These 5 S’poreans Quit High-Flying Careers To Run Their Own F&B Bizs

Food has always played an important role in Singaporean culture. From hawking centers to Michelin-starred cafes and restaurants, the dining options on our little island are plentiful.

The great importance given to gastronomic experiences in Singapore has led the government to put in place efforts so that the culture of the peddler does not die out.

Singapore hawkers have long faced the problem of not being able to pass their stalls on to anyone should they decide to retire.

This led the National Environment Agency (AEN) to announce a new program which allows unsubsidized and retiring street vendors to pass their stalls on to non-family and non-parent members.

Despite the hardships associated with working in the restaurant industry, some are still willing to take a leap of faith and foray into the industry.

From cafes to hawker stalls, here are five Singaporeans who quit their cushy day jobs to start their own restaurant businesses:

1. Terribly chocolate

Lyn Lee, Founder of Awfully Chocolate
Lyn Lee, Founder of Awfully Chocolate / Image Credit: Changi Airport

Mention Awfully Chocolate and Singaporeans will immediately think of the brand’s decadent chocolate cakes.

It was started in 1998 by ex-lawyer Lyn Lee, who dreamed of baking excellent chocolate cakes.

After being unable to find the “ultimate chocolate cake,” Lyn quit her legal profession to open her own bakery.

The brand now has 14 points of sale in Singapore. It also owns a subsidiary, Sinpopo Brand, which was created in 2013 as an “ode to Katong” and to preserve the neighborhood.

Although none of its Singaporean outlets are franchised, the chocolatier has exploited franchise opportunities in overseas markets like Hong Kong and China, where the brand has built an empire.

In 2007, its first franchise store opened in Shanghai. There are now Awfully Chocolate franchises in Chinese cities like Beijing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nantong, Wuhan and more.

2. Kopifellas

Terry Neo Kopifellas
Terry Neo (right), founder of Kopifellas / Image credit: My Nice Home

Kopifellas had humble beginnings as a single stand in Timber + in 2017.

In just four years, it has grown to three stands and now calls a whole café space all to itself.

After graduating from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, founder Terry Neo worked at Citibank as a trader. He told job search portal Glints in an interview that he later “got a little sick of the corporate world.”

He was also motivated by his love for coffee and his passion for carrying on local traditions. So, he put aside his banking career to engage in peddling.

The success of the Timber + store in Kopifellas led to the opening of two more outlets in Toa Payoh and the Beauty World Center.

This prompted Terry and his co-founders to launch FellasCube – a traditional cafe by day and a modern lifestyle bistro bar by night.

3. Hakka Hamcha and Yong Tou Fu

Alan Kok and Michelle Yee, founders of Hakka Hamcha & Yong Tou Fu
Alan Kok & Michelle Yee, Founders of Hakka Hamcha & Yong Tou Fu / Image Credit: Seth Lui

After six years as an office manager in a multinational company, Michelle Yee, 36, left the company to pursue her own business.

Along with her husband Alan Kok, Michelle serves a traditional Hakka dish, Thunder Tea Rice, at the Chinatown Complex Food Center.

Alan had also quit his job as an engineer to join Michelle in the company. As first-time hawkers, the husband-and-wife team faced their fair share of challenges.

Both had no experience in the restaurant business and were self-taught.

The stand only started operations in 2018, but has already made a name for itself with a promising new Hawker Award from the NEA.

4. 545 Whampoa shrimp noodles

Li Ruifang, owner of 545 Whampoa shrimp noodles
Li Ruifang, owner of 545 Whampoa Shrimp Noodles / Image Credit: Miss Tam Chiak

Li Ruifang is the third generation owner of 545 Whampoa Shrimp Noodles at Tekka Market.

The 33-year-old finance graduate worked at a multinational for about four years before taking over the business from her father.

The roots of the family business go back to the 1950s, when her grandfather started selling it on the streets of Whampoa. Therefore, Ruifang now uses a recipe that spans three generations.

Even though she didn’t start the stand from scratch, managing a hawker stand after transitioning from a corporate job is no easy feat.

According to food blogger Seth Lui, the young peddler wakes up at the godless hour of 2:30 a.m. to get ready in time to open the stand at 6:30 a.m.

5. Li Na Fish Ball Noodles

May Leena Krishna and Jeevan Ananthan, owners of Li Na Fishball Noodle
Than Leena Krishna and Jeevan Ananthan, Li Na Fishball Noodle Owners / Image Credit: My Nice Home

Jeevan Ananthan, is a young Singaporean who gave up a comfortable career in finance to set up a peddler stand with his wife May Leena Krishnan.

Prior to founding Li Na Fishball Noodle, Jeevan worked as an investment banker for eight years, while May worked in digital marketing.

The stand was opened in September 2019, but a “racial barrier” made it difficult for the couple initially.

May shared in an interview with Channel News Asia that they had received a barrage of “sneaky comments” from customers, who questioned their cooking skills.

Two months after starting the business, she decided to put her marketing skills to good use and uploaded a video of Jeevan cooking fishball noodles on Facebook on Facebook.

The video went viral and drew media and customer interviews. As orders began to rise steadily, the couple managed to break even in January 2020.

Comfort is not always better

Even though all of these Singaporeans had secure, cushy nine-to-five jobs, they still chose to take the less traveled route and venture into the catering businesses.

As with any business, competition in the restaurant industry is fierce. Cooking and being up all day can also be considered unglamorous.

Despite this, these millennials have managed to build successful businesses, showing that sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone can be the key to success.

Featured Image Credit: Oishi / My Nice Home / Seth Lui / Singapore Noodle / Honey Combers

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Jothi Venkat

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