How Eldwin Chua Built The Paradise Group Empire From A Coffeeshop At Defu Lane
Most of you might find this story familiar.
At 13, a boy starting working in a fast food restaurant for extra cash.
At 16, he worked three jobs a day, including a job at a seafood restaurant to earn even more pocket money.
At 25, he was given the opportunity to take over his grandfather’s coffeeshop at Defu Lane.
He never thought he’d be an entrepreneur, much less take over a business, but he saw the potential to start up something of his own.
With a diploma in business administration, he worked a 9-to-5 job and also moonlighted as a property agent – just so he could save enough money to take over his grandfather’s coffeeshop.
That coffeeshop eventually grew to become Paradise Group, the restaurant empire we all know and love.
From Kopi Kia To CEO
Eldwin Chua started out with managing the coffeeshop’s operations, and ran the drinks stall, learning how to brew coffee while managing other stalls.
When the tze char stall owner decided to leave, he took over the stall, running it with an assistant chef and a helper, according to this interview in 2012.
The second of four children, he recalled sleeping only four to five hours a day, waking up early in the morning to buy groceries at the wet market on his motorcycle, and giving out flyers on his rollerblades.
This was on top of having to cook, clean, and serve dishes.
He then turned the tzechar stall into a restaurant by buying the 25-seater coffeeshop from his grandfather for $10,000 in 2002.
“The reason for the conversion was to fully utilise the location as it had plenty of parking at night and weekends. It would be a waste not to seize the opportunity,” he said.
At the height of the crab hype in the early 2000s, Eldwin started experimenting with a new and unique sauce flavour for a crab dish.
That was how their signature creamy butter white pepper sauce crab was created.
The restaurant’s break came after a local newspaper reviewed them, and “business flourished quickly” since.
In 2007, Eldwin also opened his first “high-end boutique restaurant” – Taste Paradise at Mosque Street – after he was challenged by his friend to do so.
“Then in 2009, business boomed and we opened the first Seafood Paradise restaurant at the iconic Singapore Flyer and my brother (Edlan Chua) became the COO of the company,” said Eldwin.
After that, he decided to expand the Paradise brand, and the rest was history.
The Roads To Paradise
Eldwin said starting up Taste Paradise at Mosque Street was his “toughest time” because they had to compete with restaurants from Tung Lok Group and Crystal Jade who were already well established in the market.
Taste Paradise offered Cantonese and contemporary Chinese cuisine, which went directly up against the two companies’ niches.
Competition was stiff, and they had to convince customers that they could bring equal or better value than their competitors.
But they managed to survive and went on to thrive under Eldwin’s leadership.
One of the ways Eldwin kept the business relevant was by reinventing the old and coming up with a business ‘formula’ that worked for them.
They introduced colourful xiao long bao to Paradise Dynasty’s menu and it was a huge hit.
They also decided to keep the affordable price point, and interior design themes consistent across each brand.
Perhaps one of the most apparent strategy that Eldwin used was by out-diversifying them with a whopping 13 culinary concepts.
For instance, if you’re looking for a place to celebrate your grandparents’ birthdays while not breaking the bank, Paradise Teochew and Canton Paradise are your best bet.
The OG Seafood Paradise brand is self-explanatory, and is no stranger to the loyal customers who have patronised the restaurant since its Defu Lane days.
Paradise Dynasty specialises in serving a variety of Chinese cuisines, like the Shanghainese xiao long bao and spicy Szechuan chicken, and boasts an ambience that is reminiscent to an ancient Chinese court, but with a modern touch.
If you prefer wading in familiar waters, Paradise Classic (formerly Paradise Inn) is the upscale version of the classic tze char fare.
And for the hotpot-loving young adults, Paradise Hotpot and Beauty In The Pot are the hot spots.
LeNu is a casual dining concept that specialises in Taiwanese beef noodles, while One Paradise is the group’s catering arm.
In 2011, they also ventured abroad for the first time, opening a store in Indonesia.
They’re now located globally, and you can have a taste of Paradise in 11 countries.
“Paradise is proud to be a 100 per cent Singapore brand, and we hope to fly the country’s flag high,” he told Singapore Tatler in 2014.
The Secrets To Paradise
A company continues to advance because it has leaders with the right qualities and the drive to take it to greater heights, and this is true for the Paradise Group.
His determination and sincerity shone through, when in 2006, he spent more than a month trying to convince Chef Fung Chi Keung, who was then a chef at Pine Court restaurant at Meritus Mandarin Singapore, to join him.
Apparently, Eldwin “stalked” the chef at his former workplace, sent him barrages of text messages, and even showed Chef Fung his bank statement before he finally relented to become the head chef at Taste Paradise in Chinatown.
Chef Fung eventually became the group’s executive chef, but left in early 2015.
The tenacious CEO also cited having perseverance as “important” in his success so far.
In another interview with Canon, he said, “[…] It’s crucial to possess a never-say-die attitude in business; because when you do, every problem becomes a challenge to be overcome.”
According to this interview in 2014, revenue for Paradise Group was expected to hit over $100 million.
In 2009, he had “exhausted his resources to put together $4 million” to open a second Taste Paradise in Ion Orchard.
“But, if I had failed then, there would be no Paradise Group today,” he said.
He later revealed that he had “lost millions” in a project he took on in 2014 because he was impatient and committed to the high costs of rental.
However, perhaps one of the most public scandals to hit the group was in 2016, when the Group made headlines for tampering with about $640,000 worth of gas.
According to the report, what led to the exposé that happened in March 2012, was when a gas provider noticed an unusually low consumption at the Taste Paradise in Ion Orchard outlet.
Reflecting on the matter in 2014, Eldwin shared, “I have learnt to be more calm and conservative in my decisions.”
“I was naive then, but I know now that not everybody can be trusted.”
In October 2016, this report announced that PAG Asia Capital invested an “undisclosed” amount in Paradise Group, but the Chua brothers remained “significant shareholders in the company”.
Just last month, Paradise Group is one of the 10 companies that has “committed to the sourcing of sustainable palm oil” at the Southeast Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (SASPO)’s event.
Encountering problems along one’s entrepreneurial journey is inevitable.
Eldwin’s passion for the industry and the motivation to succeed are part of the many reasons why the Paradise Group is still growing and succeeding in its different niches.
So, the next time you pay a visit to any of Paradise Group‘s outlets, hopefully you’ll think of this story and how you’re supporting local.