where I cooked and hosted dinner parties for people.”
Building a business
Cheese may not have been the obvious direction for a Singaporean, given it’s rarely eaten in the country. But soon after arriving in Australia, Hakim discovered he loved cheese – so much so, that he soon became lactose intolerant.
“My first ever cheese platter was 13 years ago when I moved here and it was the Coon's cheddar with IXL jam and Jatz crackers from [a] North Melbourne 7-Eleven service station,” he said.
“That changed my life in terms of dairy.”
Hakim began working at the Queen Victoria Market deli he would eventually purchase. In his role as cheesemonger there, he sold international cheeses and soon realised there was a gap in the market.
“A lot of my customers were asking why it was easier to find European cheese in Australia as compared to Australian cheese in Australia,” he said.
“Every single shop in the country sells a large number of European produce, cheese specifically. I did my research and I found all these amazing small artisanal producers coming from Australia.
“I thought, ‘Great, this is an idea. Let's explore it’.”
Hakim purchased his first deli at the market in 2017 and the second, which was to become RIPE Cheese, in 2019.
RIPE offers more than 50 varieties of Australian cheese and during winter it does a roaring trade on its truffle cheese toasties.