10 Singapore food brands which have expanded overseas

Singaporean barbecued pork chain Bee Cheng Hiang opened its first outlet in Ginza, Tokyo, in September last year.
Singaporean barbecued pork chain Bee Cheng Hiang opened its first outlet in Ginza, Tokyo, in September last year. ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

This story was updated on July 14, 2017.

Singapore is a foodie paradise and the Singaporean appetite has fed local food success stories like Ya Kun Kaya Toast and BreadTalk.

In recent years, these home-grown brands have also taken Singapore food overseas, with some rising up from humble beginnings to take the world by storm.

Here are 10 brands that have taken Singapore food beyond local shores:

1. Wee Nam Kee Hainanese Chicken Rice

Wee Nam Kee outlet at Grand Indonesia Shopping Centre, Jakarta. PHOTO: WEE NAM KEE CHICKEN RICE RESTAURANT/ FACEBOOK

First overseas branch: Makati district, Manila, 2010

The chain, which has four outlets in Singapore, also opened a second outlet in Grand Indonesia, Jakarta last year. It boasts counters at two Lotte Department stores in South Korea, which were opened in 2015. Wee Nam Kee's first outlet in Japan celebrated its first anniversary last September.


A 2010 Straits Times article on the Manila franchise reported that Wee Nam Kee's owners believe in a full transfer of food knowledge. This meant that they taught the cooks at the six Filipino outlets to prepare everything from scratch, including the chilli dip, using fresh local ingredients, rather than shipping pre-packaged spices or marinades over to the franchise.

While the Singapore outlets offer only a few accompanying dishes beyond the tried and trusted chicken rice dish, the overseas branches are slightly more adventurous. For instance, the Manila branch has introduced other Singapore dishes like laksa, salted egg yolk prawns and even char kway teow to the menu.

2. Ya Kun Kaya Toast

Ya Kun Kaya Toast outlet in Apgujeong, an upmarket district in South Korea. PHOTO: ST FILE 

First overseas branch: Jakarta, Indonesia, 2003

Ya Kun has been expanding rapidly overseas since its first outlet opened in Indonesia in 2003. It now counts China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Myanmar, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines among the list of locations it has expanded to. There are plans to open outlets in Cambodia and Japan too, to make it a total of 10 overseas places where its signature kaya toast is now available.

Besides running outlets, Ya Kun also supplies a supermarket chain in South Korea with jars of kaya jam.

3. Mr Bean

Mr Bean outlet at Shibuya train station in Tokyo. PHOTO: ST FILE

First overseas branch: Shibuya, Japan, 2010

Soya milk drinks are familiar to the Japanese who consume soy in many forms. And that familiarity was a plus for soya milk chain Mr Bean when it ventured into the notoriously difficult Japanese market with its freshly brewed soya milk and pancakes. Its products are a hit, and the outlet at the busy Shibuya station has become a landmark meeting point for Japanese commuters.

The chain also has two outlets in the Philippines. The made-on-site pancakes, a local favourite, have been just as popular with overseas customers.

4. Tai Sei Hei (Lao Ban)

Tai Sei Hei's management staff comprising (from left) Mr Max Yeow, Ms Esther Yan, Mr Ken Li and Mr Terrence Hong pose in front of cafe Xiao Ban in Ho Chi Minh City. PHOTO: ST FILE

First overseas branch: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, 2011

Another chain offering products from soya beans, Tai Sei Hei took its soya beancurd (produced under the brand Lao Ban) to Vietnam in its overseas debut.

The humble Singapore hawker snack is made in a small cafe called Xiao Ban in Ho Chi Minh city. Besides soya beancurd, the menu also offers gelato, milk tea and coffee and waffles, in a departure from its Singapore offerings.

5. Crystal Jade Culinary Concepts

A view inside Crystal Jade's San Francisco restaurant.  PHOTO: CRYSTAL JADE SAN FRANCISCO/ FACEBOOK

First overseas branch: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, 1996

The chain, which serves traditional Chinese dishes and earned its first Michelin star this year for its Crystal Jade Golden Palace eatery, first ventured overseas in 1996.

