Residents in PJ might be familiar with a little eatery in Chow Yang (SS2/6) called TnR by Sean & Angie. The humble restaurant usually has a short queue of customers waiting to devour their sweet, juicy char siew atop Hakka noodles (you may sometimes find me in the line too).
TnR stands for Toast and Roast, a name that has sparked some confusion amongst customers about the store’s history. Just 10 minutes away in SS2/72, there’s another Toast & Roast serving similar dishes, which was actually where Sean and Angie got their start.
Behind The Noods
Sean learnt to cook char siew and Hakka noodles sometime in his 30s from an uncle who ran his own restaurant. Prior to starting TnR, the entrepreneur once told an ex-boss in 1995 that his future plans included starting his own restaurant and bringing it to fame.
Driving around PJ several years later with his wife, they found an affordable lot to rent, situated at the end of an SS2 suburb. “Hardly anyone would want to drive past there,” Sean commented on the SS2/72 location.
Within a month, the two were finally able to bring his dream to light in September 2009 by launching Toast & Roast.
With Sean and Angie as the restaurant’s only staff working there, they had no choice but to multitask. After taking orders from the dining area, they’d run into the kitchen to chop char siew and chicken while cooking the noodles too.
Misled by the restaurant’s name, customers expected to find toast on their menu and posed the query to its owners. Sean would clarify that they specialised in char siew that melted in your mouth and didn’t serve any bread. He explained to Vulcan Post, “We told them, ‘we toast the char siew and then we roast the char siew.’”
Despite how popular the brand is today, Sean confided that it wasn’t like this when they first started. Toast & Roast barely survived its first year and had times where they were behind on dues.
It wasn’t until a reporter from a Chinese newspaper wrote about their food in 2010 that business started picking up. Over time, more bloggers reviewed their dishes, exposing the hidden eatery to more customers.
But Sean and Angie didn’t stay in this blissful state for long, because the situation was about to change.
A Tale Of 2 Shops And 1 Family
Editor’s Update, 3:30PM 10/3/2021: The following section has been edited for clarity and to provide additional information.
Editor’s Update, 2:25PM 22/03/2021: The following sections have been further updated to include clarifications by Toast & Roast. We did reach out to the team with questions, but they told us that it felt more appropriate to address this publicly on their Facebook page.
According to Sean, Toast & Roast was not a family business per se. However, he acknowledged that at the start, he did get some financial help from his brothers and father to start the business. In return, the family members became minority shareholders in the company.
In his recounting of the past events, Sean said that he was asked by his father in 2015 to split the shares equally amongst those who invested in the business. After first declining it, he went ahead with the split. On the contrary, Toast & Roast stated that equal shareholding was agreed upon from the beginning.
“It started as a partnership and as it grew, we collectively decided that it should be converted to a private limited company to ensure better accountability for all those who were involved in the business,” the Facebook post stated.
But in the following year, Sean and Angie left the first restaurant, striking it out on their own.
“I was even accused of badly managing the restaurant. We were told to pack and leave the business within 24 hours, which came to a shock for both of us and all of our staff after all these years,” said Sean in the interview with us.
Matching the timeline of the split mentioned by Sean, the Toast & Roast Facebook page also published a post in 2016, presumably to address the situation. Sean is mentioned in the post as someone who “contributed to the success of the restaurant as the front man of the business” but the same post re-emphasised Toast & Roast’s stance that it was a family business from the start.
We couldn’t verify this info and this is only one side of the experience, but Sean has included the following excerpt in a memoir he hopes to publish one day, which reads, “It was an unfortunate hostile take-over by my immediate family and the person I trusted the most, which is my dad who unfortunately went along with the entire plan.”
Despite the setback, the couple refused to give up. They shifted to a new location in 2016 where the store sits today in Chow Yang. Not letting go of the Toast & Roast name which held fond memories for them, they rebranded their new store as myToastnRoast.
As the new establishment carried a similar name, customers were still associating the brand with its original store. They would search for Sean and Angie too when they went to the first store.
What the couple realised was, these loyal diners had already tied the name to Sean and Angie themselves. “So, finally we decided to rebrand again to TnR By Sean & Angie. This time we made sure we had a logo (a little piggy) that came with it,” added Sean.
Expanding Beyond The Restaurant
On a good day, TnR would sell a few hundred bowls of their signature Hakka Noodles. Sean shared that the business even reached profitability right before COVID-19 struck.
They didn’t let it slow them down though, and TnR launched its own food delivery service through Oddle on top of using third-party delivery apps.
“We manage to earn enough to get by through deliveries and takeaways, and hopefully within the next 3 months, our revenue stream will be back to normal or better,” said Sean.
After running his char siew business for over 10 years, Sean still has plans to do more.
In the long term, he wants to launch vacuum pack meals for his signature dishes as ready to eat meals for a secondary, new revenue stream. Further, he wants to expand and build up aspiring entrepreneurs by licensing TnR as kiosks and stalls.
And as the country adapts to digital solutions, Sean wants to do the same for his ordering methods to make the restaurant a self-service one. “May get a robot to serve,” he added nonchalantly.
Feud aside, Sean actually still has a share in the original Toast & Roast restaurant but is hands-off with it. The business is now being run by his sister and her husband, backed by Sean’s father and brothers.
- You can learn more about TnR by Sean & Angie here.
- You can read more F&B articles that we’ve written here.
Featured Image Credit: Founders of TnR by Sean & Angie