Circuit breaker One year on

Taking the leap to set up a home-based food business

Mr Azlan Shah Rabel, founder of Foodprove, with his sambal goreng pengantin and lasagne - two of the dishes on the menu of his catering business.
Mr Azlan Shah Rabel, founder of Foodprove, with his sambal goreng pengantin and lasagne - two of the dishes on the menu of his catering business.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

All it took was a random suggestion to his wife during the circuit breaker that he should set up a home-based company to sell food, and telecommunications sales manager Azlan Shah Rabel was suddenly up to his neck in a business he knew nothing about.

Mr Azlan, 35, who admits he was profoundly ignorant of the catering game, started a home-based catering company called Foodprove which paid homage to the delicious cooking of his father Mohamed Zain, 71.

Even though Mr Azlan initially did not know how to cook the dishes himself, he still wanted to share the food with others.

"I had never considered selling food as a business before. Maybe the circuit breaker was a blessing in disguise. Starting up a business then was as good a time as any."

He "bootcamped" with his father to learn and perfect the recipe for sambal goreng pengantin, a spicy beef dish commonly served at Malay weddings. "We had zero experience doing a home-based business, and zero experience cooking in such large quantities. It was a very steep learning curve," said Mr Azlan.

"It is one thing cooking, say, fried rice for myself, and another cooking such large quantities and feeding people outside of my family. It was quite daunting."

It was a challenge getting customers at first, which was one of his biggest worries.

"Sambal goreng pengantin is not something you cannot find elsewhere; it's fairly common," he said.

But with word of mouth, as well as reviews on two blogs featuring halal food, orders began coming in.

The first delivery day saw about two or three orders, but now there are 12 to 15 orders each time.

Mr Azlan runs most of the business on his own, doing the grocery shopping, managing social media, cooking, and handling the orders, packaging and delivery. His wife, parents and in-laws help out on "cook days".

The couple have no children.

Foodprove accepts orders in advance after delivery dates are announced on social media. There are now about two delivery dates a month, although it delivered twice a week during the circuit breaker.

The menu has now expanded to include lasagna and frozen epok-epok, or curry puffs.

"We cook things that we think we cook well," said Mr Azlan. He plans to branch out into frozen sauces, such as beef bolognese sauce.

He has picked up a lot along the way since the business began. "We learn something from each cook, like knowing where to get the best prices for the ingredients."

Initially, he would be up until 2am or 4am cutting and preparing the ingredients for the next day, but the process has been streamlined, and the end of the circuit breaker measures meant his family members could help him.

He has also changed to automating the orders through an online form instead of a laborious manual method in the early days.

The decision to start the business came out of nowhere, but it is a decision Mr Azlan does not regret. "We hope to keep this business going for a long time," he said.

"I'm very happy that we have regular customers who keep coming back with orders, and we don't want to disappoint them."

Goh Yan Han

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2021, with the headline 'Taking the leap to set up a home-based food business'. Subscribe