Running a hawker stall as a 27-year-old
As Singaporeans, we can proudly say that hawker food is a huge part of our identity – it’s affordable and delicious, and the makcik’s cooking always hits close to home. After all, our hawker culture is UNESCO-approved too. But to actually run a stall and cook in a small confined space, coupled with our hot weather, isn’t all that pretty.
This may be part of the reason why the younger generation would rather take a 9-to-5 job in an air-conditioned office than tough it out as a hawker. For 27-year-old Fadzil Alip, though, he took on this challenge. The part-time delivery rider turned full-time hawker recently opened a humble stall at Golden Mile Food Centre selling Western favourites with an Asian spin.
Here’s a look into Fadzil’s journey from studying culinary arts to running his own food business.
Not going the conventional 9-5 route
As a student, Fadzil took up different F&B part-time jobs which sparked his interest in the industry. Equipped with a Diploma in Catering Management and a Degree in Culinary Arts, he was quite clear that he wanted to pursue his passion further and emphasised that “either way, someway, somehow, I’ll try to make it”.
Image credit: foodpanda
Fadzil secured one of his first proper stints when he worked as a sous chef and managed a local pizzeria. Once he reached management level, it dawned upon him that maybe he could open his very own eatery instead – in his words, “If I can manage someone else’s restaurant, why don’t I start one myself and manage my own F&B concept?”.
So, he had the technical knowledge and the cooking skills, and the capital to kickstart his new F&B startup, but this wasn’t the only reason that spurred Fadzil to be a hawker. Digging deeper into his family background, we find out that his grandparents were food vendors too, selling traditional Indonesian cuisine at Geylang Serai Market.
Since his parents did not take over the stall, running an independent hawker stall was his own way to continue his grandparents’ legacy. Although it was unconventional for a young lad like Fadzil to venture this route, he strived to make it work.
Fadzil Alip and Amrizuhairi.
Together with his friend from the Culinary Institute of America, he rented a stall in Golden Mile Food Complex and came up with a menu. The duo now run Charr’d The Hawker where they serve a number of western delights such as Fish & Chips ($9) and Chicken Chop ($7.50).
To keep things interesting, they’ve recently added Sotong Hitam Pasta ($11), playing on Asian flavours to give the classic pasta dish a local twist. For the uninitiated, “sotong hitam” translates to black squid.
Overcoming setbacks & fears along the way
Every business owner will tell you that the path to success is never smooth. Fadzil faced his own set of challenges from the moment he decided to run his own hawker stall. While his peers had jobs with steady incomes, he could not help but worry “Was it really worth it to be a hawker?” where income depends heavily on the stream of customers.
For a new hawker starting out, there’s the challenge of a slow pick up in the initial months till people get to know about the stall. An uncertain economy doesn’t help either. This doubt kept creeping in and lowering his confidence.
The pricing of dishes was another setback. While hawker foods are typically expected to be on the cheaper side, he had to think about making profits to cover the store rent and overhead costs. With this dilemma in mind, it was a struggle to find the “correct” pricing for his dishes.
In the end, he says, “I decided to stand on my ground and stick to prices that made sense for a profitable business while also conveying the quality of the food”.
From a physical standpoint, working in the hawker kitchen is no easy feat. Having cooked in cafes and restaurants with more space and manpower to help, Fadzil was not used to the smaller scale of his working environment. He had to prepare his ingredients, cook the dishes, and clean the utensils all in one 2m-by-2m stall.
Slowly but surely, though, he managed to overcome each obstacle. The daily, never-ending encouragement from his family and friends kept Fadzil going since “they are the ones you fall back on” during tough times. This boosted his morale, knowing he had pillars of support and constant reassurance motivated him to grow his career as a hawker.
As hopeful as he may be, Fadzil is realistic too – he has a backup plan. Touch wood, but in the event that the business goes sideways, Fadzil is mentally prepared. He “was not exactly too worried” since his education could still land him a stable job elsewhere.
