We’ve all been on holidays and tried out local delicacies that have left a deep impression on us.
Do you remember that hearty miso ramen you had in Japan, or that Shake Shack burger you first had in New York?
For Charles Tan’s sister, the gelato she had on their family holiday to Italy was simply unforgettable to her.
In fact, it was so memorable that she badgered Tan to recreate the lemon sorbet they had there.
After multiple tries, he finally managed to capture the right taste; and this gave his sister the confidence to start up their own ice cream parlour.
“In the path of discovery, we found the joy of creating ice-cream flavours from scratch with fresh ingredients, which is not widely practised in Singapore,” said Tan.
“As we create unique-flavoured ice-cream from natural sources, the thoughts of sharing of our creations with others motivated us to eventually set up our very own establishment.”
Giving Up Paris To Start Up In Bedok
The 25-year-old boasts a very impressive culinary background and had trained as a savoury chef.
After graduating from the Culinary and Catering Management course at Temasek Polytechnic, he worked in the kitchen of world-renowned Chef Andre in Singapore as an apprentice.
And over the years, he has also worked with a few other Michelin-starred chefs, as well as an opportunity to head to Paris and work in one of the top 50 restaurants worldwide.
But due to personal reasons, I felt starting it then was a good time to bring dessert bistronomy to the heartlands. It’s like having fine desserts – but at a much more affordable price.
But it wasn’t something they simply decided on a whim, as starting a business is a huge move that involves a lot of risks after all.
The Tan siblings took two years and many rounds of ice-cream tasting sessions to eventually convince their parents of their decision.
“Our parents, like many, had their doubts at first as me and my sister are still young and inexperienced at running a cafe on our own. But ultimately, after seeing our hard work, they chose to support and believe in us.”
So together, the two invested heavily to procure necessary equipments and start up an ice cream parlour in Bedok.
Called FatCat Ice Cream Bar, it officially opened doors in January 2015.
They began whipping up all sorts of unique ice cream flavours such as Banana Caramel and Hay & Honey.
As an experienced chef, Tan naturally took charge of the kitchen team, including manning the creation of the menu, daily production of ice-cream and pastries.
On the other hand, his sister runs the service operations, administrative work, and also the marketing aspect.
First Charcoal Waffle In Singapore
It’s not known to many, but they were the pioneers who created the first charcoal waffles in Singapore and sparked the egg yolk craze again, exclaimed Tan proudly.
“Our main focus were always our made-from-scratch ice cream. Our creation of the charcoal waffles and salted egg yolk sauce was simply to compliment our ice cream. We are pleasantly surprised that it actually started a trend and became our signature dessert.”
He added that during the early days, they had long queues forming everyday for their charcoal waffles and it is usually sold out by 8pm.
Receiving an average of 300 customers a day, it is no doubt that FatCat had become a huge success, no thanks to its Instagram-friendly desserts.
Singaporeans also loved the idea that they could now find desserts that was once only available in fine-dining restaurants at a residential block in the heartlands – minus the hefty price tag.
In terms of revenue growth, Tan refused to disclose any figures and simply described it as “healthy”.
He Strayed To Another Business
Spurred by the good growth of FatCat Ice Cream Bar, Tan decided to start up another food venture.
Earlier this year, he opened STRAY by FatCat at Orchard Central, which takes on a different path from its sister outlet.
With his experience in fine dining restaurant, it’s a step back to his roots as he reinterpreted traditional Chinese dishes such as ‘yusheng’, claypot rice, and paper-wrapped chicken.
“STRAY offers modern Chinese cuisine, and our mains and desserts are incorporated with Chinese elements,” said Tan.
“While our concept and food is relatively new to the market, we do have loyal customers who have supported us from FatCat to STRAY, so our customer base is positively growing.”
When asked about the challenges of running two F&B businesses, Tan said that he is continually striving to uphold the brand’s reputation of delivering high-quality food and service.
Only by doing so can they earn trust and gain loyal customers, which is imperative in surviving the competitive F&B landscape, he added.
“As a young chef-owner, my creativity is limitless at the moment. What sets us apart [from the rest] is our will and passion to keep improving and searching for new ways to wow the food lovers.”
He also lamented the hard work that goes into being a chef-owner. His days typically start at 6am, and he is busy in the kitchen until the wee hours of the morning.
Despite the long hours, Tan never once regretted his decision as this job means “the world” to him.
His young age is also a huge advantage, though many might think it serves as a boon in the industry.
“On a superficial level, age is wisdom to some. But being young actually gives you the energy to make up for inexperience. An obstacle only serves as an opportunity to get better, and you have to be actively self-enriching in order to learn.”
Energy and persistence conquer everything, and you will only fail when you stop trying.
Featured Image Credit: Charles Tan