About Daniel Ong

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_DulceandSucre_OG-1.jpgMany of us know Daniel Ong from his time as a radio DJ on 987FM. He’s been a host and actor for almost 20 years, but gave all of that up to pursue his dream of being an entrepreneur.

Together with his wife Jaime Teo, the couple started Twelve Cupcakes in 2011 and in just under 3 years, have built Singapore’s largest cupcake empire with 43 stores in not just Singapore, but in Jakarta, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Manila as well.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Daniel to learn more about his success with Twelve Cupcakes and his latest venture – Dulce and Sucre.

F&B in Singapore is a cut-throat industry and Daniel and Jamie have not only managed to survive but thrive. So we also went into detail on what it’s like to be an F&B entrepreneur in Singapore. We hope his advice and story will inspire some of you out there.

 

– On Dulce and Sucre –

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Parfaits.jpgTSL: Congratulations on the opening of Dulce and Sucre! My first question has to be this – how do you pronounce it?

Daniel Ong: Thank you! It’s pronounced as dul-chey and soo-cray. Dulce stands for sweet and sucre means sugary. So our shop is about all things sweet and sugary.

The name is actually Dulce and Sucre by Twelve Cupcakes, where it’s a two in one combined store, I don’t think many people know that yet so we’re trying to incorporate it into our branding.

TSL: How is Dulce and Sucre it different from your other F&B ventures?

Daniel Ong: Dulce and Sucre is an extension of Twelve Cupcakes. We love sweets, and we love baking so Dulce and Sucre sells freshly baked loaves, whoopie pies, push up cakes, parfaits, puddings, tiramisus, crunchies and a whole lot of sweet treats.

Jaime, the creator of Twelve Cupcakes, loves to bake and she wanted to bake other things as well. We thought it would be an excellent avenue for the extension of her creativity, and also a place to showcase other great desserts that she’s come up with. The second Dulce and Sucre store will open at VivoCity in mid-July.

TSL: You’ve done Twelve Cupcakes and Cookies for Sid. Why the focus on dessert F&B?

Daniel Ong: We did Cookies for Sid but that didn’t quite work out, so we sold it to a friend. We also did Junbi – which means “ready” in Japanese – and we sold pastas, salads, sushi, sashimi and sandwiches. It’s a to-go type of concept.

Unfortunately we opened in a location that was not ideal. Business was alright but not great. So we decided to put Junbi on hiatus. If we ever find a location in the CBD we will open up Junbi again.

For now, Dulce and Sucre is the next brand that we are concentrating on, aside from Twelve Cupcakes. Locally we are trying to wrap up on the expansion of Twelve Cupcakes because as you can see, we have too many Twelve Cupcakes stores in Singapore. In under 2 years we have 15 stalls, which is crazy.

We realised that we were good at desserts. I’ve always had a business mantra of “always be good at what you do and success will follow you.” Be the best Char Kway Teow seller, or best Ice Kachang seller, and everyone will flock to buy what you have to offer.

Jaime has always had a very fine palate for desserts. She can tell you if something needs half a teaspoon more of vanilla essence, or if something didn’t have enough depth of flavour and needed an extra splash of rum.  

Junbi was an extension of myself. I love to cook. I came up with all the recipes. It was gourmet food at cheap prices but we were not selling at the volume needed to sustain our venture.

TSL: What can visitors expect when they visit Dulce and Sucre at Orchard Gateway?

Daniel Ong: They can expect great service. We train our staff to be friendly and nice so they, the customers, get good vibes at our store. They can expect nothing but the best in what we put out. If something isn’t great, we will trash it or take it back in.

You have to try the loaves. We use top quality ingredients, like French butter which has a higher fat content, caster sugar instead of refined sugar, and we use top notch chocolate as well!

YOU HAVE TO TRY THE COFFEE. It’s our own blend of Brazilian roast, not available in any other coffee place in Singapore. Have a piccolo, have a latte. You will be able to taste the sweetness from something bitter even without any sugar. As a bonus, our coffee is cheaper by about 30% compared to other places.

 

– On F&B Entrepreneurship –

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_DulceandSucre_CakeLoaves-1.JPGTSL: F&B is a notoriously difficult industry to break into. Why did you decide to go into F&B after being in the entertainment industry?

Daniel Ong: I felt that I was reaching the end of my entertainment life. I was hosting and being on radio and TV for 18/19 years. To do something for 18/19 years, it requires a lot of love and dedication but most importantly, I’ve always been an entrepreneur.

A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I grew up really poor. My family had no money to eat and there were periods of time where I just survived on a loaf of bread with just sugar or soy sauce.

