Top Stories

Acquired but F&B group has Big Ideas

STAYING ON: The Big Idea group's Ms Seah will steer operations of the group "as an independent boutique arm or think-tank" of Kitchen Language.


    Feb 12, 2014

    Acquired but F&B group has Big Ideas

    HOME-GROWN food and beverage company The Big Idea group doesn't just have big ideas; it has an equally big appetite too.

    A majority stake in the three-year-old company was acquired last week for an undisclosed sum by Kitchen Language, the restaurant and franchised food subsidiary of Far East Organization. It is a move that the group hopes will help boost its own ambitious expansion plans.

    The Big Idea group owns 10 restaurants and bars in Singapore, including The Pelican Seafood Bar & Grill, Fat Cow and Marmalade Pantry.

    It was created in 2011 from the merger of the Marmalade Group - which made waves in 1999 with its upscale eponymous restaurant - and Refinery Concepts, which ran the now-defunct Mimolette at the former Turf Club and Japanese restaurant and bar Kinki at Customs House.

    It further broadened its portfolio last year by acquiring The Food Chain, which runs eateries including Bedrock Bar & Grill, Oriole Cafe & Bar, and Oriole Coffee Roasters.

    Of the group's board members, which include Karen Seah, Shareen Khattar, Jonathan Chan, Nasen Thiagarajan, Kashma Budhrani, and The Food Chain founder Keith Loh, who was the group's chief executive, only Ms Seah will be staying on post-acquisition.

    Formerly the group's executive chairman, she will now steer operations of the group "as an independent boutique arm or think-tank" of Kitchen Language in her post as The Big Idea group's managing director.

    Said the 16-year veteran of the F&B industry: "It's been a whirlwind ride for us. We've grown through a continual, serendipitous string of mergers and acquisitions over the last 21/2 years - something that others usually take five to eight years to accomplish.

    "Hopefully this next step will not just stabilise us but also allow us to embark on big expansion plans in 2014."

    This means launching one more new restaurant-bar concept in Singapore by mid-year, and opening a regional branch of Kinki by year-end, she said.

    According to her, the group had been previously approached with several offers for acquisition from private funds and overseas restaurant groups, but chose to partner with Kitchen Language and Far East Organization for their shared Singaporean identity, financial clout, regional real-estate network, and experience in successfully bringing overseas food franchises, such as Quiznos Sub, Dean & Deluca and Cold Stone Creamery, to Singapore.

    "There are many ways we can look to them for help to bring our brands out of the country," she said. Besides tapping on administrative economies of scale in accounting and management through the takeover, Ms Seah expected the main advantage to lie in easing the human resources crunch currently faced by all in the F&B industry.

    "It's an issue that I think about all the time," she said. "With more outlets and opportunities offered together with our parent company, we will now be able to provide a very stable path for someone to pursue a serious career in F&B."

    Currently 300 employees-strong, The Big Idea group's annual turnover for 2013 was $29 million.