Famous Liao Fan soya sauce chicken stall set to expand

Mr Chan Hon Meng is partnering Hersing Culinary, whose chairman is Mr Harry Chua (far left), to open quick-service restaurant Hawker Chan in Chinatown next month.
Mr Chan Hon Meng is partnering Hersing Culinary, whose chairman is Mr Harry Chua (left), to open quick-service restaurant Hawker Chan in Chinatown next month.ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

Hawker Chan Hon Meng of Liao Fan soya sauce chicken stall, which has one Michelin star, is setting up an 80-seat eatery

Big companies are usually the ones who woo hawkers for collaborations or joint ventures.

But hawker Chan Hon Meng of one-Michelin-starred Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Complex Food Centre wanted to expand his business and he sent out proposals to three food and beverage companies.

One of those he approached was Hersing Culinary, the company which owns the franchising rights to Hong Kong's Michelin-starred dim-sum chain Tim Ho Wan in the Asia-Pacific region.

In Singapore's inaugural Michelin guide, launched in July this year, Liao Fan was awarded one star.

Mr Chan, 51, said in Mandarin: "Getting the Michelin star got me thinking, as people kept asking me to work with them. Customers were waiting for two hours to eat lunch (at Liao Fan), so I figured I should open another shop or work with someone. I don't have the expertise to expand on my own."

Two weeks after he sent his proposal to Mr Harry Chua, a Singaporean and the chairman of Hersing Culinary, they met to discuss the venture.

"I felt Mr Chua's passion and he was also focused on maintaining the quality. That's why I chose to work with him," Mr Chan said.

Hersing invested $1 million to set up the new quick-service Hawker Chan restaurant, which will open in the middle of next month at 78 Smith Street in Chinatown. The 2,000 sq ft, air-conditioned restaurant will seat 80 diners and Mr Chua and Mr Chan each have a 50 per cent stake in the eatery. It will serve the same soya sauce chicken rice and noodle dishes that draw long queues at the original stall.

There are also plans for global expansion.

At a media conference yesterday at CityLink mall's Tim Ho Wan outlet, Mr Chua, 69, said: "When I heard that a hawker had received a Michelin star, it took me by surprise. I thought maybe it's time for us to promote a Singapore brand overseas."

The other hawker stall which received a Michelin star is Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Crawford Lane.

"Bak chor mee is a very local dish and it could be difficult to globalise in other cities. If I were to expand a Singapore brand, it would have to be with a chicken dish," said Mr Chua.

Last month, Mr Chan put a $2-million price tag on his recipe, which he now clarifies was just a rough indication, based on the amount that Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint in Upper Paya Lebar Road received when it sold its recipes in 2014 to electronics firm Aztech Group.

He said: "Initially, I did consider selling the recipe, working for a few months, then enjoying life. But this is not a case of giving me $2 million and I have a stomachache and never come to work.

"If I'm not around and the business gets messed up, then it will be ruined in the future. My goal is to make Liao Fan better and now I have the chance to take this out of Singapore."

To maintain the consistency of the recipe - which only Mr Chan knows - a central kitchen will be set up to prepare the blend of sauces and herbs that go into cooking the chickens.

Pricing at Liao Fan will remain the same. The stall's signature soya sauce chicken rice costs $2 a plate. A whole soya sauce chicken costs $14.

At Hawker Chan, prices will be closer to "food court prices", said Mr Chan. And in the future, more "secret dishes" from his repertoire will be added to the menu at Hawker Chan.

He has been training a friend to run Liao Fan and his wife, Madam Irene Quek, 40, will stay on as the cashier.

Expect another Hawker Chan in March next year. Mr Chua would say only that it will be at a location with a "street front" and "near a taxi stand".

He is also ready to focus his attention on Tsuta. He is opening the Singapore branch of the Michelin-starred Tokyo ramen shop at Pacific Plaza on Nov 6.

He said that since last year, he has been approached by private equity firms who want to buy Tim Ho Wan.

"All of my businesses are for sale, provided they are to the right people," he said.

Mr Chan, who was born in Ipoh and became a Singapore citizen in 2014, believes that hawkers like him need to make such moves to sustain their businesses.

The father of a 10-year-old daughter said many children do not want to be hawkers and that this was a consideration in his initial search for a business partner.

He added: "My daughter is still young, so I'll have to see if she wants to help out in the future. She knows that I have a Michelin star, but she doesn't know what Michelin is. I tell her it's like getting the best marks in school and now I graduate."

•Follow Eunice Quek on Twitter @STEuniceQ

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2016, with the headline 'Michelin-starred stall to open restaurant'. Print Edition | Subscribe