Entrepreneur

From Running A Stall To Her Family's Foodcourt: How This S'porean Survived A 70% Sales Loss

Growing up, Wong Minying was used to seeing patrons thronging Asian Food Mall, a foodcourt at Lucky Plaza which her family runs.

However, when Covid-19 hit, business at the family-run foodcourt took a 70 per cent hit.

“As we are located in Orchard Road and with stores closed, no tourists and the work-from-home implementation, our sales suffered a lot,” lamented Minying.

In this interview with Vulcan Post, Minying shares how she helped her parents’ business survive the hard-hitting pandemic.

24 Years In The Running

Her parents had saw an opportunity for a foodcourt concept in the heart of Orchard Road in the 1990s.

There was only one foodcourt at Scotts Shopping Centre then, and more foodcourts were needed along Orchard Road.

Lucky Plaza was one of the first malls along Orchard Road at that time and it was popular among the wealthy local shoppers who live along Tanglin and Cairnhill areas as well as Malaysian and Indonesian tourists.

Asian Food Mall
Image Credit: Asian Food Mall

As a result, they decided to open Asian Food Mall at Lucky Plaza in 1996.

Nowadays, it is mostly frequented by the Filipinos, the office crowd, as well as tourists, especially during the medical tourism and festive seasons.

Today, Asian Food Mall has 16 stalls with two well-known Filipino brands within the foodcourt: Jolibee and Tapa King.

Apart from Filipino cuisine, they also sell local favourites as well such as bak chor mee, Chinese mixed rice, roasted delights, Chinese vegetarian food and nasi padang.

“This is where we differentiate from other food courts along Orchard Road as you can find the some of the biggest Filipino brands here,” said Minying.

How This Millennial Joined The Family Business

According to Minying, she grew up in a household that “values food very much”.

“On top of that, I also wanted to ease the burden of my parents as they are getting older.”

Wong Minying asian food mall
Wong Minying / Image Credit: DBS Bank

I started off with my own stall where I got to experiment with different Western dishes. I learnt the ropes as a stall holder, especially on the day-to-day-operations of the stall (such as) food preparation, cleaning and cashiering.

– Wong Minying, General Manager of Asian Food Mall

She eventually climbed up the ranks to take over the general management of the whole food court. 

Armed with internship experience at the Philippine Trade and Investment Centre, Embassy of the Philippines, where she learnt about their culture and food, she was able to transfer this knowledge to the business as the Filipino community is one of their main target markets.

Today, Minying manages the operations of the foodcourt including business development and tenancy onboarding.

Digitalising The Foodcourt

While the pandemic affected F&B establishments nationwide, Asian Food Mall experienced a staggering 70 per cent hit to most of their food stalls.

Minying had to find ways to sustain the business or risk closure. As their foodcourt was in town and most food delivery platforms deliver food within a radius, they decided to turn to islandwide delivery.

However, since islandwide delivery options were more expensive, they decided to onboard online ordering system Oddle with the help of DBS Bank’s relief package for F&B businesses.

Using the Oddle platform, F&B SMEs can integrate with Oddle’s preferred logistics partners for on-demand food delivery.

She also helped to build Asian Food Mall’s social media presence, which was lacking before Covid-19.

She beefed up their Facebook page with tantalising videos and photos of dishes available at the foodcourt.

In the past, no one would have thought that a food court would need to be on any social media platform, but that visibility is important now.

– Wong Minying, General Manager of Asian Food Mall in an interview with DBS Bank

With that done, she decided to make the push to further digitalise the human resource and financial aspects of the business.

Her parents were hesitant at first when it came to improving on their backend procedures as it was very different in the way they used to do things. 

However, after understanding each process, they understood that it was time to digitalise each component for efficiency.

If anything, I wish we had embarked on this digitalisation process earlier, before Covid-19 hit us. It would have cushioned the blow a little.

The pandemic exposed gaps in the business, and allowed us to see what is lacking in the market as well.

– Wong Minying, General Manager of Asian Food Mall in an interview with DBS Bank

Setting Up A New Online F&B Brand

It was also the pandemic that pushed Minying to seize the opportunity to set up a new online business.

Called Yuan Collagen, she co-founded it alongside Singaporean actress Chantalle Ng during the circuit breaker.

Wong Minying and Chantalle Ng yuan collagen
Wong Minying and Chantalle Ng / Image Credit: Yuan Collagen

As Chantalle was not able to return to filming and the business had slowed down in the foodcourt, they thought it would be a good opportunity to find an alternative revenue stream.

Yuan Collagen sells premium collagen soup which has been double boiled for over 10 hours in 500g or 1kg packs.

On the inspiration behind it, Minying said, “Prior to that, we would always have hotpot at my house where our friends would all agree that my mum makes the best hotpot soup base.”

Yuan Collagen soup
Image Credit: Yuan Collagen

The recipe of Yuan Collagen was actually handed down from Minying’s grandmother.

They kickstarted the brand with an all-natural premium chicken collagen broth, which is also their best-selling product.

We have since expanded to offering hotpot bundles, noodles and herbs as add on. It has been doing well, where we have been selling over 1,000 packs a month and our hotpot bundle has been a hit as well.

– Wong Minying, General Manager of Asian Food Mall and co-founder of Yuan Collagen

They will be expanding their product range by partnering with expert chefs to introduce new flavours, slated to launch in mid-October.

They are also expanding their omni-channel sales — offering online ordering on their e-commerce platform and walk-in purchases at Asian Food Mall.

Further Digitalising The Foodcourt

Among other digitalisation measures they are looking at, they are also considering implementing QR ordering from the tables, where customers will be prompted to pick up their orders when they are ready.

They are also looking to expand delivery options by providing ‘mix and match’ options within the food court as they “have a lot of Filipino customers who do not live within the 3-5km radius.” 

With these digital marketing efforts, they aim to let more people know about them — that Asian Food Mall lives up to its name and is a place where you can get your local fare as well as authentic Filipino food.

Featured Image Credit: DBS Bank

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