'One has to give in to the other': Couple who started hawker stall together break up, man shares relationship advice

PHOTO: Instagram/mw_wongsan, Facebook/Mian Zhuang

Those who frequent Hong Lim Market & Food Centre would probably have come across Mian Zhuang, a humble ban mian stall set up by 29-year-old Jonathan Chng and 26-year-old Vanessa Ong.

In 2019, the young couple left their stable corporate jobs — Jonathan was a currency broker while Vanessa was a logistics executive — to pursue their dream of running their own business.

Unfortunately, shortly after Mian Zhuang opened, the pandemic hit and both their business and relationship suffered. Eventually, apart from agreeing to break off their engagement and end their relationship, they also decided to shutter the stall. Its last day in operation was Nov 27.

While the decision evidently wasn't an easy one to make, Jonathan chooses to look on the brighter side of things.

"If you don't try, you would not know," he tells AsiaOne over a phone call and shares that he has no regrets in setting up the business.

Back when Mian Zhuang was still in operation. PHOTO: Facebook/Mian Zhuang

But despite gaining some valuable experience from running Mian Zhuang, Jonathan admits that he did feel the pinch, especially since he sunk about $62,000 into the business.

"It's a very expensive lesson," he bluntly says.

And those weren't Jonathan's only takeaways — he also learnt that starting a business with your partner is no walk in the park.

When asked if the venture had played a part in the couple's decision to break off the engagement, he didn't hesitate to say that it was a "huge factor".

"Working together, being together with someone for a long time and staying together is on a different level," Jonathan elaborates. "Disagreements and abrasions are really inevitable and can occur on a daily basis".

He also shares that when a couple starts a business together, the main objective is undoubtedly money and things can go very sour when you're not making money.

"Both people are drawing money from the same income and wishing for financial freedom from the same source. But if it doesn't happen, everybody gets upset."

Starting a business with your partner? Jonathan shares his advice

Having been through so much over the past 23 months the stall has been in operation, it isn't surprising that Jonathan has a few nuggets of wisdom to impart to couples who are considering starting a business together.

"One has to give in to the other, if not, you'll be fighting every day," he wisely says and advises that couples should try to find ways to come to a compromise.

To keep both their business and personal relationships healthy, Jonathan also suggests that couples shouldn't shy away from thorny topics like targets, capital and how much money each individual is willing to lose.

Additionally, a mutually-agreed end goal and timeline should be put in place and if the business does not work out during this period, the couple should agree to scratch the idea before they incur more losses.

Any monetary losses should also be settled clearly between both parties before they can hit the restart button and carry on with life.

"There will be no disagreements because the numbers have all been said beforehand and you can quickly make an exit," Jonathan explains.

He also adds that people usually avoid bringing up such topics during the earlier stages of the business because they don't want to be "a wet blanket".

"But it's something you can't avoid," he says. "So you might as well make it clear before it doesn't work out and you end up fighting".

Future plans

While Mian Zhuang's physical store may be gone, Jonathan hasn't given up on the brand just yet.

For now, he still plans on selling some of Mian Zhuang's products, starting off with their chilli sauce. In the future, he also hopes to work as a supplier and sell the brand's handmade noodles to other ban mian stores in Singapore.

PHOTO: Facebook/Mian Zhuang

Additionally, he tells us there may even be a chance that the business will make a comeback with a physical store once the Covid-19 situation stabilises.

And if that does come to fruition, he intends on running it differently from the original stall based on the lessons he's learnt the hard way.

"The next profit margin has to be healthier than it was before, so the prices will definitely increase. But we'll still provide the same top quality food and not compromise on any of the ingredients."

While it all sounds like plenty of work for just one person, Jonathan says that he wants to do it himself without the help of Vanessa or anyone else.

"Experience has taught me that disagreements are inevitable, so why not just be alone and be the decision maker so that there won't be any other conflicts?"

melissateo@asiaone.com