Chef Chan from Liao Fan HK Soya Sauce Chicken is trying to build the next KFC

Chef Chan from Liao Fan HK Soya Sauce Chicken is trying to build the next KFC
Chef Chan at the opening of the first Hawker Chan outlet in Singapore
PHOTO: AsiaOne

It began as a humble stall in the heart of Singapore's Chinatown, but Chan Hon Meng's soy sauce chicken business has skyrocketed since he received a coveted Michelin star from the world's most prestigious food guide last year.

Chan had been selling his plate of soy sauce chicken rice for 2 Singapore dollars (about $1.50) for the last eight years, operating from a stall taking up just 54 square feet.

Since gaining a star for that stall, called Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, Chan's footprint has grown considerably.

Along with a business partner, he has opened seven new outlets, even venturing out of his home market to Thailand and Taiwan. By the end of this year, he will also have a restaurant in Melbourne, Australia.

Chan dreams of becoming Asia's answer to fast food giant KFC, he said.

"I would like to open a restaurant in every country to let everyone taste my soy sauce chicken," he told CNBC during an interview conducted in Mandarin, adding that he wants people to be able to try authentic Asian Michelin-starred food.

Chan has accomplished the rapid expansion with the help of Hersing Culinary, a Singapore-based company that also owns the rights to Hong Kong's Michelin-starred dimsum eatery, Tim Ho Wan.

The Hong Kong eatery's expansion demonstrates the marketing power of the Michelin rating. It has been enormously successful, expanding to more than 40 stores worldwide. It opened its first outlet in North America to snaking queues in New York City last December.

Chan will be looking to emulate that, and he recounted that several companies had come calling when he received the Michelin star in July last year.

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He said he could have asked for several million dollars for his recipe - several Singapore-based eateries have sold their recipes or businesses for millions after achieving some measure of popularity.

He decided, however, to work with Hersing because he wanted a business partner which would keep prices low, and expand his business internationally.

Chan, 52, decided that he had to expand his business after he was awarded the Michelin star, as "the crowds were too large."

"I had to change my business model and operation style so that my customers don't have to wait several hours just to have food," he said, adding that at the peak of its popularity, the original outlet saw customers queueing for between four and five hours.

Also read: Michelin-starred soya sauce chicken at pocket-friendly prices

Chan said Hersing invested S$1 million ($700,000) for the first air-conditioned Chinatown outlet, which is just a stone's throw away from his original stall. Prices in the new restaurant are slightly higher than at the original outlet, with the famous soy sauce chicken rice costing S$3.80 ($2.80).

He told CNBC that he has a 50 per cent stake in the first Chinatown outlet, and a 10 per cent stake in each subsequent new outlet.

Chan said he was enjoying picking up new business skills, as he now has to manage workers and teach staff the roasting and braising techniques.

While he said he feels "some pressure" in managing the expansion of the business, he also has to worry about ensuring that the standard of the food remains of Michelin standard. He managed to successfully defend the Michelin star for a second time this year.

"I don't dare to say that I will get the Michelin star every year," he said, but added that in the food business, "it is most important that we give ourselves peace of mind, and give our customers satisfaction."

This article was first published on CNBC.

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