Since then, it has ventured far and wide, and today operates outlets in 10 countries. The chain, which was acquired by French luxury group LVMH in 2014, also opened a much-hyped US$14 million (S$19.2 million) outlet in San Francisco which can seat 400 people. The posh restaurant, an addition to the more than 100 restaurants the group has across Asia, also features a bar and lounge.

6. Janice Wong

Pastry chef Janice Wong. PHOTO: ST FILE 

First overseas branch: Kennedy Town, Hong Kong, 2016

Singaporean pastry chef Janice Wong, owner of popular 2am:dessert bar in Holland Village, expanded her reach to Hong Kong and Japan in quick succession in March and April this year.

She has also expanded her repertoire beyond desserts, creating savoury dishes for her 82-seat casual fine-dining restaurant in Hong Kong.

Her new direction is reflected in her new flagship, Janice Wong Singapore, which opened at the National Museum of Singapore in August.


Co-founder and director of Pezzo Chiang Zhan Xiang led the pizza chain's rapid expansion to Sabah in 2014. PHOTO: BUSINESS TIMES

First overseas branch: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, 2014

Set up in 2012, the pizza kiosk specialist expanded rapidly, setting up its first overseas outlet in Sabah, Malaysia, in December 2014.

Pezzo currently has 48 outlets in Sabah and Sarawak alone.

In an interview with the Business Times last year, co-founder Chiang Zhan Xiang attributed the rapid growth of the company, which sells pizza by the slice, to its “grab-and-go” kiosk model.

Unlike full-service pizza restaurants, patrons do not have to wait for their pizzas. Instead, they can just purchase a slice of pizza from small kiosks for consumption instantly.

The chain is also known for its unusual pizza flavours. Last March, it launched a Rainbow Wonder pizza flavour – topped with Nutella chocolate, caramelised bananas, marshmallows and heart-shaped sprinkles – to support Club Rainbow, a charity that cares for chronically ill children.

The company pledged to donate a quarter of profits from sales of the pizza, which was sold till July, to Club Rainbow.


Long queues formed outside Hawker Chan's Taipei outlet soon after opening in April, buoyed by the reputation of Mr Chan Hong Meng's Michelin-starred stall in Chinatown Food Complex. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/HAWKER CHAN TAIWAN

First overseas branch: Taipei, Taiwan, 2017

Among the latest – and certainly the most hyped – local food outlets to expand overseas of late, the Michelin-starred soya sauce chicken stall helmed by veteran hawker Chan Hong Meng opened an outlet in Taipei in April.

Located near the Taipei Main Station, the outlet has received long queues since its opening, with rave reviews on local media such as Elle Magazine Taiwan.

Hawker Chan extended its streak and opened its first outlet in Jakarta on June 20, on the second floor of Hong Kong-based dim sum chain Tim Ho Wan, in north Jakarta's Pantai Indah Kapu.

Another outlet is set to open in Manila in July, 2017, according to The Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The overseas outlets are a far cry from the Chinatown Food Complex stall Mr Chan operated out of before the star was awarded. Apart from the original stall, there are two more outlets now - one on Smith Street and one in Tai Seng.


First overseas branch: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1993

A household name in Singapore known for its curry puffs, the chain - which has over 80 outlets locally and nine in Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia - will now be expanding to England.

Slated to open in the second half of this year, the outlet will be situated in central London and is a joint venture between the chain and Ms Sandra Leong, a Singaporean who has been living in London for the past six years.

She approached the chain in the middle of last year with the idea of bringing its curry puffs to the UK.

Said Ms Leong: "The British love a good curry as much as they love a good pastry. The curry puff is an iconic Singaporean snack that is a marriage of these two great things."


Jumbo Group's chief executive Ang Kiam Meng is also looking to venture into other Asian markets such as Indonesia, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Thailand over the next few years. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

First overseas branch: Shanghai, China, 2013

Food-and-beverage company Jumbo Group, known for its Jumbo Seafood restaurants, has opened its first Jumbo Seafood outlet in Beijing. 


Located in the Beijing SKP mall, the outlet is the fourth of its kind to open in China, with the other three restaurants situated in Shanghai. The Beijing outlet is a partnership with Chinese retailer Beijing Hualian Group, which operates the Beijing SKP mall.