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Being around for over 50 years in Singapore, Keng Eng Kee (KEK) Seafood started off as a Chinese wok-style cuisine and has evolved over time with the culinary influence from multi-racial living, different dialect groups and internationalisation. 

Embodying the Singaporean spirit of embracing differences and bonding as one, the three-generational business is no longer just an authentic Hainanese eatery, but rather, a food joint offering a “rojak” of cuisines that everyone in Singapore will enjoy.

KEK Seafood Claypot Pig Liver
KEK Seafood Claypot Pig Liver / Image credit: KEK Seafood

We are unique in such a way that we are a heritage brand and our cuisine has evolved throughout the generations. We have safeguard recipes from the first generation, such as our signature Claypot Pig Liver, as well as the Cuttlefish Kang Kong and Moonlight Horfun from our second generation, and the unique flavour of the current generation is the Coffee Pork Ribs.

– Paul Liew, managing director of KEK Seafood

Paul, together with his siblings, have given the business a new touch ever since they took over from the previous generation.

Even though some would think that the food and beverage (F&B) industry is a saturated and competitive one, which makes sustaining a F&B business challenging, Paul shares that “[t]aking over the business was not a hard decision” for him and his siblings.

A way to gain lost time

KEK Seafood’s story dates all the way back to the 1970s, when Paul’s grandparents migrated from Hainan Island in China to Singapore in hopes of securing a better life for their family. 

They decided to make a living out of their culinary skills, and set up a hawker stall in the Old Havelock Road to serve wok-style dishes for dinner and supper. 

Little did they know they were establishing themselves as the first-generation owners of current food joint KEK Seafood, for this hawker stall was then passed on to Paul’s mother who helped out at the hawker stall ever since she was of the age to work. 

KEK Seafood family
The generations running KEK Seafood / Image credit: KEK Seafood

When it came to his generation, Paul shares that they were provided with proper education and told to explore other fields of career options. His family was even insistent that they shouldn’t take over the family business. 

“With the long hours and hardship the previous generation went through, they made a firm decision that we should pursue other career paths”, he recalls. 

Despite his family advising them to do otherwise, Paul and his siblings — who have always been helping out with the business operations — willingly decided to take over the business. 

As hawkers, the bonding time with family has always been infrequent. So, by taking over, we gained not only extra helping hands in the business, but most importantly, we gained the lost time with our parents when we were kids.

– Paul Liew, managing director of KEK Seafood

Since then, they have constantly been making changes to the business by implementing what they learnt from school and observing the trends in the industry.

Family first, business later

Every generation that runs the business faces a unique set of challenges.

For Paul and his siblings, the main challenge was changing the mode of operations. This was especially tricky, for the family-run business already had a certain culture and behaviour in place. 

“It took me [four] years to implement the use of technology, such as placing orders using a tablet, due to the resistance from the older employees who have a fear of the unfamiliar”, he said.  

His tip? Changes can’t be enforced unto others, so businesses should begin with the training of the younger and newer employees. 

When he and his siblings did that, the older generation was eventually convinced that the efficiency of technology helped the business to grow, and were thus more receptive towards adopting technological practices. 

The next main challenge thrown their way was having to deal with COVID-19, especially the gloomy period during the circuit breaker in 2020. Like every other F&B business, their usual mode of business was disrupted. 

That was when Paul’s late grandmother emphasised the importance of going back to their fundamental belief — family first, then business. This was a saying that has been told from generation to generation. 

During this tough period, KEK Seafood made an effort to keep their team intact, to keep the “family” in “family business” going. “This value is greater than the rest of the values handed down”, Paul shares. 

As such, none of their employees were laid off, nor were their salaries reduced.

“Our employees even offered to have a reduction in their salaries if needed to weather the storm together with KEK Seafood. It’s a key achievement for our family business”, he adds.  

KEK Seafood employee
KEK Seafood employee / Image credit: KEK Seafood

Working together as a family, the tech savvy KEK Seafood ultimately pivoted strategies by using online platforms like Oddle and Grab that provide islandwide delivery. They also learnt how to streamline their menu and operations to complement their delivery process. 

“Even though business is back to normal with dine-in, our delivery revenue stands about 10 per cent, compared to pre-Covid [times], which was less than 3 per cent”, Paul highlights. 

Drawing from these experiences, Paul notes that another factor pulling them through these hardships and keeping them relevant for more than 50 years was their communication with their customers. 

Technology advancement has allowed us to get feedback online, understand the changing preferences of diners through social media, but our in-person communication with customers at KEK Seafood has been the same since day one.

With honest feedback from existing, regular or new customers, we listen and work out on how we can improve. If it’s currently beyond our ability, we keep it in mind and work towards it.

– Paul Liew, managing director of KEK Seafood

Opening a second outlet in S’pore

Being resilient third generational owners of the family business, KEK Seafood has grown to greater heights, such as being featured in the Michelin Plate from 2016 to 2022, The World 50 Best Restaurant: Essence of Asia 2021, and Netflix: Street Food Asia Singapore.

Another milestone to celebrate is KEK Seafood’s newest outlet opening in the east side of Singapore at SAFRA Tampines on September 9.

Compared to their Alexandra outlet that offers an air-conditioned sitting area with five tables and is usually booked out, this air-conditioned outlet in Tampines can cater up to a total of 120 diners. 

KEK Seafood
KEK Seafood’s Claypot Braised Duck with Yam / Image credit: KEK Seafood

Diners can look forward to five newly introduced, exclusive dishes to celebrate the opening of the outlet as well. Two of the new dishes — their all-time signature Claypot Pig Liver and Claypot Duck with Sea Cucumber — will be given a touch of how Paul’s family enjoys it. 

In the future, KEK Seafood plans to focus on being financially stable to prepare themselves for possible crises similar to the pandemic in order to be reliable pillars of support for their employees and their families.

Featured image credit: KEK Seafood

Also read: He became CEO during Covid: How Danny Loong led Timbre Group’s survival through tough times

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)