ST Singaporean of the Year nominee: Giving other hawkers a leg up

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Six years ago, Abdul Malik Hassan launched Crave to take his parents nasi lemak stall into the malls. It now has 45 outlets. Yet Mr Malik is giving back to the F&B community, mentoring other hawkers and helping to build their businesses.

SINGAPORE - Seventeen years after he took over his father's Selera Rasa nasi lemak business, Mr Abdul Malik Hassan, 49, can look back on his achievements with a glowing sense of pride.

Not only is the stall in Adam Road Food Centre thriving as a family business shared with Mr Malik's four younger siblings, he also launched Crave - The Original Adam Road Nasi Lemak By Selera Rasa six years ago with a business partner to take his nasi lemak into shopping malls.

There are now 45 Crave outlets in places such as Bugis Junction, AMK Hub and Paya Lebar Square.

This year, he came up with two new projects to assist other hawkers and small businesses, spurred by a conversation with Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, who asked him to help other food and beverage owners.

The first is Kaaakis, which Mr Malik describes as a halal mini cafe featuring multiple brands such as Old Amoy Chendol from Chinatown Complex Market and Food Centre, Padang Grill by Rumah Makan Minang in Kandahar Street and Ministry of Rojak by Abdhus Salam Rojak in Ayer Rajah Food Centre.

The first opened in Sun Plaza with three brands in June and the second in Buangkok with two brands in October.

Mr Malik partnered Shiok! Retail Concepts, which had been running two food stalls in Pasir Ris West Plaza, and opened the third Kaaakis in November by adding four more brands.

Kaaakis looks like a mini foodcourt but is run very differently.

Nobody pays rent. Instead, Kiosks Collective, the company that Mr Malik is a partner of, takes care of all the costs. These include renovations, hiring staff and even paying for some of the ingredients.

But the brands own their names and keep their recipes.

In the case of Padang Grill, Kaaakis buys the spice paste from Rumah Makan Minang but provides the meat and seafood.

Mr Malik also came up with a faster way of preparing the dishes using a combination oven after six months of research. "They used to take 45 minutes to cook a dish on the stove. Now they can cook 16 dishes in that time," he said.

In return, the brands receive a percentage of the revenue. Mr Malik said this is more transparent than sharing profits, which is how many big players operate. "After cutting labour costs and this and that, from a revenue of $10,000 or $5,000, the profit is down to $1,000 only."

The concept is working, he said, and there are plans to add three more - at Lot One Shoppers' Mall, The Rail Mall and Yew Tee Point - early next year. He has roped in a total of 14 brands, he added.

Crave co-founder Abdul Malik Hassan at the Kaaakis food court in Pasir Ris West Plaza, on Dec 17, 2021. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

The name Kaaakis comes from the word "kakis", Singapore slang for "buddies". "When we went for Singapore Day events overseas, we called fellow hawkers Singapore kakis," Mr Malik explained.

There are three As in the name because "we have Malay, Chinese and Indian brands. All are As, all are important".

This year, Mr Malik also started a mentorship programme to help small businesses to expand.

Once a month, he holds a talk over videoconferencing platform Zoom for 48 business owners who wish to learn about issues such as financing or human resources.

He then schedules one-to-one meetings to help them solve their problems.

Anyone can text or e-mail him to join the programme and it is free.

Crave co-founder Abdul Malik Hassan started a mentorship programme to help small businesses to expand. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

"But I ask them some questions to make sure they are actually doing a business," he said. "And I give them homework. At the end of the month, they have to show me what they have done."

He adds: "When they grow, they and their family are happy. But I'm the happiest."

To vote for the Singaporean of the Year 2021, go to Voting ends Jan 7, 7pm.

Note: This story has been updated for clarity.

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