When Royal Pek Wen Yang graduated from Singapore Management University in 2018, he never expected that he would get into F&B.
Instead, with his double major in economics and finance, the 28-year-old initially decided to become a trader because he wanted to "make lots of money".
Now, Royal is the proud co-founder of Xian Dan Chao Ren, an F&B chain specialising in Taiwanese-style salted egg snacks.
With three branches islandwide and a fourth one in the pipeline, it seems like Royal's career switch has paid off. However, he tells AsiaOne that this came with its own costs.
It was never meant to be a full-time thing
For Royal, what started out as potential side hustle eventually became a full-time job.
Initially, he had dabbled with the idea of getting into the F&B business as he wanted an avenue to generate passive income, even as he worked hard at his day job as a trader.
With that goal in mind, he banded together with two of his friends, Alan Ang, 28, and Fenny Seah, 26, to buy and take over an existing Chinese restaurant.
As none of them had any prior background in F&B — Alan was in engineering and Fenny studied Chinese language — so they decided to pick up some culinary skills from the chefs who previously worked at the Chinese restaurant.
They also started out by selling food from the restaurant's original menu, which consisted of 'cai fan' (mixed rice) and stir-fry dishes.
When they finally racked up enough experience and understanding of the market, they decided to rebrand the restaurant and change the entire menu.
Out of all the dishes they had cooked in the Chinese restaurant, they loved the salted egg ones the most and they also knew it was already a huge hit with their customers. So, the decision to narrow their focus and specialise in all things salted egg was "very clear cut", Royal shares.
For a while, Alan and Fenny ran the show full-time while Royal helped out on a part-time basis he continued juggling his full-time job.
This was understandably no easy feat, and once his day job shift was over, he had to immediately rush off to work on his side hustle. This carried on till he quit his trading job in 2020.
But that wasn't the main reason why Royal wanted to switch to F&B full-time. Deep inside, he felt like the only way he could "increase the probability of success" was if he were to put all his effort into it, he tells us.
"How can I try to blindly hope that it will succeed if I am only doing this part-time? It just doesn't make sense to me that other people are doing huge stints and committing full-time to their brand and then there's me doing it part-time."
While Royal's determination is remarkable, he admits one area of concern is that his passive income source has now become his main income.
"It has created, obviously, a tremendous amount of stress, because now, instead of having two sources of income, I am dependent on one. And you know, businesses are always risky," he says.
Picking up marketing skills from YouTube
Today, Royal is the one in charge of all the marketing for Xian Dan Chao Ren.
With over 18,700 followers on TikTok, he's also the de facto face of the brand, sharing snippets of his daily life and of work.
@royalpek Reply to @username183829372 真的要我老命 #fyp #sgtiktok #sgchef #哪里都是你 ♬ original sound - royalpek
While Royal has an 'ah beng' TikTok persona that speaks mostly in Chinese, he's actually fluent in English and incredibly well-spoken in real life to boot.
"A lot of people who watch my TikTok videos think I don't know how to speak English," he acknowledges with a hearty chuckle.
Royal also confesses that he actually started out with barely any experience in marketing or advertising, and had to pick everything up from scratch online.
And his favourite tool to do all that? YouTube.
"There are amazing case studies on Starbucks and big brands that have made it," he elaborates.
Apart from the internet, Royal shares that he's also blessed to have friends who are in advertising, branding and marketing who are eager to give him advice when he needs it.
It also helps that Royal's brother works as a branding manager which is how he learned how to market fast moving consumer goods off the shelves.
"I'm lucky to have him," he adds.
His parents were a little sceptical at first
Though Royal's brothers encouraged him to pursue his F&B ambitions from the start, his parents initially didn't share the same sentiments.
It wasn't that they weren't supportive — as conservative Asian parents, they simply had their worries and reservations about him leaving a stable, well-paying job. It didn't help that Royal's two brothers worked high-flying jobs in the banking and corporate world either.
Thankfully, Royal shares that they did eventually warm up to the idea, but it "took some time".
"It wasn't an issue where they didn't want me to pursue this. It was more like they wanted me to be sure I wanted to go down this path," he explains.
"And eventually, they gave me their blessing."
'We are all just trying to make it work'
It seems like Royal's hard work is paying off. Xian Dan Chao Ren just opened its first outlet at Waterway Point last March, and has already expanded to three locations islandwide, with stores in VivoCity and White Sands.
Royal and his partners don't plan on stopping there either. They're currently are on the lookout for potential locations for their fourth outlets, which will hopefully be in the west, he says.
However, expanding a business isn't all rainbows and sunshine — Royal shares that things have taken a toll on him.
"We definitely feel a lot of burnout, especially when a new store opens," he says, adding that when they opened their VivoCity outlet, they had to work seven days a week.
But he admits that while it is physically and mentally draining, he feels that it is all worth it.
"What actually pushes us through at the end of the day is that this is what we signed up for, this is what we want," he tells us determinedly.
"If we expand, the amount of work that comes with it is natural and we are all just trying to make it work."