His $2 Chicken Rice Is The Cheapest Michelin-Starred Meal

Hawker Chan had humble beginnings as a hawker stand located in the heart of Chinatown, which has since grown into a global restaurant chain.

It was founded by Chef Chan Hon Meng, who is the world’s first Michelin-starred peddler.

Despite his success today, the 55-year-old comes from a poor family. He lived in a village in Ipoh, Malaysia, and both of his parents were farmers. His family raised cattle and grew produce on the family farm.

At 15, he dropped out of school and left his hometown to find a job in Singapore, which sparked the start of his culinary journey.

Creation of a chicken recipe with signature soy sauce

Back home, Chan often helped prepare meals for his family and this gradually led to a fiery passion for cooking.

He took an apprenticeship from a chef in Hong Kong, where he learned and developed a soy sauce chicken recipe.

In 2009, he opened his own hawker stand called Liao Fan Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle in the Chinatown Complex Food Center. He cited the business as a way for him to scratch his “entrepreneurial itch”.

Hawker Chan Chinatown Stall
Liao Fan Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle Hawker stall has been renamed Hawker Chan / Image Credit: Hawker Chan

“The rental was one of the cheapest around, and I also lived nearby, so I thought, why not give it a try?” he shared in a separate interview with Set The Tables.

Additionally, he had a lot of experience working in the restaurant and catering industry, so the idea of ​​running his own business didn’t strike him as a daunting thought.

He also has a very simple business philosophy: good food should be simple and affordable.

That’s why he set the price for his dish at just S $ 2 (the price has since been increased slightly to S $ 2.80). Not surprisingly, the booth quickly became popular, drawing long lines.

The business trip was not easy, however. According to the company, Chan faced many challenges, including rigid hawker competitions, a commitment to chasing hawkers, and maintaining food quality.

hawker chan soy sauce chicken rice
Hawker Chan Chicken Rice in Soy Sauce / Image Credit: Hawker Chan

Eight years later, Chan got his first Michelin star for his chicken rice with soy sauce, which is his own recipe.

The dish in question was awarded the “world’s first Michelin starred meal” and the “cheapest starred meal in the world”.

He wanted to sell his recipe for $ 2 million

Obtaining the Michelin star has been life changing to say the least.

His business “grew three to four times overnight,” he said. Waiting time averaged two to three hours, compared to the usual 45 to 60 minutes.

Demand was clearly at an all time high, but he made sure to keep his daily servings at 200 plates to maintain quality.

chan hon meng hawker chan
Chef Chan Hon Meng prepares the chickens / Image credit: Hawker Chan

Chan believes that “consistency of taste and quality of food” is essential to his success.

“(The) local community is more familiar with the menu I serve: comfort food. Of course, the quality of the food must also remain constant, ”he told Vulcan Post.

In fact, he makes a point of personally checking the quality of the food served in his restaurants.

However, not only did more customers visit his booth, but many potential investors also started to contact him.

It was reported that Chan had wanted to sell his recipe for S $ 2 million and was in talks with a global catering company.

In 2016, Chan made the decision to partner with Hersing Culinary – the conglomerate that franchised Tim Ho Wan – to launch its first quick-service restaurant concept.

The latter invested S $ 1 million in the joint venture for business expansion, which led to the opening of the first Hawker Chan outlet at 78 Smith Street.

However, the move to a restaurant concept meant that prices had to be increased, although they were still affordable at S $ 5 for a plate.

On a daily basis, Hawker Chan serves over 2,000 whole chickens.

Go global with more than 20 points of sale

Spurred on by the success of Hawker Chan in Singapore, they decided to take the brand across the border.

“The fame won’t last forever, we have to strike while the iron is hot,” he said, commenting on the expansion.

They chose Taiwan as their top overseas market because the country is famous for its delicacy and variety of street foods.

Hawker Chan Malaysia
Hawker Chan outlet in Malaysia / Image credit: Superfood Ventures

Today, Hawker Chan has 25 outlets worldwide, including a presence in Melbourne, the Philippines, Jakarta, Taipei, Bangkok and Kazakhstan.

All of these outlets were established slowly – they never launched their outlets simultaneously.

Only when there is an opportunity and the existing outlets are stable with at least three months of regular operations, will they then consider expanding further, Chan said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, posed as an obstacle to its continued success. The significant decrease in the number of tourists to Singapore and the decrease in diners for customers have greatly affected sales, the company said.

On the other hand, the pandemic has given them the opportunity to capture another customer segment. She started taking orders online and expanded her delivery services, which helped drive sales.

chan hon meng hawker chan
Chef Chan Hon Meng / Image Credit: Superfood Ventures

Looking back on her journey so far, Chan noted that “passion, hard work and effort is the key to getting (good) results.”

“I have failed many times in life. However, failure is the key to a successful life. The tendency to stand up and move forward is more important for success, ”he said.

Beyond expanding his business, Chan said he was honored to be able to travel the world for food-related events or business opportunities – a dream that was once unthinkable for someone who grew up in a small village.

Featured Image Credit: Hawker Chan / DanielFoodDiary

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Jothi Venkat

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