I came from very humble beginnings. I was a dishwasher, a food court cleaner, a welder, a shoe salesman, a bowling ball driller,  and a car park cashier during my O Levels. I can still remember that I was working the night before my Geography paper and I still managed to score an A1.

From age 9, I bought curry puffs from my tuck shop at 17 cents and sold it at 30 cents. At age 14, I created my own tuition agency. I printed 2 types of fliers, Tutors Wanted and Tuition Given, and pasted them 2 blocks away from each other. I matched the teacher with the child and collected a 50% commission for the first month. I was 14 years old and I have no idea how I pulled that off, knocking on doors telling people that I was collecting commissions for my “boss”.

I started an aquarium, a florist business, a car shining business and finally in 2011 when DC cupcakes was on TV, Jaime said, “Wah, so nice, how nice would it be to own that kind of store?” Ding! The entrepreneur in me woke up.

Jaime was really into baking at that time and I told her, “Your cupcakes are the best I’ve ever tasted. Surely will sell.” She wanted to start small with an internet business but I said no, let’s open up in a shopping mall – go big or go home!

I love the setting up of businesses. We created Twelve Cupcakes from scratch and we were a great team. The two of us made the first 10,000 cupcakes, we worked from 7am to 10pm and continued to do marketing, PR and HR for months before we realised that we needed to expand and hire.

People started to take notice of us and now we have 43 stores in 6 countries with Japan and China in the works. Thinking back always makes me very emotional because everything happens for a reason and everything had happen at the right time for our success to occur.

TSL: So which do you enjoy more? Entertainment or being your own boss?

Daniel Ong: I actually regret not leaving the entertainment world earlier. I get to meet people and motivate people. I love changing lives and I love seeing the joy in people’s faces when they try our cupcakes. I’m interested in every aspect of the business, I clean the shops, I help the delivery guys move.

Being a celebrity gave me less joy than serving a cup of coffee. Hard to explain, but I honestly think that F&B was a calling for me.

TSL: Twelve Cupcakes has seen a meteoric rise in just a few years. What do you think was the thing you did differently that made it such a success?

Daniel Ong: I think the product speaks for itself. From day one, we focused on quality. I think that’s why everyone started telling their friends. You can do all the marketing in the world but everyone knows that there’s no greater marketing tool than word of mouth.

I also think I could foresee the problems before they happen. When we grew to 2 stores, I thought we needed an operations manager; when we grew to 4 stores, I thought we needed a warehouse. We were able to survive the logistical nightmare because of the manpower and the team at Twelve Cupcakes, and everyone banding together. I think a lot about being an entrepreneur is about problem-solving.

TSL: Did being a celebrity have any impact on your business?

Daniel Ong: I think it helped at the start. I’ve been out of the limelight for about 3 years already so I don’t think people even remember me. Fame is fleeting, that I know. I still have 20000 people on Twitter and Facebook and that helped get the word out, but the tsunami that made it a multi-million dollar business was due to the product.

TSL: You have multiple outlets overseas. What was the process of opening outlets in these countries like, compared to opening outlets in Singapore?

Daniel Ong: It’s different because we have an international partner that helps us roll out overseas, but we still do the process of identifying the general manager, renovating the shop space, and training the employees.

We’re not doing as well overseas as we’re doing in Singapore. When we first started in Singapore, no one wanted Twelve Cupcakes in the mall. In the same way, no one overseas wants to give us a chance, so we’re forced to take certain non-ideal locations. But, for a Singapore business to go overseas to 6 countries, it makes me very proud of the brand.

 

– TSL Rapid-fire Questions –

 

In our rapid question series, we ask 5 questions and interviewees have one second to come up with their answer.

TSL: Favourite restaurant in Singapore that’s not your own?

Daniel Ong: So many! I’m gonna give it to Brazil Churrasco at 6th avenue. I’ve been going there for so many years, everyone knows me by name and they know what wines I like to drink there. It’s the best quality Brazilian place in the whole of Singapore.

TSL: Complete the sentence: In five years’ time I will be… 

Daniel Ong: Happier. I’m happy now but I think I’ve come to an age where I’ve learnt about joy. I know where to find joy and what makes me happy. It’s all about family.

TSL: Favourite thing to do in Singapore?

Daniel Ong: I love staying at home. Play with the dog, fiddle with my fish, tend to the garden, play with my daughter. I’m running around a lot now so I really enjoy any opportunity to stay at home. I even built a poker room and I have my own full fledged bar so we have a great time at home.

TSL: What is your Life’s Motto in one sentence?

