Food has always played a big role in Singaporean culture. From hawker centers to cafes to Michelin-starred restaurants, our small island has a wide variety of food options.
The great importance attached to the dining experiences in Singapore has led the government to make efforts to ensure that the street vendor culture does not die out.
Hawkers in Singapore have long faced the problem of not being able to give their stands to anyone else in the event they decide to retire.
This has led the National Environmental Agency (NEA) to announce a new system that will allow unsubsidized, retired street vendors to give their stalls to non-family members and non-relatives.
Despite the difficulties associated with working in the F&B industry, some are still ready to take a leap in confidence and take a foray into the industry.
From cafes to street vendors, here are five Singaporeans who are quitting their comfortable jobs to start their own F&B business:
1. Terrible chocolate
Lyn Lee, Founder of Awfully Chocolate / Image Credit: Changi Airport
Mention Awfully Chocolate and Singaporeans will immediately think of the brand’s decadent chocolate cakes.
It was started in 1998 by ex-attorney Lyn Lee who dreamed of making great chocolate cakes.
After Lyn could not find the “ultimate chocolate cake”, she left her profession as a lawyer to open her own pastry shop.
The brand now has 14 stores in Singapore. It also has a subsidiary, Sinpopo Brand, which was founded in 2013 as an “Ode to Katong” and for the preservation of the neighborhood.
While none of its Singaporean outlets are franchise businesses, the chocolatier has taken advantage of franchise opportunities in overseas markets like Hong Kong and China, where the brand has built an empire.
In 2007 the first franchise store was opened in Shanghai. Awfully Chocolate franchises now exist in Chinese cities like Beijing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nantong, Wuhan, and others.
Terry Neo (right), founder of Kopifellas / Photo credit: My Nice Home
Kopifellas had humble beginnings as a stand-alone stand in Timber + in 2017.
In just four years it was expanded to three stands and now names an entire coffee shop area in itself.
After graduating from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, founder Terry Neo worked as a trader at Citibank. In an interview, he told the job search portal Glints that he would later be “a little fed up with the corporate world”.
He was also driven by his love for coffee and his passion for keeping local traditions alive. So he gave up his banking career to get a shot at hawkerpreneurship.
The success of Kopifellas’ Timber + Outlet led to the opening of two more stores at the Toa Payoh and Beauty World Center.
This spurred Terry and his co-founders to launch FellasCube – a traditional café by day and a modern lifestyle bistro bar by night.
3. Hakka Hamcha & Yong Tou Fu
Alan Kok and Michelle Yee, founders of Hakka Hamcha & Yong Tou Fu / Photo credit: Seth Lui
After six years as an office manager at a multinational company, 36-year-old Michelle Yee left the company to run her own business.
Michelle and her husband Alan Kok serve the traditional Hakka dish Thunder Tea Rice at the Chinatown Complex Food Center.
Alan had also quit his engineering job to join Michelle. As first-time street vendors, the couple faced a number of difficulties.
Both had no experience in the F&B industry and were self-taught.
The stand was only put into operation in 2018, but has already made a name for itself with a Promising New Hawker Award from the NEA.
4th 545 Whampoa prawn noodles
Li Ruifang, owner of 545 Whampoa prawn noodles / Photo credit: Miss Tam Chiak
Li Ruifang is the third generation owner of 545 Whampoa Shrimp Noodles in the Tekka Market.
The 33-year-old finance graduate worked for an MNC for around four years before taking over the business from her father.
The family company’s roots date back to the 1950s when their grandfather started selling it along the streets of Whampoa. That’s why Ruifang is now using a recipe that spans three generations.
Even if she hasn’t started the booth from scratch, managing a street vendor booth after switching from a corporate job is not an easy task.
According to food blogger Seth Lui, the young street vendor wakes up at the wicked hour at 2:30 a.m. in order to prepare in time for the booth to open at 6:30 a.m.
5. Li Na Fishball Noodle
Mai Leena Krishna and Jeevan Ananthan, owners of Li Na Fishball Noodle / Photo credit: My Nice Home
Jeevan Ananthan is a young Singaporean who gave up his comfortable career in finance to set up a street vendor stall with his wife, May Leena Krishnan.
Prior to founding Li Na Fishball Noodle, Jeevan worked as an investment banker for eight years while May worked in digital marketing.
The stand opened in September 2019, but a “racial barrier” made it difficult for the couple to begin with.
May said in an interview with Channel News Asia that they had received a barrage of “snarky comments” from customers who questioned their cooking skills.
Two months after starting the company, she decided to use her marketing skills and uploaded a video of Jeevan making fishball noodles on Facebook.
The video went viral, attracting media interviews and customers. As orders increased steadily, the couple managed to break even by January 2020.
Comfort isn’t always better
Although all of these Singaporeans had safe and convenient nine-for-five jobs, they nonetheless chose to take the lesser-traveled route and venture into F&B stores.
As with any business, competition in the F&B industry is fierce. Cooking all day and being on your feet can also be seen as rather inconspicuous.
Even so, these millennials have managed to build successful ventures, which shows that sometimes getting out of your comfort zone can be the key to success.
Selected image source: Oishi / My Nice Home / Seth Lui / Singapore Noodle / Honey Combers