Singapore is the undisputed shining utopia for world-class luxury living, shopping and financial dealings. But did you know that the powerhouse of an island is also responsible for churning some of the most-talked about and well-loved F&B brands? Surrounded by the diverse cultures of neighbouring Southeast Asian countries and beyond, the amalgamation of these cultures into the kitchens of eateries is only natural. From crispy thin pizzas to classic elegant teas, and affordable authentic Thai cuisine to conveyor belt sushi, Singapore has it all. Top 10 of Asia shares its random list of the 10 most popular F&B chains that are proudly home-grown in the Lion City.
In 1997, Douglas Foo saw a need for a kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi dining concept at affordable prices and established the first Sakae Sushi outlet at Raffles Place. Despite lacking experience in the food and beverage industry, and it being the height of the Asian financial crisis, Sakae Sushi thrived and benefited from the first mover advantage. Today, the brand has over 200 outlets worldwide, dishing out more than 200 sumptuous non-MSG menu items to Japanese food lovers. Its innovative implementation of the iPad self-ordering system has also led to an increase in efficiency and customer satisfaction.
ThaiExpress was founded in 2002 by Ivan Lee and Dellen Soh to meet the market demand in Singapore for authentic Thai cuisine at mass market prices served in a casual yet contemporary environment. It took off like wildfire and has expanded to over 35 outlets in various countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Maldives. The menu was thoughtfully crafted by their consultant chef in Thailand and 29 Thai chefs in Singapore, and was given the thumbs up by a further 130 people before it was released to the public. Their success has won them multiple awards including the Royal Thai Government’s “Thai Select” Brand, Singapore Promising Brand Award, Excellent Service Award (Singapore), Most Influential Brand Award and more.
Bee Cheng Hiang
Bee Cheng Hiang’s roots began in 1933 when founder Teo Swee Ee developed his own bakkwa (barbequed meat) recipe and started peddling it from house to house in his mobile cart. People just couldn’t get enough of the ‘hand-weaved’ meat that is cooked slowly on top of live coals for hours. Fast forward 82 years later, the succulent bakkwa, which is grilled fresh every day, is now sold at over 290 outlets in 10 countries. The 100% natural, non-MSG and preservative-free recipe has remained the same all these years, proving that a classic recipe done right will stand the test of time.
Skinny Pizza has proven that pizzas can be low-carb and still score high on taste. Inspired by the paper prata, Skinny Pizzas are made with the freshest of produce served on top of a very thin crust. Among its 21 flavours are delectable-sounding names like Truffle Mushroom, Ginger Butter Chicken and Mozzerella Bolognese. The brainchild of serial entrepreneur Cynthia Chua, who founded 16 other brands including Browhaus, Strip and Common Man Coffee Roasters, the 7-year-old brand has expanded to 6 outlets throughout Singapore.
Launched in the midst of the 2008 economic turmoil, TWG Tea succeeded beyond all odds thanks to the vast experience of its co-founders Taha Bouqdip and Manoj Murjani (who left the company in 2012 and remained a shareholder). The duo wanted the brand to go global from the get-go. Today TWG’s over 1,000 single-estate gourmet teas are distributed in 42 countries with about 50 stores worldwide. Bouqdip, who now runs the company with his wife Maranda Barnes, has been involved in all things tea for over two decades and is constantly innovating the brand and blends, producing at least 50 new flavours annually. Music indeed to those who are constantly in search of the perfect brew.
Imperial Treasure, with its fantastic fine Chinese cuisine served in classy, modern settings, has been garnering over 20 awards since the establishment of its first restaurant in August 2004. From its signature Super Peking Duck to springy handmade noodles, the Group has some of the best chefs in Asia working in its 22 restaurants in Singapore and an outlet in Shanghai. Founded and helmed by Hong Kong-born Alfred Leung, the restaurants run with impeccable efficiency and not a single detail is missed out. Leung believes that the food should speak for itself, and it most certainly does.
Polar Puffs & Cakes
Famous for producing Singapore’s very first baked curry puff, Chan Hinky’s buttery and flaky spicy chicken puff recipe became an instant hit and his original recipe is still whetting the appetites of millions. He then founded Polar Café in 1926 and expanded the menu to include other hot pastries and delectable cakes. Now known as Polar Puffs & Cakes, the 89-year-old brand has not only survived the WWII but also grew to 30 outlets throughout the island. Its two HACCP and Halal-certified manufacturing plants produce over 8 million fresh and frozen pastries per annum which are distributed at over 300 distribution channels via petrol stations and convenience stores.
Thanks to Jollibean, Singaporeans can enjoy favourite local snacks at convenient hot spots strewn across the island. The snacks such as Mee Chiang Kueh, pancakes and soybean curd, are often accompanied by the signature soy milk drink that taste great hot or cold. The calcium-fortified soy milk is made from high quality imported Canadian ‘Hellum’ soy beans. All food products are made fresh daily and any leftover pancakes of the day are donated to the underprivileged community in Singapore. Incorporated in 1993, Jollibean has grown to over 30 outlets in the island; and a further couple of outlets in Malaysia after the brand was acquired by Berjaya Food Bhd.
Singapore’s love affair with Korean-styled buffet barbeque began in 1983 with the inception of Seoul Garden by Zingrill Holdings Pte Ltd. Over the years, the then-fine-dining restaurant evolved to a more affordable all-you-can-eat concept without sacrificing its quality of food and service. The hotpot and grill chain serves a vast selection of marinated meats, fresh seafood, vegetables, Korean-style dishes and desserts in a pleasant dining ambiance. With 11 wholly-owned outlets in Singapore and franchises in Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam, CEO Andrew Lee, who recently garnered the Established Entrepreneur Award, is determined to bring Seoul Garden’s unique interpretation of Korean cuisine worldwide.
Han’s winning recipe, which is delicious food at affordable price points and great service, has made it a beloved brand for decades. Since its inception as a bakery in 1977 and transformation to a full-fledged cafe serving scrumptious Hainanese fare in 1980, the brand has grown to more than 20 outlets throughout Singapore. Consistency is an elusive thing but founder Han Choon Fook has managed to keep all outlets running to their best capacity, delighting customers with quality food and service again and again. The company practices an equal opportunity hiring policy and a significant number of their employees include People with Disabilities and those aged 60 years and above. It is little wonder that this well-loved brand has been a regular winner of the Singapore Top SME Award and the recipient of the Enabling Employers Award.