Grounded by Covid, pilot duo turn to selling min jiang kueh

Amy Khor with Steven Goh, Billy Ng and Ken Chew (left to right)
PHOTO: Facebook/Amy Khor

They once soared the skies at the helm of a passenger plane.

Now, this pair of pilots spend their days whipping up min jiang kueh (a thick dessert pancake) at a coffee shop in Ang Mo Kio.

In an interview with Today, former senior first officer with Juneyao Air, 46-year-old Ken Chew, said working at the coffee shop was a "totally different environment."

His business partner, Steven Goh, adds: "Being a hawker, you need to have endurance — manning the stall, working without any rest or time to sit down."

The 42-year-old captain was grounded in February due to the raging coronavirus pandemic. Chew was forced to stop flying a month later.

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It was over a meal that the two chanced upon Granny's Pancake, a min jiang kueh stall run by 55-year-old Billy Ng at Ghim Moh Market and Food Centre. It caught their attention as it seemed to always have a snaking long queue.

As they enjoyed his pancakes and found it to be "very special and different from other pancakes", they approached Ng to be their mentor. They also registered for the Hawker Development Programme, which includes taking classes about business planning and marketing since June.

After the end of their classes and apprenticeship with Ng in September, the two moved to their current set up at a Ang Mo Kio coffee shop and they are currently experimenting with different flavours.

It's tough work as they have to mix vats of batter and stand behind hot cast iron pans every day.

"But whenever you get good feedback from customers, it spurs you on," says Goh. "That's what is keeping me going."

Chew adds that they're ready to move into a hawker stall as soon as possible and the pair hopes to have more than one stall in the future. They also plan to get employees to manage the daily operations while they handle the business from behind the scenes

That's not to say that the duo don't wish to take to the skies again. Chew hopes the aviation industry will recover "within a year or two" and that they'll be able find themselves in the cockpit once more.

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.