Setting Up Shop (I)

It has been slightly more than a month since I started on this intrepid journey to self-employment and sole proprietorship. Actually I am quite surprised it has only been about 40 days since I signed the option to take over the shop, because it does seem like I’ve done quite a great deal during this period of time. Unfortunately I am still waiting for the landlord to give the final okay for my concept plan and approve my application to take over the premise. It seems like my lack of F&B experience could be causing some slight delay in their acceptance.

Ironically, I was initially very concerned about the timeline – that I would not be ready by early May to take over the premise, and given that I was still serving notice till mid July. Yet now here I am in early May and still no sight of the approval and I’m feeling quite jittery about this. I surprised myself at the efficiency in which I carried out the necessary administrative tasks, and also how God had indeed blessed me through this journey. I wanted to use this post to record the chronology of events.

26.03 – Signed the Option to Purchase and paid 20% downpayment. Had the good fortune to be introduced to both the agent and current tenant who are F&B owners themselves. They have been really helpful in my journey thus far, always willing to give me inputs and tips on how to set up shop. It turned out that the current tenant had also given up his corporate job about 3-4 years ago to start his own F&B with absolutely no prior experience. He is doing pretty well now with several Thai food outlets so this gives me some confidence that it can be done.

29.03 – I officially registered my business as a sole proprietor. In the long run, it will make sense for me to register it as a company instead because that will afford me greater protection in terms of liability and also greater credibility to engage with suppliers.

31.03 – Completed the design of my business logo with help of my daughter, and also posted my first job ad for Cook. I referred to several examples on Fastjobs and combined them together to create a rather fun ad using the free trial for 14 days. Now I just have to wait for suitable applicants to write in…

Having worked out a tentative menu with the help of my brother’s chef at his restaurant, I was ready to submit my proposal to the landlord. We arranged for a meeting a week later to go through some guidelines for tenants and for me to present my concept plan to them.

Registered my website domain and created my business website using WordPress. Thankfully my various experience with WordPress and managing this particular blog has helped tremendously. Also registered my Instagram and Facebook page.

03.04 – Registered for a 4-day chef in training course for Japanese cuisine at Palate Sensations. I thought that if I really couldn’t find a suitable chef candidate, I would have no choice but learn it myself. Unfortunately I was the only applicant for that course so they cancelled it. In the end, I spent the next two weekend learning how to cook Japanese food myself from scratch based on recipes from this website called Just One Cookbook. I will highly recommend it for anyone learning how to cook Japanese food for the first time. However I realised that the amount of effort put into preparation was just not ideal.

06.04 – Met the first job applicant whom I shortlisted for the role. It seemed like he wasn’t quite cut out to help me with any menu creation, feeling more comfortable to follow a SOP and recipe. By the end of the 14 days trial period, I had a total of 9 applicants for the job out of 400 odd views but none of them were suitable. I couldn’t accept S-Pass due to MOM restrictions and for the rest, they either got a job already or were not ready to take on menu creation roles. I was getting really really panicky.

11.04 – Met with my landlord for the first time. Learnt about the various terms and conditions of the rental which I am largely agreeable to and also presented my concept plan to them. They highlighted that based on whatever I have shared, the biggest concern would be in terms of food preparation and my ability to minimise grease and oil smell in the premise since it didn’t have any external exhaust. I told them I would revise my proposal to accommodate to this. They also informed me that there was a concurrent application to open a sushi place near me, which may limit what I could sell eventually. What….

14.04 – I spoke with my ex-employer to talk about a potential freelance role for about 6-7 months as they desperately needed manpower to push through a project that needed to be delivered by early next year. I was needed mainly to contribute in the areas of content development based on my expertise in financial planning. I felt that I would be able to take on this temporary contract to give me some income boost during my company infancy stage.

15.04 – Over the prior weekend, my colleague and friend who knew that I was starting on this journey met with a client who had a brother who is currently working as chef in a Japanese restaurant. He was looking to leave his current job so my friend thought that it was serendipity. He asked if the client’s brother would be willing to meet with me and the very friendly chap agreed to meet me on this Good Friday. I had a wonderful 2.5 hours chat with him.

