With close to 38,000 followers on Instagram and a constant presence on popular local Youtuber Dee Kosh’s channel, Xinde Yap is known to many as an influencer.
Scrolling through his Instagram account, you’re not wrong for thinking that way.
Filled with perfectly edited #OOTDs to more casual shots with friends, one of his posts was unlike the others.
We are days away from opening my first bar and it’s unreal 😅😅 Since young ive always wanted a place of my own serving good food and drinks and chug chug is my first baby ! After months of preparation, it’s finally gna be ready! Its a gastro bar that serves fusion food that I’ve picked up over the years and i can’t wait to share it with you guys! 😊Lovin’ thisþ and lovin’ the Somersby Elderflower Lime 🙌😁#SomersbySG #MagicMoments
More than just a post with a product placement, what stood out to the writer in me was the mention of his new gastrobar.
Therefore, I dropped by Xinde’s new bar, Chug Chug, to try out some of their best dishes, and chat to the young F&B entrepreneur about his journey so far.
Influencer Turned F&B Entrepreneur
Only 22 this year, Xinde just completed his National Service in May.
It was after ORD-ing that he realised he needed to make a decision on the path he was going to take – the conventional path of finding employment, or something more exciting (but risky).
“Eventually, I decided to just start something when I still had the energy to.”
If I were to just get a normal job and start working for someone, I may not want to step out of that ever again because it’s a ‘safe zone’ – you won’t want to [take risks] anymore.
Starting up is something Xinde admits that, while was something he thought about during his polytechnic days, “took quite a while” to take shape.
“Doing it was very different. I had the idea a few years ago, but only really started to work on it last year.”
Coming from a family with a successful F&B business (his parents run Jing Long Seafood at Bedok, and 4 zi char outlets around Singapore), Xinde was brought up in an environment where he was surrounded by food and cooking.
But he knew that while he wanted to do start something F&B-related, he “didn’t really like the style of cooking at a zi char place or a Chinese restaurant”.
“It’s very messy.”
That was also when he came up with his first idea – making sauces for distribution among F&B establishments – something that his parents advised against immediately.
“They told me that at the start, it’s going to be tough.”
“When you find potential customers, they’re going to ask you for credit terms, and you’re not going to get your money straightaway. They’re going to drag it for like a month, and some can close down within that month! It’s not worth the risk.”
They advised him to do “something small” instead, and that was when he got the idea of creating a bar that was “like a second home”.
Choosing Tanjong Pagar And His $200K Investment
“I realised that I loved going to bars where the staff are very friendly, and [where it is] a cosy, chill environment. And that was what I wanted to recreate.”
Due to this philosophy, Xinde encourages his staff to chit chat with customers, and even lets them open bottles on the house whenever their friends come, or whenever a customer is having a birthday or even a bad day.
Instead of having [staff] think that “Oh, I’m just working here”, we want our staff to feel like they’re a family here.
He also makes sure to keep the menu “not too fancy or premium […] so you don’t have to worry too much when you’re here, and about how much you spend”.
But given that Chug Chug’s located on the relatively pricey real estate that is Tanjong Pagar, won’t charging customers less hurt their profits?
For Xinde and partners, Tanjong Pagar was still the best place after visits to various locations.
“If you want the best human traffic, you need to go to Somerset […] but it’s like $40k/unit/month…so your initial startup capital is way higher. For us, we wanted somewhere that is in the middle – affordable, but still with the human traffic.”
When asked about how much setting up cost, Xinde revealed that it took $200,000 to bring Chug Chug from idea to reality – an amount that was pooled among his partners (one of whom is his sister), parents, and himself.
“I Want People To Go ‘Wow!'”
Given his exposure to the F&B industry due to his family business, Xinde started experimenting with cooking from a young age.
However, that also meant that he faced crushing defeat whenever recipes didn’t work out.
He recalls with a laugh, “I remember that when I was in primary school, I tried to make kimchi – it was the worst kimchi that I’ve ever eaten!”
Fortunately for him (and us), his cooking skills are now way better, and he creates most of the recipes on the menu, and is mostly based in the kitchen during shifts.
