I still eat at food stalls from my childhood
BreadTalk chairman George Quek may have several food-and-beverage (F&B) establishments under his BreadTalk group, but a common thread among his businesses is the preservation of local culinary heritage.
The 57-year-old was recently awarded Street Food Entrepreneur of the Year at the World Street Food Congress held from May 31 to June 9, for harnessing ground-breaking ideas for Singapore's food culture.
My Paper speaks to Mr Quek about the sustainability of hawker businesses here and his favourite street food.
With a shortage of manpower in the F&B sector, how sustainable are hawkers and food courts?
It is definitely hard work being a hawker and one has to be fully committed to successfully manage a food business.
With the current hawker business model, the younger generation may find it challenging to see a future in such a trade.
Therefore, it is essential for the hawker business to evolve with the times so that it is sustainable in the long term. I hope that people will come to regard being a hawker and managing an F&B business as a profession comparable to others.
Culinary skills are and should be accepted as a testament to one's achievements, just as paper qualifications are.
Street food and hawker food appeal to people from all strata of society as it is extremely accessible and is a familiar part of our culture and heritage, so I believe there will always be a demand.
What are some of the challenges that your companies are facing at the moment?
Rising costs in terms of rental, food prices, manpower and other factors are problems faced by most businesses.
Therefore, it is important for us to look into improving our competitiveness despite these challenges.
There are more players in the industry and, therefore, greater competition. This also spurs us on to constantly look at interesting ways to improve our concepts so that we stay ahead of the competition.
What advice would you give to young Singaporeans who are starting out in the F&B business?
The F&B industry is very demanding and requires 100 per cent commitment.
It is pertinent to always be on the ground to talk to customers and staff to gain an insight into their perspectives, so as to be able to fine-tune your business.
Where and what are some of the best street food you've had?
I prefer simple pleasures. I like Mak's Noodle in Hong Kong for its distinct old-school flavours and the no-frills, simple set-up of the eatery, which makes the dining experience very authentic.
When I am in Taipei, I dine at Din Tai Fung as I relish the homemade goodness of its dishes.
Every time I am in Taichung, I will drop by Ah Shui Shi Pork Knuckle Vermicelli for its popular pig trotters braised in a very robust braising broth which is topped up daily.
What are some of your best childhood memories of street food here?
When I was a teenager, I always ate at a wanton-mee stall called Yi You, which used to be in Kovan.
A friend had told me about the stall's spicy noodles and I remember perspiring profusely when I first ate it.
The stall has since relocated to a hawker centre near Heartland Mall and is now managed by the children of its owners. I still visit the stall with my wife.
Another stall I used to frequent with my father as a child is the famous Tai Hwa Pork Noodles in Crawford Street, which has also been passed down to the next generation.