BreadTalk Jonathan Quek
In this article

At just 25 years old, George Quek and his then-girlfriend (now wife), Katherine Lee, made a pivotal decision to leave for Taiwan — but little did they know that this decision would spark his entrepreneurial spirit, leading him to establish one of Singapore’s largest food empires. 

The couple’s entrepreneurial journey begun with a humble kiosk along the streets of Taipei, where they sold traditional Dragon’s Beard candy. 

Following a successful 11-year run in Taiwan – during which they started several thriving F&B stores in the food courts of department stores – George and Katherine decided to return to Singapore to spend more time with George’s ageing parents.

George Kuek Catherine Lee BreadTalk founders
George Quek and Katherine Lee, founders of BreadTalk / Image Credit: Sweet Memoirs

However, their entrepreneurial journey was far from over. In Singapore, George founded food court chain Food Junction in 1993, which expanded and spread to Malaysia.

Seven years later, the entrepreneur couple made another foray into bakeries with BreadTalk Group, which is now one of Singapore’s foremost brands. In addition to its renowned bakery, the company boasts a diverse portfolio encompassing various F&B concepts including direct owned brands such as BreadTalk, Toast Box, Food Republic, Food Junction, Butter Bean, Sō Ramen, Thye Moh Chan and partner brands such as Din Tai Fung and Wu Pao Chun Bakery.

Today, George and Katherine are joined by their son, Jonathan Quek, who has become an integral part of the company’s success.

Steering the direction of the Group’s Bakery division

BreadTalk ToastBox
Image Credit: BreadTalk Group

Jonathan joined BreadTalk Group in 2020, right after completing his Master’s in real estate.

The 28-year-old initially served as an Executive in the BreadTalk Bakery division, where he spent most of his days in its central kitchen and outlets undergoing training in the company’s operations.

Today, Jonathan has risen to the position of Managing Director, playing a critical role in steering the strategic direction of the company’s Bakery division. His primary focus lies in driving growth and profitability, while also staying attuned to market trends and customer demands to ensure the division’s continued success.

On a day-to-day basis, my team and I focus on enhancing all aspects of our business units, which involves setting strategic goals and objectives aligned with our mission and vision.

Together with the Group’s management, I’m also responsible for developing and implementing business plans and strategies to drive growth, profitability, and market expansion, both locally and internationally.

– Jonathan Quek, Managing Director, BreadTalk Group’s Bakery division

In addition to his role within the Bakery division, Jonathan is also part of the Investment Committee and Board of BreadTalk Group, where he contributes to strategic decision making of BreadTalk Group’s portfolio of brands.

Navigating the Group through COVID-19

Image Credit: BreadTalk Group

Having joined BreadTalk Group in the thick of the pandemic, Jonathan shared that there were a few challenges the company faced, including poor sales and high attrition rates.

With most of its outlets strategically located at high footfall areas such as entrances of malls as well as MRT and bus interchanges, the bakery chain saw a dramatic drop in sales as Singapore went through various phases of lockdown measures.

Even when the lockdowns were lifted, most of its usual crowd either stayed home or were redirected to other areas, bypassing BreadTalk Group’s outlets.

“The fluctuating dine-in restrictions also meant unsteady sales [for the company],” said Jonathan.

Although the government’s Jobs Support Scheme and rental rebates from landlords helped, Jonathan shared that these incentives weren’t enough to sustain the business throughout the crisis. In fact, it was in the red as the Group operated in many territories, where there was little to no government support.

As such, much of BreadTalk Group’s funds were sent abroad to ensure continued operations. The company had to undergo stringent cost control measures such as hiring freezes and no-pay leaves to stay afloat, which in turn, resulted in higher attrition.

Many [of our] senior executives voluntarily took up wage cuts or stopped drawing salaries. Many of our valued staff also left in order to be with their families back in their home countries.  

The scarcity of manpower has made us recognise the immense value of our team members. It is indeed true that people are the core of every organisation.

-Jonathan Quek, Managing Director, BreadTalk Group’s Bakery division

Bouncing back from the pandemic with innovation and agility

True to its motto — “求新 求变 求差异”, which means “seeking innovation, seeking change, seeking difference” — the company was quick to adapt to the disruption brought about by the pandemic.

