As an individual, I love blogging and chatting with startups. It is a big learning experience for me when I meet up with startup founders. Apart from the usual tech startups that I get to talk to, I decided to start this brand new year with something different.
I believe Singaporeans are food lovers and are very passionate about their food. Just reading the local food blogs is enough to make one confused, not to mention, people sharing their food discovery social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. I decided to visit Eunice Leow, Co-founder of Strictly Pancakes to understand why she ventured in F&B.
Me: How did the idea of Strictly Pancakes come about?
Eunice: It all started with a pancake pact that we made with each other. I got to know Joanne (Co-founder) at an ice-cream parlor, where we worked part-time while pursing our studies. In the midst of scooping ice cream and serving customers, we both became very good friends and this sort of triggered our entrepreneurial spirit. We made a pact that we would start our very own café serving our favorite dish – Pancakes. From that day onwards, ideas started bouncing and on 19 Sep 2010 – Strictly Pancakes was born.
Me: F&B industry is a highly capital intensive business. How did you raise the capital for it?
Eunice: Well, we couldn’t apply for the SPRING Yes! Startups fund because retail F&B business is not something they are particularly interested in. So the initial capital came from both our savings. Joanne graduated earlier so she had some saving of her own. On the other hand, I was very fortunate to borrow additional jumpstart funds from my family and ever since then Strictly Pancakes became profitable, I have been paying back my loans.
Me: Staffing is another big challenge for F&B in Singapore. How did you overcome that?
Eunice: In the beginning, we got some part-timers to help out with the serving while we did most of the kitchen work. As the business grew, we needed to get permanent staff and getting experienced locals to join us was not an easy task. So we came up with an ‘On Job Training’ plan to recruit applicants without F&B experience and this helped to widen our hiring pool. We now have 7 full-time staff with a good mixture of locals and foreigners.
We also try to incorporate work-life balance in our staff by having a pool of regular part-timers to shorten the long working hours. Manpower scheduling is one of the key aspects of managing an F&B outlet and we have learned it through experience.
** If you are not sure of manpower regulations, you can check it out here – Levies & quotas for hiring Foreign Workers
Me: That’s challenging! Do you have a mentor to guide you or did you learn all that through the startup experience?
Eunice: Yeah. I do have 2 mentors. They are Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Google became our best friend when we were unsure of how to go about doing certain things. Having worked at an ice-cream parlor previously did give us the experience we needed, however, it was not enough to set up a business. Google came in handy when we needed to apply for an F&B related license, finding retail space, designing menus and even preparing good quality pancakes.We tested several online pancake recipes before coming out with our very own secret sauce which made our pancakes soft and fluffy.
Me: Any words for aspiring entrepreneurs venturing into F&B space?
Eunice: You have to be patient especially when it comes to dealing with your staff. But that’s not all; you also need to be able to manage your stress level during peak periods and be prepared to work long hours, including weekends.
Me: How do you engage with your customers?
Eunice: Besides the use of traditional media, we are also using new media such as Twitter and Facebook to engage customers. For example, on 1st March 2011 we had our very first International Pancake Day. We posted special offers and promotions on our Facebook page and the response was overwhelming.
Me: How do you handle the bad reviews given to Strictly Pancakes online?
Eunice: We have our very own customer recovery practices. We will first indentify why that particular complaint was made and service recovery will be done accordingly. Well, there are times when customers just want to be nasty and we do not tolerate that. Everyone in Strictly Pancakes is like a big family.
Me: There are a few local food bloggers who talks about the Garlic Butter Prawns pancake. Are those the best selling item here?
Eunice: Certainly. We have 2 major categories here. The savoury pancakes and the sweet pancakes. Garlic Butter Prawns pancake tops the chart under the savoury category, while the Strawberries & Co tops the chart for “the sweet category”.
Me: How did the iLead experience help you in this venture?
Eunice: iLead definitely helped me to define my success. I was from the 3rd batch of iLead program. During my 7th month on program, I learned much more about myself. Firstly, I began to understand that I do not like working for other people. Secondly, I am not a desk-bound person. With that thought, I decided to pursue my pancake pact after graduation.
Me: Any thoughts on expansion?
Eunice: Sure. Joanne and I are cooking up a storm now in our kitchen but I cannot reveal too much. So follow our Facebook pages to see what’s cooking next.
- Scotch pancakes from Mary Berry’s 100 cakes and bakes (kerrycooks.wordpress.com)
- Great New Places (http://www.greatnewplaces.com)
- Pancake pals to partners (herworldplus.com)