From gaming buds to hawker hopefuls

From gaming buds to hawker hopefuls
This fusion food stall is all about unconventionality and confidence
PHOTO: The New Paper

Opening a chic cafe or restaurant is the goal for many of those looking to enter the food and beverage business.

That was not the case for Mr Zilch Ng, 31, and his partners, Mr Daniel Chin, 30, and Mr Ryan Tan, 18. The trio decided to open their venture - Don - in a hawker stall.

Despite the location, the food at Don is restaurant-level Western-Japanese fusion. The name was derived from "donburi", the Japanese word for rice bowl.

"I have zero F&B experience, but most of my team have experience," Mr Ng said.

How the trio came together is not conventional either - they met through online gaming.

They became friends through Mr Ng's prior business, a cybercafe.

"Some say that working with friends is the hardest. It is true. Sometimes, because you are all friends, it is harder to get the instructions down," said Mr Ng.

But the team has since expanded to five members, and all are motivated by a clear goal - to open four more outlets by the end of this year.

It might seem unlikely, or even impossible, given that the Foch Road stall opened for business only in December. But Mr Ng is unfazed.

He believes in his product, which has, to date, received generally favourable reviews.

He believes that Don has found the best way to get restaurant-level food to the customer in hawker-level time.

Mr Ng said: "We did right in choosing sous vide, because it is fast. The preparation might take long, but the service is fast."

Sous vide is the cooking of ingredients in a vacuum-sealed pack in a controlled water bath. It ensures even cooking while retaining moisture.

It also allows for the ingredients to be prepared in advance.

Mr Ng believes that confidence in one's product is essential. As if to prove that, during the interview, he mentioned that Don might even try for the coveted Michelin Star this year.

While working as hawkers has impacted their social lives, the rapport within the hawker community is a perk.

"Initially, we were not that close, but now we are. We even party together. There is no politics, too," Mr Ng said.

He accepted that the draw of the older stalls - those that wait for customers and count on word of mouth - helps bring the curious to Don.

He is also aware that any young venture today has to have a strong social media game.

"We use Facebook and Instagram to market ourselves. It is a simple equation - with more good reviews up, more people will come," he said.

So far, the Don boys see a varied crowd of younger trend-savvy foodies and curious hawker regulars.

Through it all, Mr Ng maintains that self-motivation and focus on the business is essential for all young entrepreneurs.

"Do not try to do too many things at one time - you will fail. Be focused on what you have started," he said.

This article was first published on Apr 10, 2017.
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