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From cafes to hawker stalls, here are five Singaporeans who quit their cushy corporate jobs to start up their own F&B business.

Jae Chia  |  SG
Published 2020-12-01 16:22:20
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Food has always played a huge part in the Singaporean culture. From hawker centres to cafes and Michelin-starred restaurants, food options on our small island are aplenty.

The heavy importance placed on gastronomic experiences in Singapore has led the government to put in place efforts to ensure that the hawker culture does not die out.

Hawkers in Singapore have long faced the problem of not being able to pass on their stalls to anyone, should they decide to retire.

This has led to the National Environment Agency (NEA) announcing a new scheme that lets non-subsidised, retiring hawker stallholders pass on their stalls to non-family members and non-relatives.

Despite the hardships associated with working in the F&B industry, some are still willing to take a leap of faith and make a foray into the industry.

From cafes to hawker stalls, here are five Singaporeans who quit their cushy day jobs to start up their own F&B business:

1. Awfully Chocolate

Lyn Lee, Founder of Awfully Chocolate
Lyn Lee, Founder of Awfully Chocolate / Image Credit: Changi Airport

Mention Awfully Chocolate and Singaporeans will immediately think of the brand’s decadent chocolate cakes.

It was started in 1998 by ex-lawyer Lyn Lee, who had a dream to make great chocolate cakes.

After being unable to find the “ultimate chocolate cake”, Lyn left her profession as a lawyer to open her own cake shop.

The brand now has 14 outlets in Singapore. It also has a subsidiary, Sinpopo Brand, which was started in 2013 as an “ode to Katong” and to preserve the neighbourhood.

While none of its Singaporean outlets are franchises, the chocolatier has tapped on franchise opportunities in overseas markets like Hong Kong and China, where the brand has built an empire.

In 2007, its first franchise store opened in Shanghai. There are now Awfully Chocolate franchises in Chinese cities like Beijing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nantong, Wuhan and more.

2. Kopifellas

Terry Neo Kopifellas
Terry Neo (right), Founder of Kopifellas / Image Credit: My Nice Home

Kopifellas had humble beginnings as a single stall in Timber+ in 2017.

In just four years, it has expanded to three stalls, and is now calling an entire coffee shop space its very own.

After graduating from National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, founder Terry Neo worked at Citibank as a trader. He told job search portal Glints in an interview that he later “got a bit sick of the corporate world”.

He was also driven by his love for coffee and his passion to keep local traditions alive. Thus, he set aside his banking career to have a shot at hawkerpreneurship.

The success of Kopifellas’ Timber+ outlet led to the opening of another two outlets at Toa Payoh and Beauty World Centre.

This spurred Terry and his co-founders to launch FellasCube — a traditional coffee shop by day, and a modern lifestyle bistro bar by night.

3. Hakka Hamcha & Yong Tou Fu

Alan Kok and Michelle Yee, Founders of Hakka Hamcha & Yong Tou Fu
Alan Kok and Michelle Yee, Founders of Hakka Hamcha & Yong Tou Fu / Image Credit: Seth Lui

After six years as an office manager at a multi-national corporation, 36-year-old Michelle Yee left the firm to pursue a business of her own.

Together with her husband Alan Kok, Michelle serves up traditional Hakka dish, Thunder Tea Rice, at Chinatown Complex Food Centre.

Alan had also quit his job as an engineer to join Michelle in the venture. As first-time hawkers, the husband-and-wife team faced their fair share of hardships.

Both of them had no experience in the F&B industry and were self-taught.

The stall only began operations in 2018, but has already made a name for itself with a Promising New Hawker Award from NEA.

4. 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles

Li Ruifang, Owner of 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles
Li Ruifang, Owner of 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles / Image Credit: Miss Tam Chiak

Li Ruifang is the third-generation owner of 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles at Tekka Market.

The 33-year-old finance graduate worked in an MNC for around four years before taking over the business from her father.

The roots of the family business go way back into the 1950s when her grandfather started selling it along the streets of Whampoa. Therefore, Ruifang is now using a recipe that spans over three generations.

Even though she did not start the stall from scratch, managing a hawker stall after transitioning from a corporate job is no mean feat.

According to food blogger Seth Lui, the young hawker wakes up at the ungodly hour of 2.30am to make preparations in time to open the stall at 6.30am.

5. Li Na Fishball Noodle

May Leena Krishna and Jeevan Ananthan,  Owners of Li Na Fishball Noodle
May Leena Krishna and Jeevan Ananthan,  Owners of Li Na Fishball Noodle / Image Credit: My Nice Home

Jeevan Ananthan, is a young Singaporean who gave up a comfortable career in finance to set up a hawker stall with his wife May Leena Krishnan.

Prior to starting Li Na Fishball Noodle, Jeevan was working as an investment banker for eight years, while May was in the digital marketing field.

The stall was opened in September 2019, but a “racial barrier” made it difficult for the couple at the start.

May shared in an interview with Channel News Asia that they received a barrage of “snarky comments” from customers, who questioned their cooking skills.

Two months after starting the business, she decided to put her marketing skills to good use, and uploaded a video of Jeevan cooking fishball noodles on Facebook.

The video became viral, and attracted media interviews and customers. As orders began to pick up steadily, the couple managed to break even by January 2020.

Comfortable Is Not Always Better

Even though all these Singaporeans had secure and cushy nine-to-five jobs, they still chose to take the path less travelled, and venture out into F&B businesses.

As with every business, competition in the F&B industry is cut-throat. Cooking and being on one’s feet all day might also be deemed as rather unglamorous.

Despite that, these millennials have managed to build successful ventures, which shows that sometimes stepping out of one’s comfort zone might be the key to success.

Featured Image Credit: Oishi / My Nice Home / Seth Lui / Singapore Noodle / Honey Combers

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