During the day, Ee Chien Chua takes on a demanding, full-time job in tech, business and finance.
At night, he puts on his entrepreneurial hat and runs his bar Jekyll & Hyde that generates over a million dollars in revenue.
Ee Chien has helped high-growth tech startups such as Uber and Grab grow and launch different products and solutions. Then since February this year, he served as the Director of Business Development and Partnerships at digital wealth advisor Endowus.
Meanwhile, Jekyll & Hyde has received plenty of media coverage as a stellar F&B example that has successfully survived the Covid-19 pandemic impact.
After declaring its intention to cease operations at Tras Street in June 2020, it resurrected itself in a surprising turn of events in the same month when a partnership opportunity with cafe Cheeky came along. Both businesses came together to reduce their overhead costs.
If these feats sound superhuman to you, it is because they are. Ee Chien sits down with Vulcan Post to share how he does it all.
From Tech To F&B
Born and bred in Singapore, Ee Chien earned a degree in communications from Brigham Young University in the United States, but has never worked in that field.
After graduation, he secured a finance job at Goldman Sachs in the U.S., trading equity swaps and contracts-for-difference (CFDs). However, he thought that it was not a field he saw himself doing for long term and started to look for opportunities in the tech industry.
Due to difficulties with visa and permit issues, and his wish to be closer to his ageing parents, he decided to look for a tech job back home in Singapore.
He got a job at Uber as an Operations and Logistics associate, and successfully built Uber’s hourly rental programs into their vehicle solutions team.
In 2018, right when he transitioned from Uber to Grab, he stumbled upon the opportunity to take over the operations of Jekyll & Hyde. He took on the challenge almost on an impulse.
I was scrolling through BusinessforSale.com and I saw that the owners are putting the bar up for sale. I thought it would be an interesting project for me to run.– Ee Chien Chua, owner of Jekyll & Hyde
I have always been a fan of Jekyll and Hyde. It was a cute little bar that has been around since 2013, and it was around the corner from Uber’s office.
Steering The Evolution Of Jekyll & Hyde
The concept of Jekyll & Hyde was inspired by a famous novel by Robert Louis Stevenson — it adopted two personalities back then: a nail parlour by day, and a speakeasy by night.
Ee Chien thought that the bar had built a reputation as a unique home-grown business and there was a lot of potential to grow it further.
Since taking over Jekyll & Hyde in 2018, Ee Chien continued to maintain the standards and unique selling points of the bar’s bespoke cocktails.
Since Ee Chien knew nothing about cocktail making, he retained the original team and gave them full rein to unleash their creativity. He, however, had to learn everything from scratch — from menu creation, the craft of cocktail making, getting supplies, to hiring the right people.
He also had to learn about people management and customer service, which are essential for the F&B sector, to better engage with his customers. He would put in a few hours every few days of the week to personally serve customers so he can understand their perspectives and preferences better.
Unlike working for big tech companies with massive funding from investors where there is a lot of room for financial losses and failures, he had to work hard to bring in the dough for his bar and restaurant business.
And unlike ride-hailing startups, profit and loss matters for a small company like Jekyll & Hyde.
However, what he brought to the table from his tech jobs is the bold, daring, and agile mindset that he has developed.
Uber’s motto was “always be hustling”. You always have to be hustling and try to get things done. You have to get things out as quickly as possible and iterate and test.– Ee Chien Chua, owner of Jekyll & Hyde
At tech startups, whenever something fails, he has been trained to try something else the day after, and the day after that. There is no room for hesitation.
During the pandemic, this fearless and decisive approach helped Ee Chien keep the business afloat.
Thankfully, he was also blessed with the outpouring of the community and fan support after he announced his intention to close down.
Many fans and customers supported Jekyll & Hyde by ordering their bottled cocktails delivery and subscribing to their online cocktail classes, which gave them some cash flow to continue operations.
Finding a better landlord and a more affordable space with Cheeky was another life-saver.
Ee Chien said he really could not see the light at the end of the tunnel until Eugenia Tan from Cheeky reached out to him for partnership. At the end of the day, Jekyll & Hyde was saved through community’s effort.