“The menu was created by me, and the recipes were done by my dad and I. For the recipes that are more Chinese zi char style – those are by my dad.”
However, the ambitious chef reveals that he’s always looking to improve his dishes, and is set to do a menu switch-up soon.
“Even though most of them have gotten good reviews, we believe that we can do better.”
I don’t want our food to just be ‘good’, I want people to go ‘wow!’.
And it’s because of this dissatisfaction that, he explains, is why he has not invited food bloggers down for reviews.
“There’s no point to invite them when my food is not up to my own standards yet. It’s only when I’m really proud of my food, and won’t need to worry, that I’ll do it.”
Part-Time Social Media Personality, Full-Time Entrepreneur
Speaking of bloggers, I asked him if he intends to leverage on his following on social media to promote Chug Chug.
While he had used his Instagram account to push Chug Chug’s page, Xinde emphasises that he “didn’t do it aggressively”.
“I did not want to make it seem too much, when everyone [only sees me] posting about my own company. People are going to get sick of it!”
“I’d rather invite people to come down (to try the food). Of course I’ll be biased about my own place (on social media), but if people come down and like our place and post about it, it’s more ideal for the company.”
But with 6 out of 7 days in the week spent at the shop, where does he find the time to craft social media posts for brands that engage him, or manage his social media persona?
“Nowadays, I’m trying to cut down on [engagements] that aren’t relevant to me, or stuff that I don’t really want. But I’ll plan my schedule and cater my time to them.”
“We have a break between 3:30 and 5:30pm (when the shop closes for a change in shift and menu), and that’s when I can still do some of these stuff.”
Challenges And Doubts
A young establishment finding its niche in the brutally competitive Tanjong Pagar stretch, Xinde admits that right now, their biggest challenge is getting people to choose Chug Chug over their many neighbours – many of which already have loyal followings.
“The rental is not the cheapest, and my biggest worry is whether or not we can keep up with the rental.”
Still a very lean team, he adds that their lack of manpower also means that they’re working 14-hour days and losing their Sundays, their off day, to backend work.
Sometimes I think: ‘Why am I even doing this? Why not just join my father’s business and learn under him?’ It’s already established, and been open for 17 years.
He admits, however, that he’s glad that he chose to start up with a team as compared to tanking it all by himself.
“Quite a lot of people have asked me about collaborations or joining as a partner, and I was hesitant at first, because I didn’t want any friendship issues to crop up, or unnecessary drama.”
“But at the end of the day, starting out yourself is tough, because you really have a lot of things you need to cover.”
“I didn’t know there were so many things like backend operations, insurance, landlords, laws…all I thought was that you needed to register your company and apply for licenses…so it’s good that there are a few of us to handle it.”
Chug Chug In 5 Years, And His Advice To Aspiring F&B Entrepreneurs
As a new boss, Xinde was visibly apprehensive when answering the more business-related questions.
But it was when we talked his future plans for Chug Chug that he lightened up, and with a sparkle in his eyes, shared excitedly what he has in mind.
“We’re coming up with different concepts for the Chug Chug brand, and we also want to open near to tertiary institutions so that students can come here to chill, and we can give them really good rates.”
He also shared that he has already received an offer for a franchise in the Philippines.
“[The investor] didn’t even try our food – he just saw our concept from the start to the end and was interested.”
“Imagine if you were overseas on a holiday with your family, and you can say, ‘Ey! Let’s go to a Chug Chug!'”
Already well-acquainted with the trials and tribulations that come with running abusiness, Xinde has this to advise those who are looking to follow in his footsteps.
“F&B is really, really, really not easy! A lot of people who heard that I wanted to start an F&B place actually advised me not to. […] Because you’ll never know how your crowd is like, and one negative incident or bad publicity can just bring your whole place down.”
One of the advice I’ll give is to be prepared. Be prepared to just commit yourself to it. Like my partner and I have already lost our social lives! You don’t get a normal life anymore.
But in spite of this, Xinde doesn’t regret his bold decision.
“You only have your youth once, and I believe if you don’t spend it in a way that you’re proud of, and if you just waste it away, you’ll never get it back.”
We’d like to thank Xinde for his time and delicious food!
114 Tanjong Pagar Road