When Royal Pek Wen Yang graduated from Singapore Management University in 2018, he never expected to enter F&B.
Instead, with his double major in economics and finance, the 28-year-old initially decided to become a trader because he wanted to “make a lot of money”.
Now Royal is the proud co-founder of Xian Dan Chao Ren, an F&B chain specializing in Taiwanese-style salted egg snacks.
With three branches island-wide and a fourth in the works, it seems Royal’s career change has paid off. However, he tells AsiaOne that this had its own costs.
It was never meant to be a full time thing
For Royal, what started as a potential side hustle eventually turned into a full-time job.
He initially dabbled with the idea of going into the restaurant business as he wanted to generate passive income even though he was working hard in his day job as a trader.
With that goal in mind, he teamed up with two of his friends, Alan Ang, 28, and Fenny Seah, 26, to buy and take over an existing Chinese restaurant.
Since neither of them had any prior training in F&B – Alan was an engineer and Fenny studied the Chinese language – so they decided to learn cooking skills from the chefs who previously worked at the Chinese restaurant.
They also started by selling dishes from the restaurant’s original menu, which consisted of ‘cai fan’ (mixed rice) and stir-fry dishes.
When they finally gathered enough experience and understanding of the market, they decided to rename the restaurant and change the entire menu.
Of all the dishes they had cooked at the Chinese restaurant, they loved salted eggs the most and they also knew that it was already a huge hit with their customers. So the decision to narrow their scope and specialize in all things salted eggs was “very clear”, Royal shares.
For a time, Alan and Fenny ran the show full-time while Royal helped him part-time, he continued to juggle his full-time job.
It was naturally not an easy task, and once his day shift was over, he immediately had to rush to work on his side. This continued until he quit his trading job in 2020.
But that wasn’t the main reason Royal wanted to move full-time to F&B. Deep down, he felt like the only way to “increase the likelihood of success” was to put all your effort into it, he tells us.
“How can I try to blindly hope that this will be successful if I’m only doing this part-time? It just doesn’t make sense to me that other people are doing huge stints and committing to full-time in their brand and then there’s me doing it part-time.”
Although Royal’s determination is remarkable, he admits that one area of concern is that his passive source of income has now become his main income.
“It created, obviously, a lot of stress, because now, instead of having two sources of income, I depend on one. And you know, businesses are always risky,” he says.
Learn YouTube Marketing Skills
Today, Royal is in charge of all marketing for Xian Dan Chao Ren.
With over 18,700 followers on TikTok, he’s also the de facto face of the brand, sharing snippets of his daily life and work.
@royalpek Reply to @username183829372 really kill me #fyp #sgtiktok #sgchef #whereisyou♬ original sound – royalpek
While Royal has an “ah beng” TikTok persona who speaks mostly Chinese, he is fluent in English and speaks incredibly well in real life.
“A lot of people watching my TikTok videos think I can’t speak English,” he admits with a hearty laugh.
Royal also admits that he started with virtually no experience in marketing or advertising, and had to take it all back online.
And his favorite tool to do all that? Youtube.
“There are amazing case studies of Starbucks and the big brands that have been successful,” he explains.
Besides the internet, Royal shares that he is also lucky to have friends in advertising, branding and marketing who are keen to give him advice when he needs it.
It also helps Royal’s brother work as a brand manager, which taught him how to market fast-moving consumer goods.
“I’m lucky to have her,” he adds.
His parents were a bit skeptical at first
Although Royal’s brothers encouraged him to pursue his F&B ambitions from the start, his parents didn’t initially share the same sentiments.
It wasn’t that they weren’t supportive – as conservative Asian parents, they just had their worries and reservations about him leaving a stable, well-paying job. It also didn’t help that both of Royal’s brothers had high-flying jobs in banking and business.
Fortunately, Royal shares that they eventually warmed to the idea, but it “took a while”.
“It wasn’t an issue where they didn’t want me to pursue this. It was more like they wanted me to be sure I wanted to go down this path,” he explains.
“And finally, they gave me their blessing.”
“We’re all trying to make it work”
It looks like Royal’s hard work is paying off. Xian Dan Chao Ren just opened its first outlet at Waterway Point last March and has already expanded to three locations across the island, with stores in VivoCity and White Sands.
Royal and its partners do not intend to stop there either. They are currently looking for potential locations for their fourth outlet, which will hopefully be out west, he says.
However, expanding a business isn’t all rainbows and sunshine – Royal shares that things have taken their toll on him.
“We definitely feel a lot of burnout, especially when a new store opens,” he says, adding that when they opened their VivoCity outlet, they had to work seven days a week.
But he admits that although it’s physically and mentally exhausting, he feels it’s worth it.
“What drives us at the end of the day is that this is what we signed up for, this is what we want,” he tells us with determination.
“If we’re growing, the amount of work that comes with it is natural and we’re all just trying to make it work.”