You tiao may be just a simple deep fried dough stick, but to many Singaporeans, the humble snack is a traditional favourite.
It’s fragrant and tasty when eaten on its own, and even adds a comforting touch to other local dishes like tau huay, tau suan, bak kut teh and rojak.
“[It’s a] well-loved breakfast tied to so many memories,” says 28-year-old Bandana Kaur.
As an ode to this, she and her business partner Audrey Chew are putting a modern spin on you tiao and recreating it for future generations to enjoy.
The duo spent a whole year working in the kitchen to develop the world’s first You Tiao Chips, and launched them under their brand, Inspired Snacks, in October 2019.
Two ‘Second-Gen’s In Their Family Businesses
When the co-founders first met about a year ago, 35-year-old Audrey was still very fresh in the food industry.
Before that, her career included a five-year stint at Glencore, one of the top trading firms in the world.
She then moved to Shanghai to work for a coal mining company, where she experienced and “fell in love with” the highly competitive environment of working in China.
The path she chose next was unexpected, when she returned to Singapore in 2017 and decided to join her father’s traditional you tiao business.
“I believe hawker culture in Singapore is an integral part of our way of life [and we should preserve it],” Audrey shares.
While coal and you tiao have nothing in common, she thinks we can look at both fields through the same fundamental question: “How do I process these raw materials and generate value for customers?”
Instead of just being an additional hand at her father’s Toa Payoh hawker stall, she saw that there was potential to take his nearly-80-year-old business to greater heights.
Audrey founded You Tiao Man, which now manufactures and supplies you tiao to restaurants, hotels and food courts.
You Tiao Man is also known for its charcoal and wholegrain variations, adapting the traditional food with today’s modern and health-conscious trends.
Like Audrey, Bandana also helms her family’s food business as a second generation owner.
She manages business development for Foodedge Gourmet, a wholesale bakery and kitchen that supplies food to restaurants, supermarkets, hotels and airlines.
In fact, the pair could thank their family businesses for bringing them together.
Bandana once shared in a blog post, “My business needed you tiao, [and Audrey’s] was the only supplier that met all our standards.”
“Within 10 minutes of us meeting, it felt like we had known each other forever.”
For both of them, food is something close to the heart as it bonds family, friends, and even generations.
We believe the most beautiful parts of a community’s heritage and legacy is often passed down in the food we eat.Bandana Kaur, Co-founder, Inspired Snacks
A Genius Snack
Honestly, I never gave that much thought to you tiao before I interviewed Audrey and Bandana.
Come to think of it now, even though its ingredients are basic, you tiao needs to have a great balance of airy, chewy and crunchy textures all at once.
Bandana wants people to appreciate that you tiao is actually “quite difficult to make and requires very specific skills”.
Of course, Audrey has the expertise for that, and her father’s proven recipe behind it.
The next challenge was to figure out how to present it in a new way, that can preserve the legacy and make it “relevant for the [next] generation”.
“We noticed a shift in trends where F&B players are adapting localisation into [snacks] and the feedback from consumers has been positive,” says Audrey.
By recreating you tiao in small bites that can be packaged, their chips can be taken all over the world for more people to enjoy.
Being the first people ever to do this, Bandana says there was a lot of discovery go through themselves (“We couldn’t just look up how to do things on the internet!”).
She also shares that they thought hard about “flavours that would appeal to the Singapore market but also help [them] go regional”.
In the end, this brought them to settle on two nostalgic flavours, Soy Milk with Coconut and Sweet & Spicy.
To test their creation, the pair entered Snack Genius, a competition organised by IncuBaker and supported by Enterprise Singapore.
Their You Tiao Chips went up against many other creative and locally-inspired snacks, like Vegan Tempeh Chips, Cereal Prawn Kale Chips and Nasi Lemak Popcorn.
While Bandana and Audrey didn’t snag the top spot (which comes with a S$10,000 prize), they were still selected to be among the finalists.
It turned out to be a great launching pad as the media started to pick up on them quickly.
When they knew they were going to be featured in The Sunday Times, the pair doubled down on preparation to make sure their products and online store were ready by the time the paper was published.
We made our first sale from a reader of that article at 8am in the morning!Bandana Kaur, Co-founder, Inspired Snacks
“We received so many orders on launch day, and spent the next few days just driving around Singapore, delivering them personally to the customers [to thank them for their support],” she adds.
Already Making A Buzz
Perfecting the You Tiao Chips was an endeavour that spanned “hundreds of hours in the kitchen”, from October 2018 to October 2019.
But once they kicked things off, it only took less than two months for Inspired Snacks to seal the deal with their first retailer, Buzz Convenience Store.
By early December 2019, their snacks were stocked in all Buzz outlets at more than 50 locations across Singapore.
Now that they’ve turned their idea into reality, the co-founders say they are “working very hard to understand the retail space” which they are both completely new to.
“We can’t really say [how we’re doing] because we are barely three months old, but we have received interest from some investors and several major retailers,” says Bandana.
She and Audrey have completely self-funded the business so far, but working with potential investors is “definitely a path [they] are considering”.
But for now, their next goal is for their You Tiao Chips to be sold at “at least 300 touchpoints” offline and online by the second quarter of 2020.
Snack lovers can also look forward to more flavours from them, and future partnerships with other local brands.
“And then of course, the long term goal is to bring the snack overseas!”
When asked whether they’ll consider branching out, or continue specialising in just you tiao products, Bandana replies:
We go back and forth on this a lot, but ultimately we decided to name our brand ‘Inspired Snacks’ and not ‘You Tiao Chips’, because the spirit of the brand is to always create things that inspire. And if you think about it — the possibilities are endless!Bandana Kaur, Co-founder, Inspired Snacks
Featured Image Credit: Inspired Snacks