When the global financial crisis took place in 2010, it did not just badly affect the economy, but it also robbed Jonathan Yang’s lifelong dream to enrol in a law school.
The 32-year-old had received acceptance offers from Ivy League law schools at that time, but he had to turn it down due to hiring uncertainties in the legal sector back then.
Commenting more on this tough decision, he said, “I was a little late in the admissions cycle, so most of the grants had been given out to other accepted applicants already. It was also a tough year for the economy, which meant that there was a lot less money than usual to go around to begin with.”
Furthermore, that year’s employment statistics for law school graduates was basically a bloodbath across the board. Faced with all of that, I didn’t feel too excited about footing my own (very hefty) bill to go to law school, Ivy League or not.
After turning down the prestigious offer, Jonathan had zero clue on what he wanted to do next because everything he had done up to that point was angled towards pursuing a legal career.
With no clear goal in mind, he went for several interviews with a bunch of companies across various industries – from public relations, advertising, to banking.
And that’s how he “fell” into his first job as a PR consultant.
He called it quits after three and a half years, and that was also when he decided to embark on a journey to be his own boss.
All He Wanted Was To Make And Sell Burritos
“It wasn’t a conscious decision to pursue a career in F&B. Again, I pretty much just fell into it.”
According to Jonathan, Muchachos was conceived as a passion project that he would pursue while he was on a six-month sabbatical from his then-agency, DeVries Global.
“I had been busting my ass for the company for a few years straight, and I wanted to take some time to do something for myself,” he said.
And out of all the things I could have done, all I wanted to do was to make and sell burritos … because I couldn’t really get a decent one here in Singapore.
“Unfortunately, given Singapore’s rather restrictive F&B regulations, the only feasible way for me to do that was to open a restaurant.”
So he ended up pooling together $120,000 from savings and loans from banks and his parents to start up Muchachos, a cosy joint that serves hearty Californian-Mexican fare at Keong Saik Road.
Three months later, he roped in his same-aged childhood friend, Elson Lee, to help with the menu and operations.
“Elson was a chef at Tanglin Club at the time, so I convinced him to do this with me. We’ve been best friends for two decades and actually grew up cooking together, so why not right?”
Muchachos finally opened its doors to the public in June 2013.
But contrary to their expectations, business in the early days was “painful and poor”.
Due to their inexperience, the two had no idea what they were doing and were basically “learning on the fly”.
We made $129 on our first day. I think my heart literally stopped for a few seconds when I saw that number on the closing receipt.
Fortunately, things quickly took a positive turn and the business started raking in profits within eight months.
Another seven months later, it hit $1 million in annual revenue.
A Second F&B Business Venture
Spurred by the success of Muchachos, Jonathan decided to take a leap of faith and open up another F&B venture just a year later.
“I was lamenting the lack of convenient food options available to me. As someone who puts in a fair amount of effort in the gym, I didn’t want to negate all of that because of a bad diet.”
Traditional salads were out of the question for me because I don’t like the taste of raw vegetables. And I figured there were enough people out there facing the same problem as me.
This was how The Daily Cut, a protein-focused salad bar, came about.
Jonathan placed a huge emphasis on finding the perfect location in the Central Business District, and finally invested $300,000 into The Daily Cut, which opened its doors in the basement of One Raffles Place in July 2015.
Thankfully, the response at launch was much better than it was for Muchachos.
The under-$15 menu that includes complex carbs and add-ons such as sirloin steak and sous vide eggs received stellar reviews, which explains why the store often draws snaking long queues.
In fact, business did so well that they broke even in just four months; and generated over $1 million in revenue just two months later.
The strategic move to open in areas populated with office workers was a winning formula, and this prompted them to open two more outlets in areas such as the Central Business District and business parks like One-North.
“The brand is inherently more utilitarian in concept, so we’ve picked spots where meals are approached more functionally than recreationally.”
Surviving The Competitive F&B Scene
There are many eateries popping up in Singapore, just as there have been many that closed down shortly after opening.
F&B is clearly a cut-throat industry, but Jonathan is not fazed by the competition.
To be honest, we don’t really think about our competition. It’s not that we don’t view them as competition, it’s just that we choose to focus our thoughts and efforts on what we are doing instead.
“To that end, we don’t consciously try to set ourselves apart from them because being different doesn’t necessarily equate to being better.”
“We simply endeavour to to do what makes the most sense for the brand and its stakeholders at any point in time.”
Looking forward, Jonathan happily shares that the fourth The Daily Cut outlet at the new Marina One is slated to launch in a months’ time on February 23.
Following its huge success in Singapore, the brand is also looking to make waves overseas with its first outlet in Manila, which will open in the second quarter of this year.
Featured Image Credit: Jonathan Yang / Eat and Travel With Us