Meet The ‘New’ Jekyll & Hyde
Located in a two-storey shophouse at 74 Neil Road, Jekyll & Hyde now offers two distinct settings: outdoor and indoor.
On the ground floor, guests are immediately greeted with a whimsical 40-seater courtyard that is lined with green artificial turf and Victorian-inspired illustrations. This dog-friendly outdoor space offers guests a breezy spot for lazy weekend brunches, casual sundowners and boozy suppers.
Past the alfresco section, a staircase leads to an eight-seater bar with a 22-seater dining area on the second floor of the shophouse. In stark contrast to the technicolour setting on the ground floor, this upper level signals near monochromatic, gritty urban sophistication.
Since the reopening, Jekyll & Hyde reintroduces itself as a cocktail bar and a full kitchen that offers an expanded food menu services.
The new menu offers a selection of elevated local comfort food dishes such as Chili Crab Nachos, fresh Orh Lua (oyster omelette), and Hua Tiao Bee Hoon.
Their cocktail menu is as interesting as always with offerings like PB&J, a peanut butter and jelly-infused cocktail; and The OG B&B, which is a breakfast-inspired twist on the classic banana and bacon.
The new Jekyll & Hyde is a cosy, grown-up version of its previous self. We’ve come to recognise that our customers look to us for both comfort and sophistication.
This is why we’ve paired our craft cocktails with elevated comfort food that captures a lot of what we love about the street food of our region.– Ee Chien Chua, owner of Jekyll & Hyde
Always “Iterate And Test” First
Looking back on his own journey, Ee Chien said he would not advise anyone who dreams of starting their own business to quit their full-time job.
Just like in the tech world, you need to iterate and test before launching a product; so you have to iterate and test your business before doing it full time. Unless you get funding to do it full-time, then I’d say test it out slowly at the side first.– Ee Chien Chua, owner of Jekyll & Hyde
Jekyll & Hyde is merely a form of an alternative investment where he can get financial returns in a different way while having fun at the same time.
Aware of the thin profit margins for F&B businesses, Ee Chien said that he’s doing the business out of passion and personal fulfilment rather than financial gains.
If money was ever a point of contention for him, he would explore other businesses or endeavours instead, he added.
To him, the joy of running Jekyll & Hyde comes with the experience of creating food and drinks and community that make people happy. When customers walk away with a satisfied experience, this gives him a lot of joy and personal satisfaction.
Ee Chien did not expect this when he first took the plunge with the business. Just like all the other endeavours in his life, he stumbled upon this opportunity, which he ended up doing well at and finding meaning from.
“I am not a believer of pre-planning your dreams and visions early and then following it throughout. Life does not work that way. Maybe for some people, this is the narrative but certainly not for me. I am a man of many interests and passions, and I learn and grow with every endeavour,” he said.
He further credited his excellent time management, high tolerance for pain and endurance for hard work as key factors that enabled him to juggle a full-time job and growing a F&B business.
He wakes up at 7.30am daily and makes sure that he does his day job efficiently. After work, he helps the operations of the bar.
He also allocates time for regular exercise weekly, and ensures he has enough sleep every day. On the weekends, he will work a little but also makes it a point to set time aside for recreation and social life.
Ee Chien shared that behind his superhuman drive and motivation is his desire to continuously challenge and push himself to grow and evolve.
Perhaps, you ask me: ‘what is the point of running a side hustle if it is not going to be my main thing?’– Ee Chien Chua, owner of Jekyll & Hyde
My question back is, ‘if we only live once, what is the point of only doing things that are safe and comfortable?’ The point of life is to continue growing and evolving in any way that we can. Growing is not easy; it is often painful and uncomfortable, but it is infinitely rewarding.
Moving forward, Ee Chien is excited to continue building his career expertise in financial and technological products. With Jekyll & Hyde, his vision is to establish the business as a benchmark for original craft cocktails and fusion Singapore food recipes.
There are no immediate plans to let go one or the other. The man is determined to have his cake and eat it too.
Feature Image Credit: Jekyll & Hyde