Few would imagine the lanky, shaggy-haired guy working the curry rice stall at an industrial-building canteen as having been a sharp-suited foreign exchange trader working “short and sweet” hours at a local bank. Joel Chia would rather you see him as a dead ringer for Hong Kong actor Stephen Chow anyway.
“The physicality of the hawker trade really cannot be underestimated,” says the 30-year-old candidly. “I run 10km to 30km a day. Every single day. But it’s a different game as a hawker, man.” Chia, together with business partner Deniece Tan, took over her dad’s Hainanese curry rice stall in Telok Blangah in August 2013. Both were keen to start their own business, and wanted something in the F&B line. The pair spent five weeks learning the ropes from Tan’s father, before the 25-year-old sat her dad down for an “awkward but important” chat.
“I had to tell my dad that this is our business now. We appreciate him wanting to teach us how to do things, but we are taking over not just to do things the same way he did for the past 10 years,” says Tan. “It was not an easy conversation.”
Since taking over, Tan and Chia have refined the curry recipe, adding different types of ginger and more chillies to make the formerly pale and bland curry spicier and more vibrant in colour. Both are not maudlin when it comes to recipes, believing they can always improve.
Last year, Chia and Tan moved to their current location at Jun Jie Industrial Building along Kampong Ampat road, and added Western curry dishes, porridge and economical beehoon to their menu.
“I had to tell my dad that this is our business now. We appreciate him wanting to teach us how to do things, but we are taking over not just to do things the same way he did for the past 10 year.”
– Deniece Tan
They are also working on a separate new menu with food delivery service Food Panda, with items such as dry curry noodles – which they think will appeal to smart-suited female executives who crave a hit of spice for lunch, without the risk of getting unsightly stains on their outfit.
“I believe that if you want to do business, you should always do something that is dear to people’s hearts; that’s a part of their everyday life,” says Chia. Both he and Tan are also adamant that they remain hands-on in the running of the stall.
“For generations, hawker food has always needed a very personal touch. People need to see and know the people behind it,” says Chia.
Adds Tan: “You can’t simply employ someone to do this for you, at the start. You must be present for at least three to five years. It’s about the passion that people want to see.”
Truly Test Kitchen
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153 Kampong Ampat