Want to be a hawker? Learn from veterans

Fei Siong’s group managing director Tan Kim Siong (right) and executive director Tan Kim Leng (left) want to preserve Singapore’s food culture by getting old hawkers to share their recipes. -- PHOTO: MIKE LEE FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Fei Siong’s group managing director Tan Kim Siong (right) and executive director Tan Kim Leng (left) want to preserve Singapore’s food culture by getting old hawkers to share their recipes. -- PHOTO: MIKE LEE FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Fei Siong Food Management will pair retired hawkers with budding entrepreneurs

Hawkers wanted. No experience needed.

Those who are looking to enter the hawker trade can sign up for the Entrepreneurship Programme by Fei Siong Food Management and successful participants could end up running stalls in a new hawker centre coming up in Hougang.

The two-month training programme pairs 18 retiring or retired hawkers with budding entrepreneurs. The veterans will act as consultants, teaching the upstarts to cook their recipes, checking on the quality of food and mentoring them on managing their businesses.

At the end of the programme, the hawker hopefuls will run stalls at the new hawker centre in Ci Yuan Community Club in Hougang Avenue 4, which opens in August.

The National Environment Agency announced on Monday that Fei Siong will manage the hawker centre, which is the first of 20 new government-built hawker centres that will open in the next few years.

Fei Siong owns eateries and food courts in shopping malls, including Tangs Market in Tangs Orchard, Malaysia Boleh! food court in Jurong Point and the Eat chain of noodle shops.

The 20,000 sq ft hawker centre will be run as a not-for-profit project. It has 640 seats and 40 cooked food stalls which will serve local hawker favourites such as Hainanese chicken rice and wonton noodles.

About 10 stalls will open round the clock, selling supper fare such as fried bee hoon, laksa and porridge. Each stall will specialise in a dish, spanning Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisines.

Besides learning the cooking know-how, participants in the programme can leverage on Fei Siong Group's expertise in business management and hygiene control.

The hawkers can later choose to expand within the Fei Siong Group or open branches elsewhere.

Applications start on Friday and there is no age limit for applicants.

Mr Tan Kim Siong, 45, Fei Siong's group managing director, hopes to give aspiring hawkers a headstart in picking up the trade. He had learnt how to make fishball noodles from his grandfather at his stall in Redhill when he was 15 years old.

Mr Tan, who was a hawker for 13 years, says: "Running a stall can be tough. I hope that this one-stop training programme can give aspiring hawkers an opportunity to learn from the invaluable experience of the old-timers, so that we can groom the next generation of hawkers."

Fei Siong Group will operate two stalls - a drinks stall and the 85 Redhill Teochew Fishball Noodles stall, which uses recipes handed down by Mr Tan's grandfather. Prices range from 80 cents for a cup of coffee to $2.80 for a bowl of fishball noodles.

Another 20 stalls will be allocated to successful participants of the programme to run and they will pay rent of between $1,500 and $1,800 a month. The group is still finalising the line-up of veteran hawkers who will train the newbies.

The remaining 18 stalls will be rented out at the same rates to other hawkers who want to tender for the space.

All stalls will have to sell at least two dishes for under $2.80.

To keep food prices affordable, stall owners can tap on the Fei Siong Group's central purchasing system, which is implemented across its 107 eateries. Through economies of scale, stall owners pay less for ingredients and packaging bought in bulk.

Mr Tan Kim Leng, 38, Fei Siong's executive director, says: "With affordable food prices, we hope that this will drive up the volume of demand, which will create a revenue cycle for such a business model to be sustainable."

The group will start a social enterprise subsidiary to manage the hawker centre.

Its operating surpluses will be channelled back to the running of the centre. Half will fund social initiatives such as distributing food coupons to the under-privileged, organising gatherings for orphanages and kickstarting recycling and meal- tray return campaigns. The other half will go towards training the hawkers in topics such as customer service.

Mr Tan Kim Siong believes that all these initiatives will go a long way towards preserving Singapore's colourful food culture.

He says: "It is a pity to see time-honoured recipes fade away whenever an old hawker decides to call it a day. By passing down their recipes, the authentic flavours of Singapore food will live on."

kengohsz@sph.com.sg