I’ve never stayed in a dorm during my university years, but I understand fully the inertia that comes with heading out of a classroom/office/home to grab food when it’s time to refuel.
Back then, getting something sent to your doorstep usually meant fast food – and the choices available get tired as quickly as you can say ‘upsize’.
Of course, with the emergence of delivery startups (some of whom deliver even in the wee hours of the morning), our laziness is paid off with a larger variety of food from any cuisine we desire.
But not all cuisines are created and priced equally.
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For example, while local dishes like bak chor mee and mee goreng are wallet-friendly, international favourites like Japanese food aren’t the cheapest options around.
Of course, you can opt for the cheaper options around, but it’s hard to guarantee that you’re getting the best ingredients.
And for such an unforgiving cuisine that emphasises on more delicate cooking techniques, differences in quality and freshness are stark.
As such, a decent bowl of, let’s say, chirashi don usually costs $16 and up – making it a rare treat, especially for broke students.
Thus, 3 Singaporeans decided that these Japanese rice bowls don’t need to be that pricey, and with their startup, want to also give students stuck in their campus a chance to #treatthemselves.
“Don Play Play”
Founded by Kenny Huang (29), Darren Pang (31), and Kimberley Yeo (27), Don Play Play was founded on a shared love for good food and also sharing it at more affordable prices.
It was Kenny who brought the trio together, with Darren being his army mate and Kimberley being his uni mate.
We all love Japanese food and we thought that since we have the resources and talents to bring affordable Japanese food to the masses, why not! Kenny even went to work in a Japanese restaurant to learn the ropes!
Co-founder Darren has a diploma in cuisine from famed culinary school Le Cordon Bleu.
As guessed, ‘Don Play Play’ is a pun on Singlish phrase ‘don’t play play‘ (loosely translating to “don’t mess with _____”), and is representative of the startup which is “essentially Singaporean”.
Kimberley credits the name to popular food blogger Miss Tam Chiak (Maureen Ow), who became her close friend after a food tasting a few years back.
We asked her “If you have a company that sells dons, what would you name it” and she replied in an instant “Don Play Play!”
“We definitely have to thank her for giving us a catchy name, and for taking amazing photos of our food.”
On 10 October 2017, Don Play Play was officially launched, and they currently operate at a central kitchen, where the bowls are lovingly prepared for delivery.
Feeding NTU And NUS Students, One Bowl At A Time
As compared to targeting the whole of Singapore like its delivery counterparts, the team is currently focused on feeding the hungry students, staff, and residents at 2 local universities – National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
At the moment, they’re only delivering to both sites on one day every week – NUS/NUH on Tuesdays, and NTU on Wednesdays.
“Entering the tertiary scene is Don Play Play’s first step into the food delivery business and we hope to cater to the corporate crowd soon.”
Delivering only for lunch, the orders are delivered to specific pick-up points at both campuses, all of which were selected “to ensure the greatest convenience [for the customers]”.
To keep up with the demand, they also have a team of full-time staff dedicated to delivery.
While Kimberley declined revealing their revenue so far, she shares that they deliver around 200 bowls a day, and have already broken even.
The business is doing better than we expected and we are really pleased about that!
They’ve also received requests for campus events and corporate deliveries, and had “opportunities to work with multiple big companies”.
As it’s currently the school break, they’ve suspended their deliveries to NUS and NTU, and will begin again when the new school term opens.
Challenges And Expansion Plans
When asked about the challenges that they have faced so far, Kimberley shares that most of them come from the procurement of their ingredients.
“We do face a problem as we get our stocks fresh.”
“Sometimes, the suppliers of our sashimi, fish, and beef are not able to deal with our last minute orders as we do accept pretty big orders at the eleventh hour.”
An experienced F&B entrepreneur with a slew of businesses under her belt, I asked if there were any lessons that she transferred from those ventures to Don Play Play.
“I think the biggest lesson is that we always have to be kind – to each other, to our co-workers, to our staff, to everyone.”
Also, no finger-pointing when a problem comes up. […] We always go “It’s okay, it’s no one’s fault” and we spend our time and effort rectifying the issue, instead of being bitter or angry.
A very young (albeit successful) startup, they’re already working on expanding the menu, and are looking to launch their delivery services in Raffles Place and One North next month.
“We are also in the midst of preparing for islandwide corporate delivery. In addition, we are going on Foodpanda so residents living in a selected radius will be seeing us on the platform soon!”