From SG to the US

Successful Singaporeans abroad: Cheryl Chin stars in her own food story

To start her business, Ms Cheryl Chin used capital sourced from a crowdfunding campaign and her own savings. She plans to expand her business by getting a second food truck or opening a restaurant.
To start her business, Ms Cheryl Chin used capital sourced from a crowdfunding campaign and her own savings. She plans to expand her business by getting a second food truck or opening a restaurant.PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHERYL CHIN

The image of bankers, lawyers and accountants working in multinationals is what normally comes to mind when most people think about the Singaporean community in the United States. Yet, of late, more Singaporeans are taking the path less travelled. From selling ayam goreng and writing plays to crafting pots, Singaporeans are finding novel ways to make it in America. The Straits Times US Correspondent Melissa Sim talks to five of them about how they got started and the challenges they faced in their chosen fields.

Painted on the exterior of a food truck, a hungry tiger slurping up noodles against a bamboo backdrop would make one think immediately of Asian-American fare such as chop suey or General Tso's deep-fried chicken.

But a look at the menu shows that is not what Ms Cheryl Chin's DFG Noodles offers. Instead, the 35-year-old is dishing up Singaporean favourites, such as roti prata, ayam goreng and fried beehoon, for Austinites in Texas.

There are some slight variations to cater to American taste buds, of course. Her ayam goreng has a sweeter marinade than what is used in Singapore, while her beehoon is made from a special recipe she created when she was 16. 

 
 
 
 

The Singaporean entrepreneur says starting a noodle place was always on her bucket list, so she decided to give it a shot. But not before she had ticked another item off her list - acting in a Hollywood movie.

Born in Singapore, Ms Chin moved to the United States when she was 13 years old. At 21, she moved back to Singapore to start an acting career. She was a finalist in MediaCorp's Star Search contest in 2003. After living in Singapore for four years, she returned to the US to further her acting career. 

She worked as a marketing consultant while going for auditions, and was cast in three films, the last one being 2010 action film Machete, starring Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro and Jessica Alba.

She recalled how, at the film's premiere, realisation hit her hard. "I was cringing at my own acting... I realised my acting abilities were not going to get me anywhere in the US," said Ms Chin, who is single and has a four-year-old son. 

After she grew tired of her marketing job in 2013, she decided to take on a new challenge. 

"I really wanted to open a noodle place and showcase Singapore cuisine and I thought, why not, I think my cooking can pass," she told The Sunday Times. 

She raised some of the US$29,000 (S$39,000) needed to start her business through a crowdfunding campaign, used some of her savings and launched her food truck in May the same year. 

The first year was gruelling, with 120-hour weeks involving cooking, cleaning and managing the business, she said. But her food caught on and lines are often seen in front of her truck. 

She is now running a crowdfunding campaign to raise more money for DFG Noodles. "I want to expand the business, maybe get a second truck or a restaurant," said Ms Chin, who has spent 18 years in the US.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 12, 2015, with the headline 'Starring in her own food story'. Print Edition | Subscribe