For one, the bakery chain partnered food delivery platforms and launched an e-commerce store almost overnight to ensure that its offerings remained accessible to consumers.

Going beyond digital channels, BreadTalk Group also deployed vans, aptly called the “Flosssmobile” and the “Toast Box Kopi Van” that went around HDB estates and private residences to bring its goods and services to the doorsteps of its customers.

Toast Box Kopi Van
The Toast Box Kopi Van/ Image Credit: BreadTalk Group

To attract a wider base of consumers, Jonathan led the brand rejuvenation initiatives for BreadTalk Group over the past three years, spanning across various verticals, including branding, production, innovation, as well as revamping store concepts.

On the innovation front, the company constantly looked out for ways to pique the interest of consumers, all while adhering to the lockdown restrictions. For instance, when cake sales were not allowed back in 2020, BreadTalk Group put out various breads that its customers could instead purchase to commemorate special events, such as its Mother’s Day bread cake.

BreadTalk’s mask-faced buns and toilet roll cake / Image Credit: BreadTalk

We also brought about unique and innovative products, including special-themed creations such as toilet roll-shaped cakes and mask-faced buns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past three years, we have also launched many successful campaigns like “A Christmas Tale” and “Seoulfully Good” to name a few, not only to cater to consumers who were unable to travel, but also the younger crowd.

– Jonathan Quek, Managing Director, BreadTalk Group’s Bakery division

Meanwhile, to strengthen its brand identity during the pandemic, the bakery chain introduced a new mascot, Song Song, a cartoon character inspired by its signature Flosss Bun.

“[We launched] the mascot to serve as a visual representation of our brand and to cultivate a strong and memorable identity that resonates with customers,” explained Jonathan.

BreadTalk Group has close to 700 stores worldwide

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the bakery chain has achieved remarkable growth and performance. Even with a lesser store count, the company has managed to outperform pre-pandemic levels through its consolidation efforts and stronger financial discipline.

Today, BreadTalk Group, which is celebrating its 23rd anniversary this month, has a presence in 15 markets and close to 700 stores worldwide, with the Bakery division contributing to over 85 per cent of its store count. 

BreadTalk Jonathan Quek
Jonathan Quek/ Image Credit: BreadTalk Group

Although the worst of the pandemic is over, the brand still continues to reinvent itself 23 years on with new offerings and store concepts that meet the evolving needs and preferences of its customers.

Jonathan takes up a similar strategy when it comes to managing and growing the F&B brands under BreadTalk Group. The company effectively “blends tradition and innovation” when it comes to these distinct brands, providing Singaporeans with a diverse range of experiences.

Our blueprint for success lies in constant innovation and reinvention. In essence, BreadTalk’s journey over the past 23 years has been characterised by innovation, differentiation, and a steadfast commitment to providing exceptional products and experiences. We are driven by our passion for bread-making and our desire to continually push boundaries.

– Jonathan Quek, Managing Director, BreadTalk Group Bakery division

The company’s teams have also incrementally grown in size since the pandemic. BreadTalk Group has taken up extra steps to support its employees’ career progression with initiatives such as leadership training, to ensure their growth and satisfaction while driving the overall success of its organisation.

Strengthening BreadTalk’s position in the global bakery scene

As the company enters its 24th year, Jonathan envisions that the company will continue to play a pivotal roles in the bakery and F&B industry.

In the coming years, BreadTalk Group will focus on further strengthening its position in the global bakery scene by expanding its presence to markets such as Thailand and China. As part of this expansion, the brand will embrace the local preferences and adapt its offerings to suit the diverse culinary cultures across these markets.

On the technological front, BreadTalk Group is looking to enhance the automation of its central kitchen, and its operational efficiency to elevate its customer experience. This includes streamlining its production processes and implementing digital solutions for seamless ordering and delivery.

Our role in the bakery and F&B industries go beyond providing delicious products. We aim to inspire, delight, and create immersive experiences that leave a lasting impression. Through our dedication to culinary craftsmanship, innovation, and customer-centricity, BreadTalk will continue to be a beacon of excellence and a beloved brand in the years to come.

– Jonathan Quek, Managing Director, BreadTalk Group’s Bakery division

Featured Image Credit: BreadTalk

Also Read: Huggs Coffee founder on navigating COVID and building a coffee empire – now runs 18 outlets

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