“Hard work. There’s no replacement for hard work.”

This adage rings true for entrepreneurs in the food and beverage trade in Singapore. Most people yearns towards a stable corporate job in a comfortable air-conditioned environment. For those who don’t, or rather have no better alternative, starting from the ground up in an F&B setting is one way that will surely reward those who are willing to put in the hard work.

Down the years, we identified distinct reasons behind every successful Singapore food concept. But for those that withstand the test of time, we find these 4 reasons ring true.

1. Strong concept, that’s fresh and lasting.

What makes Singapore unique? Like any other nation, it’s our heritage and history summed up into our culture. Since the early 1900s, local food vendors have made a name for themselves by being persevering and serving up affordable good eats for the rest of the population. Household brands Yakun and Killiney Kopitiam have their roots in serving traditional Nanyang Coffee, while continuously adding onto the menu other local items.

Capitalising on their success down the years, both brands has grown through strong franchise partnerships, which allows for consistent quality control and growth while keeping costs marginal.

Helmed by Malcolm Lee, Candlenut is the world’s first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant (yay!). Named after a frequent ingredient in Peranakan menus, the restaurant’s overnight success made the subculture well known through the world’s gourmet diners.

But let’s trace it back a little: it sure took long enough for a delicious local flavour to join the ranks of world famous foods. Truthfully said, Michelin has it’s own judging requirements that are ready information for any interested party. And in biased truth (paradox, yes) any local brand has what it takes to fulfil the requirements as demonstrated by the other two Michelin-starred local hawkers, Liao Fan and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle.

2. Solid branding

Did you know that TWG Tea, Gryphon Tea, and Clipper Tea are entirely Singaporean brands? From the get-go, the concepts tailored for an international brand image. Being Singaporean allowed the brands to leverage on both Eastern and Western personalities, which so happens to be the pinnacle for tea brands that seek a global consumption profile.

Concept creation is only the first step. Being consistent with quality grows a solid reputation, which over time begets a strong brand. Yet, many of the world’s leading brands might not have the tip top infrastructure or systems. Case in point: Starbucks for a fact, ran on a Point-of-Sale system that was more than decades old till the early 2000s. But that never stopped the brand from exploding in growth, did it? The lesson here is simple: identify the true secret sauce to success, and capitalise on it by replicating it with a simple strategy as efficiently as possible. In this context, it’s clearly a very strong brand and concept with a relatively good operational system.

Which makes our next point interesting.

3. Good operational framework

“It makes a difference when food is prepared with love. You can taste it.”

Good operational systems are made up of people, and good systems respect the people in it. This rings especially through when it comes to food, where the heart of the cooks and chefs can tangibly be felt through the food itself.

Valued employees produce great value. Likewise, F&B employees who feel at home produce food of consistent quality and taste.

But designing a good operational system is way beyond good manners; it involves having a ‘people-first’ approach. This means instead of subjecting staff to poor conditions just to shave dollars and cents, wiser business owners design an entire framework that minimises human error and maximises output by considering the well-being, safety, and comfort of staff at work.

4. Adaptable to the times

Having established itself in the local market for many a years, casual Japanese dining chain Sakae Sushi is seen to be struggling to keep up with the times as it faces outlet closings. While it might be news to many, it doesn’t surprise us in the industry.

For those who know not, Sakae could be seen as unable to keep up with the times. Yet, for those of us who know better, Sakae has long since prepared for expansion overseas. This allows it to carry on its portfolio success in greenfield pastures as the local market is getting increasingly saturated.

This means that long before its recent closings, Sakae has already anticipated the changing trends and successfully reinvested its resources to into a much more sustainable and profitable business portfolio.

Likewise for other local franchises such as Old Chang Kee, who has long stopped franchising locally and opted for overseas franchises due to market saturation.

Taking it one step further, Old Chang Kee’s concept of fried delights can be considered incredibly simple. Yet, the brand is able to keep up with the times through maintaining customer expectations while injecting new flavours and freshness into the brand.

What local food do you believe has the potential to make it big in the international scene?