On top of it all, Fadzil displays an important trait – patience. In F&B, it’s inevitable that a difficult customer will show up from time to time. For Fadzil, exercising patience has played a vital role during these situations, as he is able to effectively resolve any issues with customers. In fact, he picked up this skill when he started doing part-time food deliveries.
Learning from the part-time delivery hustle
Before becoming a full-time hawker, Fadzil worked as a delivery rider with foodpanda. He had just gotten a motorcycle licence as a student and wanted to gain experience on the road, so he decided to sign up as a delivery rider.
Practice bike riding skills. Check. Earn extra cash while doing it. Check. What he didn’t expect, was to also pick up a few useful skills that he would later be able to use as a hawker.
Image credit: foodpanda
During his time as a food delivery rider, Fadzil would silently observe food stall owners to see how they interacted with their customers or take a peek into their kitchens to see how they made efficient use of the space.
Chatting with the food vendors also proved useful, as he learnt tips like how to keep the kitchen organised and what dabao containers worked best for deliveries.
An observation that stood out to him was the way food stall owners would communicate with customers on really busy days. This helped him as a pandarider when he had to deal with customers during delayed deliveries. He says, “Sometimes you deal with not-so-nice customers, of course you gotta exercise patience, hold back a bit, even though you’re actually not too happy”.
And thankfully, these skills have stayed with him even now as a hawker when orders come out late.
Image credit: foodpanda
Fadzil continued as a pandarider for a good 5 years thanks to the platform’s flexibility. He was able to work around his student schedule and go for rides in his spare time to earn extra income for personal expenses and savings.
100% of the tips customers give go to pandariders as well, which served as a plus point for him. He shares that sometimes there would be special requests from customers, such as to put the food in a specific spot, and when this was acknowledged with a tip, it was really encouraging.
It’s also nice when customers tip the rider for braving the rainy weather to get the order delivered, that too intact. He echoes the sentiments of other student food delivery riders who feel that showing appreciation with tips, handwritten notes, or even a simple verbal thanks goes a long way.
Plans for the future
Today, Fadzil devotes the majority of his time and energy to his hawker business but still goes on deliveries once in a while in his spare time. He hopes to slowly expand his menu and be more adventurous with dishes until he dives into Indonesian cuisine, just like his grandparents did.
Sotong Hitam Pasta from Fadzil’s stall.
But for now, he aims to get more customers familiar with the F&B business before going into experimentation mode to create more fusion dishes. Fadzil’s only getting started, having done up one unique dish – the Sotong Hitam Pasta ($11).
Btw, in conjunction with the upcoming National Day, he’s planning to run a promo for the dish at only $8.50), from 1st-13th August 2023.
Those unable to make it down to the stall but who still want to try his food can do so on the foodpanda app and get it delivered home.
Lessons learnt from being a pandarider to becoming a hawker
Based on Fadzil’s experience, taking up the job as a pandarider has had quite its benefits. Aside from weekly incentives and commission from tipping, riders get to enjoy flexibility in working hours depending on how much time they have to spare and according to their schedule. This allows one to do OTOT, especially great for students starting out.
Say you don’t have a car, motorcycle, or bicycle, you can even walk to make your deliveries. That’s like getting your workout sorted while being paid for it.
Fadzil recounts that one of the highlights of being a rider was picking up orders from F&B concepts he never knew existed. In this way, he was able to explore the food scene and find out about new restaurants and cafes whenever they popped up.
And that’s Fadzil’s story of how he went from being a pandarider during his student days to saving up enough money to open up his very own hawker stall.
Btw, from 14th August to 25th Spetember, every time a first-time tipper offers a tip to their pandrider on a Monday through the foodpanda app, they also receive a $3 foodpanda voucher. Doesn’t matter what the amount of the order is or how much the tip. Talk about chasing away Monday blues both for the customer and the rider.
This post was brought to you by foodpanda.
Photography by Gavin Chua.
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