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From serving patients to diners: Couple in early 20s put aside nursing jobs to sell biryani at Maxwell Food Centre

From serving patients to diners: Couple in early 20s put aside nursing jobs to sell biryani at Maxwell Food Centre
PHOTO: AsiaOne/Melissa Teo

Ever since Abel Poh Wei Jie, 24, and his girlfriend, Nydia Syairah, 22, got together three years ago, they had toyed with the idea of starting their own business. 

It took a nasty road accident to give them the push they needed to chase that dream. 

And now, they're the proud owners of Alipapa Briyani at Maxwell Food Centre. 

Considering that the pair used to be nurses, some may be surprised by their career jump. 

In an interview with AsiaOne, Abel shared that thankfully so far, the work has been "manageable", especially since his mother owns a stall in the very same hawker centre. 

From nurses to hawkers 

Abel and Nydia told AsiaOne that they first met when they were both locum nurses. 

As their positions were on a part-time basis, they were usually activated when there was a manpower crunch. 

A regular work day for them would involve showering patients, checking vital signs and assisting other nurses.  

But a road accident ended up changing this routine. 

On the first day of Chinese New Year last year, the couple had rented a car to do their visitations. 

It had been raining heavily and as the road was slippery, they ended up ramming their vehicle into the back of another car. 

While neither of them came out of the accident injured, they found themselves slapped with a hefty bill of about $9,000 for damages. 

The pair were desperate for an immediate source of funds so Abel's mum offered to help pay off some of the charges. 

"By helping us, my mum would be losing money, so we needed to help her too," said Abel. 

Therefore, in return, Abel and Nydia worked at her Maxwell Food Centre stall, Alimama Green Chilli Chicken Rice & Prawn Noodle, while also receiving a little commission from her. 

Though it wasn't meant to be a permanent arrangement, it made the couple wonder if they should run a hawker stall of their own. 

They eventually decided to give it a shot and set up Alipapa Briyani together. 

As they are locum nurses, they had the flexibility to put a pause on their nursing jobs and use their time to focus on the hawker business instead. 

They also managed to bid for a stall at Maxwell Food Centre so that they could be near Abel's mother. 

Money-wise, the couple pumped in around $10,000, including rental and equipment, to open Alipapa Biryani. About $5,000 came from their own savings. 

Abel's mother, who was very supportive of the idea, loaned them another $5,000 to kickstart their entrepreneurship journey. She also taught them some of her recipes. 

"Since young, both my parents have been very supportive of what I do," Abel told us with a smile. 

While Abel's parents are hawkers themselves and were encouraging, Nydia's folks weren't as enthusiastic about the idea. 

"Her parents were quite skeptical because she doesn't know how to cook," Abel revealed. 

"But in the end, when we were about to open the stall, they were wishing us luck and gave us their blessings." 

Nydia eventually learned how to cook from Abel's mother, who often pops by the stall to help them out. 

Opening shop in the midst of Chinese New Year 

Some would be surprised to know that the couple's first day of work was on the fourth day of Chinese New Year, which was Feb 13. 

But why the rush? 

Abel explained that they got the confirmation letter on Jan 16 and they had to pay the deposit and collect the keys by Jan 19. 

"They only gave us that whole week to prepare before they started counting the rental on Feb 2," he elaborated. 

"We tried to rush everything before Chinese New Year so that we could open straightaway and at least cover part of the rent." 

Unfortunately, they were unable to and eventually decided to do so during the Lunar New Year celebrations instead. 

Another challenge they ran into was finances.

Abel told us that their purse strings are currently pulled tight because they've "spent a lot of money already". 

They are also unable to apply for halal certification for now. 

"We wanted to apply for our certificate, but it's going to cost us a lot," he revealed. 

So in the meantime, they call themselves a Muslim-owned stall. 

But other than that, things have thankfully been "quite stable" for the couple and they have even gained some regular customers.

And while the couple have been struggling with finances, they still insist on having a budget friendly option "to give back to the community", as advised by Abel's mother. 

The dish costs $3.80 and comes with rice, chicken and an egg. 

"Even before I opened my own stall, my mum would give free food to the poor here," Abel explained  

He also noted that there are a number of office workers in the vicinity who want a budget option for lunch, so such an option on their menu just made sense. 

What else is on the menu? 

The bulk of the menu items here are biryani-based with options such as curry prawn, assam sotong and assam fish. 

Aside from the budget option, prices range from $9.50 to $15. 

For items one to five listed in the menu, diners also get to choose one of the four available sides for free — achar, vegetables, tomato chilli or curry potato. 

Abel shared that the recommended menu items are the Rendang Chicken Briyani ($9.50) and Lamb Shank Briyani ($15), so I opted for the chicken. 

Right off the bat, I was impressed by the generous portion size. 

My plate came heftily loaded with a large mound of rice, a large piece of rendang chicken thigh, pappadum, an egg, and my choice of side, achar. 

For me, what makes or breaks a plate of biryani is the rice. So, I was pleased to find mine fluffy and fragrant. 

The massive chicken thigh was as juicy as it looked and I tore the meat off the bone effortlessly. 

I also really enjoyed the mildly spicy rendang curry it was drenched in. 

Abel told me that some customers have questioned their prices and said that it's "a little bit high". 

He explained that they charge a little more because they provide customers with their choice of one side dish. 

He also pointed out that his food comes with eggs and vegetables, which some biryani stalls do not give. 

Personally, I find that the portion size and quality of food makes up for the price. 

One also has to remember that the stall is right smack in the middle of a tourist destination, as well as the Central Business District, so it's probably expected too, that prices here are on the higher end. 

Address: 1 Kadayanallur St, #01-080 Maxwell Food Centre, Singapore 069184
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 11am to 8pm

ALSO READ: Japanese-Singaporean couple spend $20k to open authentic tonkatsu stall, build kitchen with secondhand equipment from Carousell 

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