Press release -
The Story of The Soup Spoon - Savouring the Taste of Success
A CLOSE bond formed by a group of students while studying overseas has blossomed into one of the most successful restaurant chains in Singapore.
Mr Andrew Chan, 35, Ms Anna Lim, 34, and Mr Benedict Leow, 36, met while studying in Perth at Australia's Murdoch University some 15 years ago for their bachelor's degrees.
The trio returned to Singapore after graduation - Ms Lim in 1996, followed by Mr Chan and Mr Leow in 1997 - with plans to settle into regular nine-to-five jobs.
But a chance conversation Mr Chan had with his sister on the prevalence of soup eateries in England and the United States planted the seed of an idea with the trio. They began exploring the feasibility of importing the concept to Singapore.
In particular, Ms Lim, an avid cook who married Mr Chan in early 2001, spent much of her free time experimenting with soup recipes while working as an embryologist at the Singapore General Hospital.
In July 2001, a few months after her marriage, she quit her full-time job to look into setting up a soup business. 'It was a plunge into the dark to look for opportunities,' she said. She was the first of the three to quit her job.
Mr Chan added: 'We were still quite young, and weren't planning to have children anytime soon. If the business failed, she could go back to work.'
To gain technical experience in scaling up soup production without compromising quality, the trio sold soup at a church funfair and offered lunch-time delivery services to offices.
Although feedback on the quality and taste of the soup was encouraging, they quickly learnt that they needed a retail space to be able to cook in large quantities.
'We couldn't operate out of a home. The toilet of an HDB flat is simply not big enough to wash vegetables for pots of soup,' said Ms Lim.
The big break came when a contact linked them to Raffles City Shopping Centre, which was keen to try out new concepts.
They targeted their soup at busy professionals on the go who wanted quick, value-for-money casual dining as an alternative to more formal restaurants. The proposal found favour with Raffles City.
As a result, they decided to take the plunge and fork out $250,000 - comprising cash from relatives, friends and their personal savings - to set up shop within a 500 sq foot space.
The first outlet of The Soup Spoon opened on June 1, 2002, serving bowls of Boston Clam Chowder and Velvety Mushroom Stroganoff at between $4 and $8 per serving.
Mr Leow quit his management consulting job three months after the outlet opened, and Mr Chan helped out after working hours while continuing with an IT contract job. He joined the fledgling business full-time about a year later.
Mr Leow's experience in business development and marketing worked well alongside Mr Chan's training in finance and Ms Lim's speciality in creating soup recipes.
Initially, things went well, but the failure of The Soup Spoon's second outlet opened at the end of 2002 at United Square in Novena was put down to a mix of poor planning and bad luck.
'The Sars outbreak suddenly came and everyone started avoiding Tan Tock Seng Hospital (at Novena)...With hindsight, we should have focused on our core customers of PMEBs (professionals, managers, executives and businessmen) and the working crowd, rather than diversifying too quickly to reach out to families and children who are the main crowd at United Square,' said Mr Chan.
The failed venture, which cost them $100,000, dented their confidence.
'We started to question our business plan and whether our brand could really work. When we let go of the United Square outlet, there were also naysayers who questioned whether people were going to buy soup in such a hot country,' said Ms Lim.
'However, giving up never crossed our minds...We wanted to be the Starbucks of soup.'
A valuable lesson was learnt and The Soup Spoon has since focused on courting its core customer base of working adults.
Prior to opening its next outlet at Raffles Xchange over a year later in June 2005, the team did extensive market research.
'I must have spent months staking out the place, going there every lunch time to calculate exactly how much a shop would earn during the lunch hour,' said Ms Lim.
Things went well for the company for the next 18 months. Then, in March 2007, Soup Spoon kitchen supervisor Tan Guanhua was stabbed to death at the Raffles City outlet by his subordinate Wang Zhenjun after a personal workplace dispute erupted.
Although business was not significantly affected by the tragedy, Mr Chan said that the company's founders and staff were understandably upset by the loss.
'The company's people attended the funeral, and everyone was obviously sad. If your friend passed away, you'd be sad too...I don't think there's going to be a set date where you can say that you completely get over it.'
Fast forward to today, and The Soup Spoon is far more established in Singapore, boasting 11 outlets dotted around office and retail areas. Sales turnover last year hit $7.29 million.
The latest outlet opened on Monday at VivoCity.
Mr Leow said that the company is aiming for 18 to 20 outlets in Singapore by 2012. It also plans to explore new concepts.
Another brand it has developed, The Handburger - which serves gourmet, hand-crafted burgers as an alternative to mass-produced ones in fast-food eateries - unveiled its first outlet in September this year at Raffles City.
'After six or seven years of opening, we felt that the time was right to explore a new concept...We also thought that the market was ready,' said Mr Leow.
Plans are also under way to take The Soup Spoon overseas with negotiations to export the brand via a franchising agreement in Indonesia.
Such expansion plans will, no doubt, be boosted by The Soup Spoon's win in the Promising Brands Category of this year's Singapore Prestige Brand Awards last Tuesday.
by By Jonathan Kwok - The Straits Times email@example.com
- Partnerships, cooperations
- catering services
- the soup spoon
Wholesome Soups from the Heart