Daniel Ong: Never stop trying even if you fail, and be thankful.

TSL: If somebody came into Dulce and Sucre and didn’t know what to order, they should try the…

Daniel Ong: Cranberry pistachio loaf! It’s drizzled with cream cheeses and topped with more cranberry and pistachio. It’s the best cake ever! Go with a group of friends and try everything, you guys will have a gastronomical time.

TSL: I thought it would be great to set the record straight. What are your final comments on The Real Singapore vs Twelve Cupcakes?

Daniel Ong: The record is pretty straightforward. That it was a disgruntled staff member that left us and he pretended to be a foreign worker and sent in letters. The Real Singapore didn’t check their facts and sensationalized the news so they went and reported on it.

For me, it’s water under the bridge. My conscience is clear. Our workers work 9 hours a day, of which 1 hour is used for lunch. Their salary has to be in line with the S Pass so their take-home pay is about 1.4K. It sounds little to some people, but if you think about it Filipino maids only make $500 a month.

Every single Monday we have our supervisor meeting with all the supervisors of the Twelve Cupcake shops. After the meeting I will always give them $100 and everyone has a good time during lunch. We also do additional incentives for them every month where if they are not late they get an additional $100 and if they don’t take MC they get $50 in vouchers to shop at CapitaLand malls.

TSL: What would be your advice to people looking to enter the F&B industry?

Daniel Ong: Always do your homework. Make sure you have all your bases covered. If your concept doesn’t work, what do you do? If it works, what do you do? Make sure you have a contingency plan for every scenario.

When things are not going well, don’t be afraid to close up and let it fail. I’ve seen so many people throw money at businesses that are not working until they lose their life savings. If you’ve tried to fix it already, there’s no point throwing so much money that you’re chewed up and bled dry by the industry.

For Junbi, for Cookies for Sid, i made the call. When it’s not hitting my target, we let it fail. However, even when you are met with failure, don’t be afraid to get up and try again.

 

Entrepreneurship Tips from Daniel Ong

 

1. Focus on what you are good at

We realised that we were good at desserts. I’ve always had a business mantra of “always be good at what you do and success will follow you.” Be the best Char Kway Teow seller, or best Ice Kachang seller, and everyone will flock to buy what you have to offer.

Jaime has always had a very fine palate for desserts. She can tell you if something needs half a teaspoon more of vanilla essence, or if something didn’t have enough depth of flavour and needed an extra splash of rum. So that’s why we’ve always focused on desserts with Twelve Cupackes and now Dulce and Sucre.

2. Think BIG

I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and a businessman. I started an aquarium, a florist business, a car shining business and finally in 2011 when DC cupcakes was on TV, Jaime said, “Wah, so nice, how nice would it be to own that kind of store?” Ding! The entrepreneur in me woke up.

Jaime was really into baking at that time and I told her, your cupcakes are the best I’ve ever tasted. Surely will sell. She wanted to start small with an internet business but I said no, let’s open up in a shopping mall – go big or go home!

I love the setting up of businesses. We created Twelve Cupcakes from scratch and we were a great team. The two of us made the first 10,000 cupcakes, we worked from 7am to 10pm and continued to do marketing, PR and HR for months before we realised that we needed to expand and hire.

People started to take notice of us and now we have 43 stores in 6 countries with Japan and China in the works. Thinking back always makes me very emotional because everything happens for a reason and everything had happen at the right time for our success to occur.

3. Don’t be afraid to fail

My life’s motto is, “Never stop trying even if you fail, and be thankful.

For people looking to enter the F&B industry, always do your homework. Make sure you have all your bases covered. if your concept doesn’t work, what do you do? If it works, what do you do? Make sure you have a contingency plan for every scenario.

When it comes to the time when things are not going well, don’t be afraid to close it up and let it fail. I’ve seen so many people who keep throwing money at businesses that are not working that they lose their life savings. If you’ve tried to fix it already, there’s no point throwing more money until you’re bled dry. For Junbi, for Cookies for Sid, I made the call. When it’s not hitting my target, we let it fail. However, even when it fails, don’t be afraid to get up and try again.

 

How to get to Dulce and Sucre

 

Daniel and Jaime are personally involved in running their business. You might be able to catch them serving desserts and coffee over at their new venture Dulce and Sucre at Orchard Gateway, or the new branch that’s set to open in Vivocity.

Personally, Daniel made everything sound so good that I know I’ll be making a stop with my friends sometime soon to check out everything they have to offer.

Address: #B1-01 Orchard Gateway, 218 & 277 Orchard Road