Entrepreneurs should quit whining about the labour crunch, says Supply & Demand's chef-owner Samdy Kan.
The 32-year-old bachelor, who has his sights set on opening in China in 2016, says: "We can whine all we want, but I doubt things will change. So, I shall go to a country that is full of manpower."
He thinks there will be a market there for his casual Italian restaurant chain Supply & Demand, which has outlets at the Esplanade and Orchard Gateway.
He says that there is "either Pizza Hut or really high-end restaurants" in China, but nothing in between.
Next year, the self-professed former "unsuccessful ah beng" who had "no career path" in his teens, is also looking to open an Asian restaurant at Marina Square, plus a third Supply & Demand.
After enjoying his part-time stints as a banquet waiter, a barista and working in an Italian restaurant, he decided to join culinary institute At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy. He has not looked back since.
In fact, his 22-year-old younger brother, a sous chef of Supply & Demand at the Esplanade, is looking to enroll in At-Sunrice too.
Their mother is a housewife and their father, a freight controller with delivery company UPS.
Chef Kan has worked as an F&B consultant for restaurant group Ministry of Food to open concepts such as Western restaurant chain Lenas, and Japanese dessert cafe Dolce Tokyo.
In 2010, he also set up Italian-fusion restaurant Barpazza in Church Street, with a $100,000 investment from his family.
He sold off his shares two years later, after the lease ended.
The straight-talking chef gives would-be restaurateurs some advice.
He says: "Ambience is very important but you still need to serve good food. Work out the maths first. You may be passionate, but you need to be practical too. If not, you're wasting a lot of people's time. Go big or go home."
Why did you decide to call your restaurants Supply & Demand?
I used the term frequently when I was working with Ministry of Food.
It got stuck in my head and I needed a catchy yet simple name for the restaurants.
It was either Economies Of Scale or Supply & Demand.
Your grandparents used to run two coffee shops, in Katong and Whampoa, before your aunts and uncles took over. What was it like growing up in the coffee shops?
I would be eating dishes such as bak chor mee and chicken rice.
I would play around and pretend to wash a few cups here and there.
What is comfort food for you?
My first love is pasta.
I can eat arrabbiata pasta every day as it is garlicky, spicy and tomato-based.
What's the first dish you ever made?
Pasta aglio olio when I was 18 years old and working part-time in a kitchen.
I asked the chef to teach me how to make it.
The garlic was burnt and it was quite bland.
Is there something you don't like to eat?
I hate steamboat because I have to cook the ingredients myself.
That's the last thing I want to do when I'm having a meal out.
Are you an adventurous diner?
Not really, although I have had fried crickets in Bangkok and didn't really like them.
I used to eat durians when I was young, but now, I can't even stand the smell.
I don't know why my palate suddenly changed.
You have a wide variety of teas on the menu at Supply & Demand. What's your favourite tea?
I'm very traditional actually.
I'm not a fan of the hybrid flavours. I like my Darjeeling tea.
How did your holidays to Vietnam (four years ago) and Jakarta (last year) influence you?
In Vietnam, I was amazed by their food culture of cooking with fresh produce, even flowers.
In Jakarta, I loved the hipster vibe and I was inspired by the design of their restaurants and cafes.
The food sucks but they have nailed the industrial retro chic look.
Your mother worked with you at Barpazza. What was that like?
She helped with making coffee and manning the cashier.
But we would quarrel over the smallest stuff and continue when we were back home. It was like there was no day and no night.
So after I sold my shares, we had an agreement: No more working together.
Any tips on how to keep staff happy?
I introduced a new incentive this month.
If they are early every day and don't take any medical leave, they get an extra $150 on top of their salary each month.
What do you think of the F&B scene now?
Saturated with mass-market brands that have repetitive menus and almost soul-less food.
The fine dining scene is interesting as some have closed down.
Perhaps they don't understand the scene in Singapore as we are creatures of comfort and will not pay $100 for an experimental dish.
If you could have a meal with someone, who would you pick?
Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
I'd like to find out how he singlehandedly built our nation.
WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?
My grandmother's curry chicken, as it reminds me of home.
When I was young, I'd poke around the pot and keep asking if the dish was done.
This article was first published on December 21, 2014.
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