Own your journeyby
Happiness From The Bottom Of A Bowl:
Benson Ng owes it to a chance encounter with his favorite bowl of wanton noodle that kicked off his successful entrepreneurial career. After acquiring Seng's Wanton Mee at Dunman Food Centre and learning the ways of the craft from Seng himself, Ng opened Seng's Noodle Bar at Amoy Street in 2015. Its street style-inspired interior has since been met with snaking queues.
Ng plays down his accomplishment with a humble demeanor most likely imbued from the months it took for him to learn the craft. His delightful stringy noodles, with its sumptuous roasted pork belly and crispy fried wantons, may seem like an overnight sensation. But it took Ng near a year to learn how to make them.
Here, Ng delves into the lessons learnt from opening a restaurant and learning from the master, to what it takes to handle the proverbial heat in the kitchen.
Seng has already built a strong base and all I have to do is to maintain the quality, right? I thought that it'd be easy, but I was wrong.
THE ORIGINAL SENG'S WANTON MEE AT DUNMAN FOOD CENTRE HAS BEEN AROUND SINCE 1968. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO ACQUIRE THE BRAND AND TO MAKE IT YOUR OWN?
To be honest, the offer came when I was struggling with my career in the fashion and manufacturing industry. At that time, Seng's just recovered from illness and was hoping to retire. He made an offer to my dad and, in turn, my father asked if I was interested to run Seng's Wanton. I thought that it would make me good money to support my family since Seng has already built a strong base and all I have to do is to maintain the quality, right? I thought that it'd be easy, but I was wrong. [Laughs]
HOW MANY MONTHS DID YOU WORK WITH SENG BEFORE LAUNCHING THE BRAND AT AMOY STREET?
Roughly about 5 to 6 months at Seng's home learning all the prep work like wrapping wanton, marinating the meat, braising chicken feets and cooking the chili sauce. Another 2 to 3 months at the stall learning how to flip noodles and handle the pressure. It was all rather fun. Seng is a funny guy and he made learning enjoyable. The hardest part was keeping up with the pressure during operational hours and perfecting the noodle. It looks easy but is not.
WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO LEARN FROM SENG?
Well, with no culinary skills and technique, it was definitely important to learn from Seng. He was my SHATEC (The Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre) crash course. SENGTEC!
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO START YOUR OWN RESTAURANT?
A year into the business, I managed to open more noodle stalls and realised that it was going nowhere without any improvements to the existing business. In a tribute to how the pioneer generation shared all these amazing food, I felt that it is now our turn to do our part to sustain it. But I didn't set out to start a restaurant. It was during my time learning how to make noodles at Dunman Food Centre that I saw a change in how people eat out. Therefore, I decided to open my own stall [on Amoy Street].
WHAT WAS THE LEARNING CURVE LIKE FOR YOU AND IF YOU COULD DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY, WHAT WOULD THAT LOOK LIKE?
I sought help from a buddy of mine, Brandon Teo, who's also a chef. He helped me understand about the food and beverage business and culinary process. Every day after work, Brandon and I would meet up to discussed ideas such as a Chinese tapas or a standing noodle kiosk concept. There was a time, when I was enjoying my favorite clay pot trotters, it dawned on me that I could pair this dish with Seng's wanton noodles. I had a chat with Brandon and Seng's Noodle Bar at Amoy Street was born. There were many things I wish could have been done differently. For example: the kitchen and restaurant setup, the processes and the business decisions. However, I am appreciative of what I have gone through with the noodle bar since we launched in 2015. It's a great learning experience.
IT HAS BEEN MORE THAN TWO YEARS SINCE YOU OPENED SENG'S NOODLE BAR, WHAT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT QUALITY TO KEEP A RESTAURANT GOING STRONG?
Be focus on your product; be open to changes and engage your customers and staff.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE LOCAL HAWKER INDUSTRY? IS IT A DYING TRADE? HOW DO WE KEEP IT ALIVE?
Nah, I think the hawkers are here to stay, but it's definitely not as lucrative as before. To keep it alive, be innovative and realistic.
I managed to open more noodle stalls and realised that it was going nowhere without any improvements to the existing business.