19 outlets in 5 years and Collin's not done yet

19 outlets in 5 years and Collin's not done yet
Mr Collin Ho (far right) and Unilever Food Solutions' chefs recreate a pan-seared haddock dish originally from Collin's menu.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Asian-inspired Western food chain Collin's Grille Bento started as a one-man show five years ago in a Geylang coffee shop.

Founder and chef Collin Ho fell in love with cooking from a young age and his dream of running an F&B chain has been realised with 19 Collin's outlets across Singapore.

After 20 years of cooking in restaurants and hotels, Mr Ho opened his first outlet in 2012.

The 41-year-old told The New Paper: "My friend told me I was crazy to open a Western stall in Geylang. 'Who would eat there?', he said.

"The response was good, but it was hard work. I worked more than 12 hours a day. I bought my own vegetables and washed my own plates just to save costs."

His family supported his decision to strike out on his own.

Fifteen of his 19 outlets are located in coffee shops.

Four are restaurants, with three in malls.

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Mr Ho, who is married with two daughters, said he made a conscious decision to expand rapidly despite the slowing economy.

"We wanted people to see our brand, we wanted to build up this brand. We also wanted customers to know our strengths so we could get them to keep coming back," he said.

He is still looking to open more outlets in good locations with affordable rent.

Collin's outlets in coffee shops have simpler menus, while the restaurants have full menus, with items costing 20 to 30 per cent more.

Explaining the extensive, magazine-like menus, Mr Ho said: "I personally don't like to go to a restaurant where the menu is just two pages. There's no choice."

To support the many outlets, the chain has a central kitchen in Bedok, where sauces and meats are pre-prepared.

About 30 per cent of the restaurant menu changes every six months, with Mr Ho and his team creating new dishes through ideation.

The process involves Mr Ho cooking or meeting other chefs to bounce ideas off one another.

He said: "Changing the menu with new ideas keeps things fresh and keeps customers coming back."

Mr Ho learnt to cook from his grandmother when he was 14.

By chance, he was a cook during national service.

After a 2010 trip to Europe to visit a friend and fellow chef, he was inspired to bring affordable Western fare to Singapore.

"My food has to be nice and affordable. It's important to always be honest in our cooking. I don't mark up prices, so that we can bring back more customers," he said.

hmang@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 17, 2017.
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