Typically, when we want to have our burger fix, hawker centres don’t really rank as our first choice.
To satisfy our bun and patty cravings, we usually turn to Ramli burgers at pasar malams (night markets), or the no-brainer fast food joints like McDonald’s and Burger King instead.
Three Singaporeans – Lee Syafiq Muhd Ridzuan Lee (26), Muhd Shah Indra Jasni (26), and Mohd Ridzuan Ayob (24) – have changed up the game as they introduce halal gourmet burgers in Singapore at wallet-friendly prices.
The young trio started up Burgs by Project Warung in May last year because they realised that “no one was really focusing on gourmet burgers in the halal sector,” said co-founder Syafiq.
“We thought about what people would eat on a daily basis at an affordable price; and that’s when we figured that it’d be novel to bring the concept of gourmet burgers to hawker centres. After all, that’s where the Singapore food heritage started.”
Traded Restaurants For A Hawker Centre
It wasn’t exactly a spur-of-the-moment decision to delve into the F&B sector as all three of them learnt to cook professionally at the young age of 17.
Both Syafiq and Indra graduated from the Institute of Paul Bocuse as part of their ITE Technical Diploma programme, and Ridzuan graduated from SHATEC (Singapore Hotel And Tourism Education Centre).
Post-graduation, Indra moved to Dubai to work at Zango restaurant for about half a year and only returned to Singapore early last year to take care of his mother who suffered from stroke.
Meanwhile, Ridzuan and Syafiq worked as chefs at Terra Tokyo Italian, a one-Michelin star restaurant in Singapore.
Less than two years into the job, the duo decided to quit their jobs to start up their own F&B venture and be their own bosses.
“During our split-shift break, Ridzuan and I were casually talking; and at the topic of food, we discussed our ambitions to potentially change the food scene here in Singapore by breaking into the halal market.”
That random chat was what prompted the three of them to join hands to start their own burger business.
No Salary For 6 Months
Their respective parents were taken aback by their decision to be entrepreneurs, especially since they were still young and inexperienced, and weren’t financially stable.
“They were afraid that we wouldn’t know how to run our own business and were concerned if we have the sufficient knowledge and skills to execute it properly,” said Syafiq.
But we managed to convince them and prove that it doesn’t matter if we are young or inexperienced. We just have to take the harder route of experiencing it first-hand and learn things slowly along the way.
So the three of them pooled together their hard-earned savings and invested a five-figure sum to kickstart the business.
It was important to them that they did not borrow any money because they “didn’t want to owe anyone anything”, and they pride on the fact that they solely built the business with their own efforts.
Getting the business started was one thing, but managing its operations was a whole new ball game.
We did not take any salary for ourselves for about 4 to 6 months. We wanted to grow the company’s cashflow and quickly breakeven.
Foregoing paycheques for consecutive months was a true challenge as they had their own bills and expenses to foot.
After investing in the business, they had very “little savings” left that could potentially sustain them for the next six months.
“We had to really scrimp and save. This includes skipping meals in-between work, and taking the public transport when we head out to different parts of Singapore to buy supplies for the stall.”
“I still remember carrying back a 15kg sack of flour back to the shop via the MRT because we did not know any supplier that can accommodate to our very small order quantity.”
They also began dedicating all their time and attention to the business, and this meant sacrificing a lot of family and personal time.
“We work throughout the day and after we close for dinner, we would stay back and brainstorm on ways to improve the business such as expanding the menu and refining the workflow.”
Orders Doubled To 400 Burgers A Day
Despite the challenges, business was brisk from the very first day.
According to Syafiq, during the first month of business, their stall often drew long queues with an approximate waiting time of 1 hour.
“Maybe Singaporeans are simply curious to try out something new in the market. As word-of-mouth spread about our business, many food bloggers came down to try our burgers and by week two, we saw a steady stream of customers at our stall.”
“So we worked on improving our ordering system to shorten the waiting time, effectively cutting it down to a maximum wait of 20 minutes.”
He also revealed that in the first few months of operation, their burgers would typically be sold out by 7pm – only two hours into their dinner service.
On average, they used to sell 200 to 250 burgers a day, but it has since doubled to 400 burgers a day.
It’s no surprise then that Burgs has managed to quickly breakeven within a short span of three months.
Besides profit growth, staff headcount also grew – they now have a total of 9 people working for Burgs.
Back in the day, it was just the three of them manning the fort.
But Syafiq lamented that securing manpower is really difficult as Singaporeans, especially young ones, are not willing to work long hours and find working in a hawker centre ‘unglamorous’ – there’s no aircon, cushy seats, and it requires long hours of standing.
Nonetheless, he is grateful that he now has a wonderful team behind him who respects him and the other co-founders despite their young ages.
Expanded To 2 Outlets In Less Than A Year
“Thank god, within 10 months, we had a steady cashflow and sufficient money to open our second outlet at Viva Business Park,” said Syafiq.
According to him, many of their customers had requested them to open up an outlet in the East so they wanted to fulfil their wishes.
He added that while this new outlet retains the same concept, it serves a different menu and has its own set of signature burgers.
“This way, people can come to try different burgers at different outlets instead of having the same old burgers. This aligns with our vision to redefine burgers for the masses.”
Looking forward, the team hopes to open another two more outlets here, and eventually have an outlet at each corner of Singapore.
Sharing a piece of business advice to fellow young entrepreneurs, Syafiq said that it’s important to adopt a never-give-up attitude.
You need to keep trying until you succeed. What you sacrifice now will be your reward in the future.
Burgs by Project Warung
Golden Mile Food Centre, 500 Beach Road
Opens Tuesday to Sunday, 11.30am-2pm and 5pm to 9pm
Viva Business Park
Centuries Food Court, 750 Chai Chee Road
Opens Monday to Sunday, 11.30am to 8.30pm
Featured Image Credit: Burgs by Project Warung / @kopifolks_ on Instagram