While working in various corporate jobs, senior marketing executive Poh Ying Min, 29, harboured dreams of opening her own healthy-food business.
When colleagues suggested that she sell salads, she decided to take a chance and, since July, has been running a customised salad bowl stall at Block 163 Bukit Merah Central Food Centre under the Incubation Stall Programme - a subsidised programme to help new hawkers. There are two such stalls at the centre.
"Definitely it is tough, long hours, but the sense of satisfaction is different from working in the corporate world," said Ms Poh, who earns less now.
Demand for the programme by the National Environment Agency (NEA) has been growing, with more than 40 people vying for 13 stalls since it was launched in February.
Due to the strong response, two more stalls have been added, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor announced yesterday.
The programme lets aspiring hawkers rent a hawker stall for six months at half the market rate. Basic equipment such as stainless steel shelves, worktops, fridges, a display shelf and sinksare provided free.
Of the 13 stalls in the scheme, 10 are currently occupied.
The stallholders are aged between 27 and 42 years old, compared with the median age of 59 for hawkers in Singapore, according to research published last year.
Dr Khor was visiting Block 163 Bukit Merah Central Food Centre and Block 20 Ghim Moh Road Market and Food Centre. A total of three incubation stalls are located at the two centres.
"We will continue to monitor the take-up rate and get feedback from earlier batches of incubation stallholders before we decide whether we should add more (stalls)," she said.
Of the first three participants who joined the programme in February, two decided to quit the scheme and the other was granted an extension until April next year, as she was looking for a permanent stall.
Applicants must first attend either the Introduction to Managing a Hawker Business course run by the Institute of Technical Education, or a similar course, or have graduated from a business management course offered at a tertiary institution. They must also present a business plan and undergo a food tasting panel assessment.
Preference is given to those whose direct family members do not manage or operate a food stall or food shop.
Ms Poh said that with no experience in the food and beverage sector, she struggled, but has since adapted and attracted customers with her homemade wasabi sesame sauce.
The other incubation stall at Block 163 Bukit Merah Central Food Centre is run by former part-time bartender Kwan Yee Liang, who sells handmade noodles he makes himself.
He now earns about $3,000 a month, up from $2,000 when he did part-time work.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for NEA said that the agency is looking into the issues raised by food critic K.F. Seetoh on Tuesday on his Makansutra website, where he called for better regulation of not-for-profit hawker centres.
Mr Seetoh had said in a post in August that rents at social enterprise hawker centres, where hawkers struggle to pay high operating costs, were unsustainable.
In a post on Tuesday, the food consultant highlighted, among other things, a contract clause which states that a hawker who decides to give up his stall will have to pay for the remaining lease, unless a replacement is found.
Mr Seetoh urged NEA to take back control of the hawker centres.
Currently, seven out of 114 hawker centres are new centres managed by social enterprises and cooperatives.
Last week, Dr Khor told Parliament that the management mo-del will continue to be refined and improved.