It’s never a good idea to mix relationships with business.
Families have been torn apart from arguments over money, from the dissolution of the marriages to sibling rivalries over inheritance rights.
Despite the odds, these enterprising couples have found ways to keep their marriage going and launch million, even billion-dollar businesses.
Through a combination of trust, hard work and sheer luck, both partners have been equally instrumental in the growth of their firms.
From Hai Di Lao to Udders, here are some of Singapore’s top couple-preneurs, and the part they’ve played in the growth of their empires.
Hai Di Lao
With a market cap of US$23.1 billion dollars, US$3.8 billion in sales and over 935 chain restaurants opened worldwide, Hai Di Lao has become one of the world’s leading restaurant brands today.
Once a humble hotpot stall in the rural province of Jianyang, Sichuan, Hai Di Lao was founded in 1994 as the brainchild of two couples: Zhang Yong and wife Shu Ping, and Shi Yonghong and wife Li Haiyan.
Zhang Yong, who headed the operation, came from next to nothing: he graduated from a vocational school in Chengdu and worked for six years at a tractor factory on minimum wage.
The billionaire was reportedly penniless and counts his three co-founders as the real investors, whose modest savings added up to less than 10,000 yuan (US$1,400).
Their faith in Zhang Yong paid off. Currently, Zhang Yong has acquired a net worth of US$21.6 billion as Hai Di Lao’s chairman and Singapore’s richest man.
Shu Ping has a net worth of US$5.1 billion and acts as the director of Hai Di Lao’s management and strategic development.
Shi Yonghong sits on the board of both Haidilao and Yihai international, a hot pot condiment maker spin-off with a net worth of US$12.6 billion.
His wife, Li Haiyan has a net worth of US$6.3 billion and has been acting as the company supervisor since 2009.
George Quek first met his wife Katherine Lee while working as her supervisor in a Hong Kong handicraft shop in Singapore at Parklane Shopping Mall. The two began dating in 1983 and got married in 1986.
Soon enough, the entrepreneurial couple launched their first business selling dragon’s beard candy while living overseas in Taiwan, which expanded to five kiosks with sales of over S$240,000 a month.
After selling off several successful ventures in the F&B industry in Taiwan and Shanghai over an 11-year period, Quek returned to Singapore and launched the popular Food Junction chain of food courts in 1993.
In 2000, the serial entrepreneur made another foray into bakeries, opening BreadTalk, now one of Singapore’s foremost brands.
The group now has over 1,000 retail stores open over 17 markets, with popular subsidiaries like Toast Box, Din Tai Fung and Food Republic under its belt.
The power behind the throne, Lee acts as BreadTalk’s deputy chairman. She is also the brains behind one of BreadTalk’s most popular products: the pork floss bun, which sold over 1.3 million pieces in its first year of sales, remaining the bakery’s top selling item.
With close to 50 years in a romantic and corporate relationship, the BreadTalk power couple is still going strong.
George announced last year that he would be training his sights on a market cap of S$1 billion by 2022 — though those plans may have been disrupted by Covid-19.
In February, George, Katherine and a substantial shareholder announced a voluntary conditional cash offer to acquire all ordinary shares in BreadTalk at $0.77 apiece to delist the firm.
Making an estimated S$20 million in gross revenue for 2019, Udders is one of the most popular ice cream stores in Singapore.
The cafe now supplies ice cream to over 400 retail points and has five “Scoop Shops” open islandwide.
Launched by husband-and-wife team David Yim and Wong Peck Lim, Udders started as a passion project between the two.
After David left his stable job as a secondary school teacher, the aspiring entrepreneur started making ice cream with nothing more than equipment ordered off the net.
Udders’ menu started with just 12 flavours crafted from liquid nitrogen right in their living room. In July 2007, the couple decided to open an ice cream shop together with S$150,000 of their savings pumped into the business.
Times were tough — revenue made was redirected towards Udders and the couple relied on Peck Lin’s full-time job as a business consultant to bring home the bacon for their two children while David worked full-time at Udders.
Now, Udders has over 100 employees at its last headcount, and is eyeing Indonesia as the next market for expansion, planning to hit 10 major cities over the next three years.
The couple has even launched another ice cream label, Nuude Ice Cream, which is 35 per cent lower in calories, sugars and fats.
The brand has even expanded to chilled soup packs sold at major supermarkets around Singapore.
Launched by Anna Lim, Benedict Leow, and Andrew Chan, The Soup Spoon is a joint project between three best mates — two of whom eventually got married.
The Soup Spoon’s three co-founders first met as students at Murdoch University in Perth who all shared the same love of soup.
Anna later married Andrew in 2001 and was the first to quit her full-time job as an embryologist to set up the Soup Spoon. The latter two soon followed, forming the central team heading the operations of the firm.
In 2002, the three university mates invested S$250,000 between themselves to launch the first Soup Spoon outlet at Raffles City. The franchise grew rapidly, hitting a sales turnover of S$7.9 million by 2008 in spite of several hiccups that led to a S$100,000 loss of an outlet.
Operating some of Singapore’s foremost F&B concepts, Empire Eats is the product of an entrepreneurial couple who met and stayed together through their mutual love of food.
American-born Howard first came to Singapore in 2003 and opened the first Standing Sushi Bar outlet in August 2009 with an upfront investment of about S$150,000 while working full-time at Microsoft.
It was at the bar that Howard first met his wife Hui Nan, who worked as a lawyer at a boutique intellectual property law firm near the joint. Hui Nan would visit Howard’s bar almost every night for dinner or drinks, which eventually led to a marriage in 2012 and two children.
The two ended up co-running the Empire Eats group as equal partners.
Howard describes their marriage as a complementary mix of a private and business relationship, with Howard acting as the visionary while Hui Nan acts as the business’s executor.
Now, the Empire Eats Group owns Tanuki Raw, Salmon Samurai, The Secret Mermaid, Sumo Bar Happy, Shinkansen, The World is Flat and Black Dot Sweet Provisions among other prolific brands in their portfolio.
Today, the brand hits at least S$1 million in revenue a month.
Launched by another pair of married couples, the idea for Aloha Poke first came about after the group went vacationing in Hawaii.
John Chen and Lee Yue Xian, and Paladin Hsu and Selene Ong experienced “love at first taste” when they got their first taste of poke at a supermarket called Foodland.
Finding no alternatives upon their return to Singapore, the group jointly launched the first Aloha Poke outlet on Amoy Street, which eventually grew into three outlets spanning Marina Bay, Jewel Changi and Westgate.
The business has even expanded into the St Martins Centre in Perth.
The Couple That Works Together, Stays Together
Mixing your personal and public life isn’t always ideal, but these couples who have stuck with their businesses and marriages for decades seem to have found the winning formula.
While some have gone on to build Forbes’ listed businesses, other couples have steadily cultivated their startups into some of Singapore’s leading household names.
Have we missed any power couples out? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured Image Credit: Business Insider/ Sweet Memoirs / Aloha Poke / Love and Bravery / Tanuki Raw / Soup Spoon / Udders