From Day 1, The Raclette Factory barged their way onto leading food blogs, from Seth Lui to Daniel Food Diary.
Insta-stories showcased boomerangs of rich raclette being scrapped down onto a bed of potato and sausage.
The brand was easily one of the top-sellers at 2017’s Geylang Serai Bazaar – but did you know that before this, its young owner had zero F&B experience?
On the last day of Geylang Serai, I popped down to the stall to chat with 29-year-old co-founder Edward Koh about his experience.
From The Ground Up
The Raclette Factory was co-founded by long-time friends serial entrepreneur Edward Koh and Samuel Lee, both 29 this year.
The idea for the business came from a single YouTube recipe video, Edward reveals. After watching it he figured, “hey, I could do this too”.
Roping in Samuel, the pair began research and development in March – which gave them a grand total of 3 months to create the business from nothing.
While Edward runs operations at the Geylang Serai bazaar, Samuel does so at another Ramadan bazaar in Woodlands. Family members help out as cashiers, while the pair recruited Malay-Muslim makciks to work the food.
“None of us have F&B experience or certifications,” the young entrepreneur says, “so what I did was go to Starbucks and 12 Cupcakes.”
“There, I pitched my crazy business to the staff there and managed to convince them to join my team.”
A subscriber to the idea that businesses should start as minimally as possible, Edward reveals he invested about $8,000 at the start.
The funds went into procuring ingredients and equipment, the latter of which easily costs hundreds. But as a strong negotiator, Edward reveals he was able to negotiate down ingredient costs, as well as rental for his prime location.
“If you look at the stalls around mine (further into the bazaar), my rental is actually lower than theirs.”
Raclette And Social Media Woes
But the toughest obstacle of all had to do with the raclette, Edward muses.
“It’s very, very, very difficult to find halal raclette. Singapore doesn’t have any suppliers [but] we finally managed to import it from France.”
Each wheel costs upwards of $300 (more expensive then non-halal), weighs about 7kg, and can create about 70 plates.
But as the staff were inexperienced with handling the ingredient, their first few days were a headache.
“The staff were pushing out way too much cheese per plate. We also didn’t know how to properly use the last bits near the end [so] there was a lot of wastage.”
“When I did the accounts afterwards, we would make about $2,000… but the amounts used just didn’t match.”
But right from the very first day, everyone who’s anyone was also there, from The Smart Local to Seth Lui.
“We were just being watched […] and my first 2 days were very stressful.”
And when news of this new player serving up piping fresh raclette hit social media feeds, the crowd burgeoned further. They spent the early days fighting to keep up but by the time the first weekend was out, the team had found their synergy.
“It’s tough because during peak periods, there would be about 5-6 people crammed within that small working space. But once I learnt who was best at doing what, I was able to streamline operations.”
“Now customers would be really impressed with how fast we are, and I’d joke and say that we are all factory workers now.”
Negotiating Competition In Geylang Serai
“Right at the beginning, I noticed that Word was there and I was like… wah… Word sia.”
For those unfamiliar with the brand, Word Cafe sold rainbow bagels and bucket drinks.
“Now the Word guy and I are friends, but my first thought was that – what if their queues end up blocking ours?”
Fortunately for Edward, his queues ended up going around the back, far away from anyone else’s. And despite the long waiting time (almost an hour during peak), crowd interest did not falter.
Although he declined to reveal revenue or profit margin, he did share that they were selling about 350 plates everyday.
On the weekends, the number would surge up to 500.
But the Word Cafe wasn’t the only one they had to contend with.
When the Geylang Serai bazaar first launched, The Raclette Factory was the only one selling the cheese. By Week 2, the henna/biryani stall next to them was also doing so.
“I face drama every single day,” Edward reflects.
Although The Raclette Factory easily outperformed them (and edged them out), it was just one instance of copycat behaviour across the bazaar.
The Raclette Legacy
Geylang Serai is over, but opportunities for future pop-ups are definitely something the pair is looking out for. However, they would have to be selective, Edward concedes, as the Woodlands stall wasn’t a high performer.
But the main takeaway for Edward is about their branding.
“I receive feedback saying that we’ve made a name for ourselves but honestly, would people remember us after this? Do people remember us as The Raclette Factory, or as the stall at Geylang Serai selling raclette?” he confides.
The Raclette Factory might be new to the game, but if the success at its maiden event is any measure, I’d say that there is plenty of space for it to grow.
Harking back to Loco Loco, co-founder Crystal did admit that people remembered them by the churros and not by the brand. And today they now own their own shop.
Other Singaporean entrepreneurs have found their success in less conventional ways, and The Raclette Factory is already off to a great start.
Featured Image Credit: Samantha Tay / Vulcan Post