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Tue, Nov 16, 2010
The Straits Times

From small coffee shop to chain of 14 eateries

By Jonathan Kwok

Mr Chua says food quality, decor and good service give value to Paradise Group's customers. He believes in ensuring customers get their money's worth, and his company has developed different culinary concepts to cater to the various population segments. The group also has ambitious growth plans: Besides new branches in Singapore, it will also expand overseas.

THE Chinese restaurant landscape in Singapore is highly competitive, with several big names jostling for business - but one relative newcomer has managed to more than hold its own against its rivals.

The Paradise Group of Chinese restaurants has grown strongly over the past few years, despite the presence of many established names also serving Chinese cuisine.

The group had its humble beginnings with a small coffee shop at the industrial estate in Defu Lane 10 years ago, but has since blossomed into a chain of 14 restaurants serving Chinese delicacies under eight brand concepts.

It is set to expand its presence in Singapore by 50 per cent, with another seven outlets due to open in local shopping malls - four by the year end, and three confirmed for next year.

Turnover for the most recent financial year ended July was close to $30 million after double-digit growth for the past four years. Paradise founder and chief executive Eldwin Chua expects the pace to continue with a 50 per cent growth in sales for this financial year.

"Singapore has one of the highest number of restaurants per person in Asia. In fact, the supply is higher than the demand. In order to survive in this industry, especially in Singapore, your product and total dining experience must be unique," said the 33-year-old Singaporean.

Thus the company has developed different culinary concepts to cater to the various population segments.

For instance, the Kungfu Paradise concept is for heartland malls and aimed at youngsters looking for a casual place to hang out, while the high-class Taste Paradise caters to more sophisticated diners.

One unique product offered by the group under its Paradise Dynasty brand is its xiao long bao - while other chains cook the soup dumplings only in the traditional Shanghainese style, Paradise offers it in eight fusion flavours, including foie gras and black truffle.

"Eldwin is very innovative and comes up with many new retail concepts, which are important to survive in the business," said Mr Tan Yew Kiat, managing director of retail chain Bysi International and a close friend of Mr Chua's. The two have shared ideas on business development many times over the years.

Mr Chua, who ran the business on his own until his brother joined him four years ago as chief operating officer, says the food quality, decor and good service give value to customers.

"If you spend $100, I make sure it's well spent and you won't feel the pinch. If you spend $10, I make sure it's well spent."

Another challenge faced by Paradise is in recruiting and retaining the right talent for the business, said Mr Chua.

Most of the servers and chefs at the Paradise restaurants are from China, Malaysia or Hong Kong, he said, as most Singaporeans are "overqualified" for these roles.

"Thus, the managerial and office staff are all Singaporeans, the roles are reserved for locals," he added. That allows the firm to fulfil the quotas set by the Manpower Ministry, which has limits on the maximum proportion of foreigners on a company's payroll.

The firm keeps staff motivated by having bonus incentives tied to performance indicators such as service and food quality. Team-bonding activities such as karaoke outings organised by outlet managers also help to keep morale up.

One defining moment for the company came in July last year, when it spent $4 million to open an upmarket Taste Paradise outlet at Ion Orchard.

"We spent all the company's savings, and we had to take a bank loan. It was a huge gamble. If we had failed, the company would have collapsed," said Mr Chua.

"When we opened in Orchard Road, we were nobody. We were competing with the good Chinese restaurants in the malls and the hotels.

"A lot of industry players were puzzled why we, a small (outfit), would open at Ion Orchard to compete with them."

But it turned out to be a good move as the restaurant was often packed with visitors to the new mall during the first three months. A lot of them, after enjoying the dining experience, have returned as repeat customers.

The group has ambitious growth plans. On top of the new branches here, it will also expand overseas.

Mr Chua said the firm is in talks with possible partners in Vietnam, Malaysia, China and Indonesia.

Paradise could have its first overseas outlet by next year, though the country has not been decided upon yet.

"These could be (under) a joint venture model or franchise model. When you go overseas, you'll need the local partners as they understand the culture and they are physically there."

Mr Chua is also hoping for an initial public offering of his firm in three years' time.

He is looking at a turnover of S$80 million with a "good story" before floating the firm.

For more information on how to grow your companies, visit or call 6278-6666.

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