“Working as a restaurant waiter, I would sneak into the kitchen for food samples. Without any culinary background, I also bought a tiny dictionary just to learn what sauté, julienne or poach meant.”
– Gino Goh, co-founder of Chop Chop Biryani & Meats.
Growing up in Penang, 33-year-old Gino grew up surrounded and inspired by food.
Moving to Singapore in 2005, the business graduate wasted no time in getting started as a restaurant waiter. Armed with his dictionary and samples, he slowly worked his way up to junior sous chef in 7 years.
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That was the beginning of his career as a serial F&B entrepreneur.
Gino later launched Two Cooks And A Pan, followed by The Refinery in 2015 where he worked as Head Chef.
Subsequently, he helped launch Cafe Nido as well as Tyrwhitt Little Cafe.
Biryani x Siew Yoke
It was around this time that Gino attended a potluck party where he found his new inspiration.
“Someone made biryani and I had made roast pork belly.”
The unusual pairing was “great”, Gino recalls, and gave him the idea of opening a hawker stall around it.
He tendered for a stall “without much hope” but received the approval in March 2017. Roping in Le Cordon Blue-trained friend Yen Ceen, the pair then began serious research the fusion recipes.
“I’ve been playing with ideas of mashing cuisines together ever since the potluck,” Gino laughs. “My Indian neighbour and mother in Malaysia, as well as friends in Singapore, have all been helping.”
“From roasting the Siew Yoke to cooking perfect fluffy biryani, I refined the recipe over 3 months before we officially opened in July.”
Since their launch at Amoy Street, Chop Chop has been enjoying healthy queues and reviews.
On his previous restauranteur experience, Gino remarked that a hawker stall has “lower overheads”.
“The need of less manpower and cheaper rents also present a smaller burden to break even.”
The smaller menu also allows him to “focus on each item for consistency, quality and taste”.
Straight Into The Fire
Jumping from a restaurant to a hawker stall has been a “major challenge”.
“A stall of 6sqm was a culture shock after years of large kitchens. The space really limits the way I prepare food. Having to clean up after each task is also time consuming.”
Another issue he had to contend with was time. Rental for the hawker space kicked in before he had finalised the recipes.
Having to pay for the months even before opening was “a burden” on finances.
Including equipment, rental deposits and R&D, Gino reveals that he invested a little over $20,000 in the venture – an amount that “depleted most of” his savings.
Compounding his troubles was his dish’s novelty.
“Pork Biryani is new and it scares people away from trying it. Some patrons just walk past without giving it a second thought.”
“The flavours and combination work well together but it’s really hard to attract new customers to try. Currently, we rely on word-of-mouth by existing customers.”
The scariest thing about being a hawkerpreneur with a new cuisine is the failure to attract and retain customers.
Nonetheless, the R&D process has been “a great adventure”.
“Being able to put 2 almost impossible foods together and having it taste so well is a proud achievement,” Gino gushes.
“Thankfully, I also have the moral support of my family and my soon-to-be wife. They’re always there with encouragement and to cheer me through this phase.”
Their customers have also been supportive with “constructive feedback”, he shares.
“I spent the last decade in a restaurant kitchen without facing customers so I was shy about interacting with them.”
The daily “meet and greet” now however, gives him a sense of contentment, especially whenever they return with compliments.
Positive feedbacks and suggestions really keep us moving forward.
A Budding Business
Although they are not amongst Amoy’s high performers, daily sales still average 100 bowls.
“The most exciting thing about Chop Chop is creating a new breed of hawkers with unique food. Pushing our limits to create, combine and explore new flavours really excites us.”
At the moment, Chop Chop Biryani & Meats only serve 5 proteins but they plan to increase the variety very soon. Just keep a lookout on their Facebook page!
Chop Chop Biryani & Meats
Amoy Street Food Centre
7 Maxwell Rd, #02-101
Featured Image Credit: Gino Goh