Homegrown Honchos
A look at a few of the local dining concepts that have made it way past our sunny island.

By Belinda Wan | Jan 17, 2008

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  • Homegrown Honchos
    Breadtalk has become synonymous with local culture since it started.
  • Homegrown Honchos
    Fish & Co now has 13 outlets in Singapore island-wide
  • Homegrown Honchos
    deluxe by Bakerzing offers slightly more posh menu from the other outlets
  • Homegrown Honchos
    Sakae Sushi offers affordable sushi, sashimi, soft-shell crabs and more.

Here in Singapore, we’re known for quite a number of things outside our local shores—we snag awards for our airport, shipping port, kiasu-ism, education system and loads more. But a number of homegrown, locally born-and-bred, 100 percent Singaporean restaurants have made it past our chewing-gum-free shores—with people from as far as Japan digging into our locally-inspired grub. We take a closer look at some of these establishments to find out how they started and what they’ve got planned up their sleeves.

BreadTalk

When it started: Established in 2000, BreadTalk has since become synonymous with local culture—with its creative, visually attractive, and yummy bread and cake products.

Who owns it: It’s founded by Dr. George Quek, and the BreadTalk Group has also been listed on Singapore Stock Exchange since 2003—a mere three years after its inception.

The story: In just seven years, its achievements are nothing short of jaw-dropping. As Joey Leong, Manager—Brand Development of BreadTalk says, “Our secret is to craft our breads with passion and vibrancy via creative differentiation to inject life and personality into breads. Bread–buying becomes an enjoyable experience with its interesting bun types, quirky names and stories where they come alive!”

Size of local operations: 22 BreadTalk outlets and 12 Toast Box outlets.

Other ventures: Under the BreadTalk group, there are six Din Tai Fung outlets (BreadTalk brought the Taiwanese brand to local shores), three Food Republic venues and also The Station Kitchen (#01-11/15 St. James Power Station, 3 Sentosa Gateway, 6376-8085), a cool, late night, three-in-one dining experience at St. James Power Station.

Overseas ventures: Indonesia (35 outlets), Kuwait (six outlets), UAE (three outlets), Philippines (nine BreadTalk outlets, one Toast Box outlet), Malaysia (three BreadTalk outlets, one Toast Box outlet) and China (55 outlets), among many others.

Future expansion plans: BreadTalk is set to make an appearance in Korea soon. The lofty goal of BreadTalk is to open 1,000 stores by 2011. Currently, there are more than 155 outlets around the world.

Fish & Co.

When it started: December 1998.

Who owns it: O.B. International Pte Ltd.

The story: Fish & Co.’s mid-range pricing is attractive—but what keeps the crowds flocking in is most certainly a fun and funky vibe. As for how the story began, Ricky Chew, Managing Director, O.B. International Pte Ltd says, “Asia was in a deep financial crisis in 1998. Real estate was relatively inexpensive then. My partner, Lambert, and I recognized that there was a lack of affordable casual seafood dining restaurants in Singapore and we therefore embarked on the venture.” So far it’s a formula that has worked like magic.

Size of local operations: 13 outlets in Singapore island-wide.

Other ventures: O.B. owns and manages franchise outlets in Singapore and overseas.

Overseas ventures: 14 international wholly-owned and franchised outlets internationally—in Malaysia, the Middle East, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan and Hong Kong.
Future expansion plans: By the end of this year, there will be 16 local outlets, five outlets in Malaysia, six in Indonesia, five in the Philippines and two in Hong Kong. Stay tuned.

Bakerzin

When it started: 1998. But the first Bakerzin outlet opened at Millenia Walk in 2000 and was a dessert/pastry boutique.

Who owns it: Founder and director Daniel Tay, who says, “I have a passion for desserts which is why I started Bakerzin at Millenia Walk as a concept that specialized in desserts only. At that time, we were probably one of the first around.”

The story: Starting off as Baker’s Inn, Bakerzin as it’s now known, started out in 1998 as a small patisserie—dealing with wholesale orders and supplying French bread and pastries to restaurants and hotels. Since then, Bakerzin has come into its own—and not just as a dessert place, but also as a place that offers casual all-day dining and other savory offerings.

Size of local operations: Four Bakerzin cafes and one takeaway outlet.

Other ventures: A café in Wisma Atria called deluxe by Bakerzin, located within the premises of Lee Hwa Diamond Gallery. It offers a slightly more posh menu from the other outlets—and is the only outlet to have different flavored éclairs (aside from chocolate) and special teas.

Overseas ventures: Six in Malaysia, six in Indonesia and one in Shanghai.
Future expansion plans: There are plans for further expansion in the Middle East.

Sakae Sushi

When it started: 1997.

Who owns it: Mr. Douglas Foo, Chairman and CEO of Apex-Pal International Ltd, the group behind Sakae Sushi.

The story: This homegrown chain specializing in Japanese chow has satiated the stomachs of many with its tasty, affordable sushi, sashimi, noodles, soft-shell crab and more. And it’s huge overseas. Mr. Douglas Foo, Chairman and CEO of Apex-Pal International Ltd says, “In 1997, Japanese food had just started gaining popularity in Singapore with relatively few players. At that time, my girlfriend (who’s now my wife), and I loved Japanese food but we had to pay top dollar for it. That was when I decided to take the risk and venture into the food and beverage business. This was how Sakae Sushi was born—offering good quality and affordable Japanese food.” But the ride to success hasn’t been exactly smooth-sailing. Foo cited “intensifying competition in the food and beverage sector, manpower constraints and increasing rentals, the Asian financial crisis, SARS, Bali bombing and 9-11” as some of the biggest challenges he has had to surmount. But the ambition to build Sakae Sushi into a global brand tided them through.

Size of local operations: 37 outlets—including teppanyaki and yakiniku ventures.

Other ventures: Apex-Pal is the biggie behind Sakae @ Campus, Sakae Pizza, Hei Sushi, Sakae Delivery, Sakae Teppanyaki, Sho-U, Hibiki @ Singapore Flyer and more.

Overseas ventures: Two outlets in Indonesia, one in Thailand, 11 in China, seven in Malaysia, two in Philippines, two in Hong Kong and one in USA.

Future expansion plans: After celebrating its 10th anniversary last year, Sakae Sushi is looking into entering new markets like Mongolia, Vietnam, Hungary and the Middle East.

Other Homegrown Brands

Awfully Chocolate—Started in 1998, this local cake shop sells one thing only—you guessed it—the chocolate cake, and does it so well, there are outlets in Taipei, Jakarta, Shanghai and Beijing.

Crystal Jade—This local mega restaurant-chain, which specializes in a myriad of Chinese cuisines, has outlets in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Vietnam and South Korea.

Sushi Tei—This local chain dealing out oodles of Japanese grub has outlets in China, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia.

Waraku—Having spread rapidly islandwide with its concept of casual Japanese dining, there will soon be a Waraku in Hong Kong, and 50 outlets overseas by 2012.

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