He might have hated his parents’ business growing up but today, 2nd-gen entrepreneur Dextre Teh is nothing but proud of them.
Hungry tummies in Sembawang would be familiar with this nostalgic yellow signboard along Casuarina Road.
Beginning as a single coffee shop stall in 1986, Ban Leong Wah Hoe Seafood Restaurant is today a household brand famous for its zichar and more recently, Singapore’s first ever Chili Crab Challenge.
From 1 May to 1 June 2017, crab lovers flocked to this humble restaurant to take on a seemingly unsurmountable challenge – to polish off 2kg of chili crab and mantou in 30 minutes.
Do this and you get to enjoy the meal for free; fail and it would cost you an auspicious $88+ and your dignity.
Out of 40 participants, 7 people succeeded in getting their names on the Ban Leong Wah Hoe Wall of Fame.
While to everyone, this may seem like any other food challenge, it was actually a genius marketing campaign by 2nd-gen entrepreneur Dextre.
A video feature by Today hit over 200,000 views in 48 hours, and over the next 2 weeks, the challenge was featured on over 15 food blogs and 3 major publications.
Even from a conservative perspective, the campaign had a reach of 1 million across the fortnight.
Without a doubt, it was a marketing campaign well done, but it certainly did not come easy.
Built upon “massive arguments with his parents” and resistance to change, the challenge is a testament to how far this millennial entrepreneur is willing to go for his family brand.
A Lost Childhood
“I grew up in the business,” Dextre begins, “and our family life revolved around [it].”
“After school I would spend my time there doing homework or serving tables, washing the dishes or manning the cashier.”
“This meant I had very little time for friends [and] I envied them for family outings. When I was with my family, it was mostly in the shop when they were busy. So when I was younger I hated the family business.”
Today, he has a very different outlook on the family business. The food that stole his childhood had become magic his father created, and it was inspiring.
“Seeing my father in the kitchen, I wanted to be like him. I saw the joy his food brought to others and I also learnt to appreciate good food.”
And so, against his parents’ wishes, Dextre decided to pursue the culinary arts post-National Service.
My favourite food is the prawn paste chicken. It’s crispy on the outside, juicy and flavourful on the inside. I could eat the entire plate by myself.
Wanting to learn from the best, Dextre interned at Cut by Wolfgang Puck at the Marina Bay Sands. There, he saw the difference between a high-end restaurant and his family business’.
I saw the level of dedication in everything from food to service. It was life-changing.
Travelling the world also “broadened his perspective” on running an F&B business.
“I saw different ways of marketing such as the virality of social media, and have slowly been implementing them in my business.”
Overcoming Internal Strife
However, Dextre’s modern ideas did not sit well with his family.
My parents had the 80s and 90s mindset, but it was not going to take the business forward. Still, there was a lot of inertia to change precisely because they were successful in their own right.
So he pushed back harder.
“We had multiple massive arguments when I was trying to launch campaigns as they could not understand how [the campaigns] could benefit the business.”
Thankfully, they managed to reach a compromise and he was given the green light to move ahead with them.
Another obstacle was the resistance against technology in their day-to-day operations, he says.
“My parents are very worried the majority of their staff (older generation) would not be able to keep up [so] despite numerous attempts to automate, we are still relying heavily on manual labour.”
On a brighter side, Dextre shares that he has managed to implement systems that help monitor the business so that they can better react to market changes.
Today, Ban Leong Wah Hoe is doing better than ever, raking in multimillion dollar annual revenues.
In The Business For Family
“The thing I love most about my family business is seeing families eating together and having a good time.”
Some began as dating couples and now their kids are grown up. Some dined with their parents when they were young, and now they have kids of their own. It’s nice to be part of this legacy for families.
This is the true purpose of their business, reflects Dextre.
“It’s not only about the money, but the memories we create, the family bonds we help foster and the legacy we help leave behind.”
One of the best memories from the Chili Crab Challenge was when one participant rallied his entire family to support him.
“Throughout the challenge, the participant’s young daughter was cheering him on. It was a memorable moment that reminded me of what we are really about.”
They will continue to be a place for families who gather for good food and a good time, he shares, with affordable prices for the masses.
“We will keep the old school charm but will continue to commit to bettering our services and experience for customers. We take our patrons and our food seriously and treat everyone like family.”
“Even after 30 years, we want people to know that we don’t take this responsibility lightly, and that we’re here to stay.”
Their Chili Crab Challenge might be over but the Ban Leong Wah Hoe spirit wages on.
So if you’re looking for good zichar and new memories for the family, here is their website as well as address:
Ban Leong Wah Hoe Seafood Restaurant
122 Casuarina Rd
Featured Image Credit: Dextre Teh and ADM NTU