Not one to rely on the security of working in her family business, Quek Sue-Shan struck out on her own to be a restaurateur. She now helms The Supermarket Company, which manages a slew of trendy F&B joints including Sprmrkt in McCallum Street, Sprmrkt Daily and Sprmrkt Kitchen & Bar.
Sprmkt Daily & Kitchen & Bar:
LESSONS FROM HER FATHER
When Quek decided to leave a comfortable job at her family’s company to start Sprmrkt, her father cautioned her about the “difficulties of surviving in the restaurant business”. Today, she credits his realism and emphasis on traditional business values for helping her keep her dreams afloat. She says: “I see a lot of truth in what he said. In this industry, you have to put in 150 per cent of your time and energy and you might only get a 10 per cent reward.” Nonetheless, Quek has no regrets about taking the plunge. “I’m still determined to make things work,”
ON THE JOB
“Success is never a guarantee,” says Quek. Keeping her business sustainable is constantly on her mind, be it looking at new business models to drive revenue or keeping operations cost-efficient. She also admits to having a “curious” streak that keeps her looking for new projects, though these sometimes come with lessons of their own.
“We started a food kiosk, Koskos. In hindsight, we could have saved the money we channelled into that project for rainy days,” she says. For Quek, Sprmrkt has been a way to refresh the restaurant model, as it combines a restaurant, retail and gallery space under one roof. She believes it’s critical to adopt a “contemporary” mindset to remain relevant in an age of disruption. “If you keep doing things a certain way, you’ll get left behind.”
Quek hopes that through building the Sprmrkt brand – which retails speciality South-east Asian produce and products by household brands from artisans in Singapore – she can help change perceptions of South-east Asian products as being “inferior in quality”. “It will take time and education. There’s a lot of richness and diversity here just waiting to be discovered,” she says.
Building upon their father’s expertise in meats, Andre Huber and his older brother, Ryan, founded Huber’s Butchery in 2007. Since then, the brothers have grown it into Singapore’s premium purveyor of high-quality meat and sausages. The firm now operates a sprawling 13,000 sq ft gourmet store and bistro at Dempsey Hill.
LESSONS FROM HIS FATHER
Honesty might be the best policy, but for Andre, it’s more than that – it’s a way of life inspired by his father. He recalls what his father’s accountant told him: “Your father’s company is the only one I’ve seen whose accounts are completely accurate and true. He doesn’t hide anything.” Since then, Andre has lived by a similar code of honour. He recalls one incident when a vendor sent additional goods to his company, but failed to invoice them. “It was in our early days when it was hard to make ends meet,” he says. He then asked the vendor to send them the bill for those goods. “I learnt early on that it’s better to conduct your business honestly, so you have nothing to fear,” he says.
ON THE JOB
Huber’s father insisted that his two sons take ownership of the business right from the outset, by refusing to take up any shares. “He didn’t want his sons to feel that they were working for their father,” Andre says. He admits it was initially challenging to become a boss at the tender age of 27. “The butchers we were working with were twice my age. It took a while to convince them I could be a good boss,” he says.
The brothers’ mission is to have Huber’s Butchery be remembered for improving the quality of food in Singapore. “When we started the gourmet butchery scene, meats from the supermarkets were not great. We wanted to educate people on what was a good piece of meat, and providing that quality at a very fair price,” Andre says. In the works: exporting Huber’s Butchery products to the world. “We want to show that an Asian country such as Singapore can produce very good European-styled products.”
Architecture-trained Justin Chen views spaces as more than just form – it’s about the people who use them too. With his human-centric approach to design, the deputy CEO of Arcc Holdings has transformed his family’s traditional real-estate business into a fast-growing, hospitality-oriented company in the region focusing on creative spaces, including The Co., a local co-working brand.
LESSONS FROM HIS FATHER
Profit may be the golden rule of business, but for Chen, businesses have an equal responsibility to their employees and the communities they serve. This lesson was impressed upon him when he saw his father in action. Chen spent six years of his childhood in Mali, Africa, after his family inherited a factory there from his grandfather.
“My father spent the prime years of his life in a ‘hardship’ post out of duty, in order to support our family,” he says. In recent years, Chen used to wonder why his father would make the yearly long-haul trip to visit the old factory, even though his family no longer actively manages the business. “I realised our factory is still around because of my father’s sense of responsibility to our staff ,” he says. “That made a very deep impression on me.”
ON THE JOB
“One of our biggest challenges moving ahead, is the alignment of our company culture,” says Chen. While his father operated a more top-down, hierarchical model, Chen is moving to a more team-based model, where responsibility and ownership are shared with employees. “My father and I have had some very animated arguments about these changes,” says Chen, who has taken to initiating changes tactically.
Being in a family business has deepened Chen’s sense of responsibility. “A lot of my motivation comes from a sense of duty to the people I work with,” he says. As Arcc Holdings continues to grow in China and South-east Asia, Chen aims to benefit the lives of people touched by his businesses. “My hope is that we’re building a company and culture whereby people who’ve come through our spaces feel that we’ve made a positive mark on their lives.” He’s also enthusiastic about invigorating local communities around the region. “There is so much opportunity to do something that is meaningful and that gives back to the local community.”