Proud to be Gen Y hawkers

He used to wear suits in an office meeting clients and discussing sales targets. Mr Walter Tay, 28, now dons an apron instead.

About a year ago, he hung up his suits and ties and started selling fried carrot cake and Hokkien mee at his father's hawker stall, then in Toa Payoh.

Mr Tay, who now helps to run hawker stall Father & Son in Bukit Panjang, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "It gets hot and oily. Plus, the days are long, sometimes stretching to 12 hours.

"But really, it is all about family and the passing down of tradition."

Working as a hawker is a far removed from Mr Tay's previous job as a property salesman, but one could say he spent his early years preparing for it.

Mr Tay, who was born in Australia, moved here with his family when he was six.

His family started selling hawker food as soon as they arrived.

Growing up, Mr Tay watched his parents perfect their recipes for fried carrot cake, char kway teow and Hokkien mee.

"I grew up with hawker food all around me and to see it die out will be such a shame," says Mr Tay, who is Singaporean.

"If we don't try, no one will cook for us in the future."

The resistance the hawker culture faces from his generation is understandable, says Mr Tay.

"While it is fulfilling for me, it is also tough and not for everyone. You need to commit the hours, and you have to love it," he says.

But there is a way to increase the appeal of being a hawker among the younger generation.

When his parents moved their stall to Bukit Panjang last December, Mr Tay spent the first two months improving its systems so that being a hawker would be less demanding but still profitable.

Says Mr Tay: "My previous work experience came in useful. I introduced ways to help speed things up and make them better."

EFFICIENCY

To boost efficiency, Mr Tay developed a coloured peg system so that orders can be prepared faster.

Knowing it was important to reach out to potential customers, he took to social media to market the stall.

When asked about the Michelin stars that were recently awarded to two hawkers here, Mr Tay says the stars are something hawkers can aspire to achieve.

"An award like that boosts the name of hawkers and they should push out their brand," he says.

Does Mr Tay dream of being awarded Michelin stars?

With a grin, he says: "Having a bit of coverage from the media here and there helps.

"Who knows, in the future? Maybe next year, I'll go for it."

His parents' stall is doing well even without the Michelin stars.

The older Mr Tay, 66, says they serve more than 400 customers a day and attributes their success to his son.

He says: "He tells us how to talk to different kinds of customers. It makes me happy to see that he is helping to preserve our food culture."

With a laugh, he adds: "It also helps that he has many fans who keep coming back."


This article was first published on July 31, 2016.
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