During which I learnt that he had wanted to start his own bakery business with a friend, so he decided to leave his corporate job, took a 50% pay cut and went into F&B to learn what it means to be a chef. Turned out that the last 12 months taught him that he never wanted to do this full time… so actually he didn’t think he is suitable for the role. I was really disappointed but nonetheless he was really helpful in sharing with me some tips – like how restaurants don’t actually cook everything from scratch and that it was more efficient to just use precooked food from suppliers. (WHAT?! Yes this came after spending two weekends learning to cook Jap food from scratch.) He also told me where to go to buy the cheapest kitchen equipment. And his best gift was that he offered to link me up with his ex-head chef who was now a stay home mum with her home bakery business.

18.04 – I met the ex head chef today, a young lady in her early 30s. I learnt that she and husband had helped many people set up their F&B before and after speaking to me, she felt that she could certainly get me the leg up that I needed to take off. However she wanted a role that is really more creating and planning, rather than kitchen operations so I needed to still look for a cook who could do the day to day cooking. She was also planning to open her own bakery in a few months’ time so it turned out that this opportunity came in timely for her to get some income. It also meant that she would only be able to help me in the initial phases. Nonetheless I was really really thankful for the contact and told her that I would work out the contract details for my offer to her. Knowing that I now have someone who had the technical expertise that I lacked gave me a huge boost in confidence.

19.04 – I reinstated my job ad for Cook for another 4 weeks, this time having to pay for it. Just a difference of two weeks since I put up my first post, I have noticed a sharp drop in number of views and applicants. With the safe distancing measures relaxed, many F&Bs have opened up and are aggressively hiring now so a no-name business like mine isn’t going to stand out among the other options available. This isn’t going to bode well for me.

20.04 – I got an application for the role and I almost laughed out loud when I read the applicant’s resume. His last job is a part time role in the café right next to the place I would be operating. I was quite stunned by the coincidence and yet this made it seemed all the more that it was divine intervention. I spoke to the applicant over the phone and felt that he was generally suitable based on his experience. I like it that he’s Singaporean and could speak good English. What really confounded me though was when he asked for lower rather than higher pay.

Turned out later as I investigated later that he used to study in a special needs school as his IQ was on the slightly lower side. I spoke to the career counselor at his school and learnt that despite his slight deficiency, this applicant was hardworking and managed to make it through to get a diploma from SHATEC. My heart told me that this was the right candidate but my head was indeed struggling a bit. I told him that I would need him to speak with my head chef to assess his suitability.

With my manpower issues slightly addressed, it was time for me work on getting a good point-of-sale system. My brother-in-law who happened to be working on a project to help SMEs digitise told me to look out for a POS via the Productivity Solutions Grant which would pay 80% of a comprehensive solution suite. I searched through the portal and using the procurement skills I have picked up in my previous job, quickly narrowed down the 10 possible vendors to three. I sent them an email to arrange for a demo over the next week in order to choose one.

22.04 – I sent the better part of this entire weekend designing my website to satisfaction as well as come up with an idea of the type of content I would put on it. My son had helped me to design a wall backdrop that would adorn my café wall and hopefully drive some IG worthy posts. I also wrote out the outline of an original comic that we would all jointly own and create together in order to drive views, brand connection and hopefully some day be worth something as an IP.

Also very grateful for my husband’s colleague who helped me to redraw the café layout accordingly so that I could eventually submit this for Singapore Food Authority (SFA) approval, which would be my logical next step once I get my approval from the landlord.

28.04 – Finally heard from my landlord again and I was told that the facilities management was still very concerned about my ability to manage the grease and oil. I was quite dumbfounded to be honest. It took them close to two weeks to tell me this?! Anyway I tried to control my emotions and told them that I was certain that I could manage it and would revise my proposal to share further how this would be done. I found it quite ridiculous but agreed to the paper exercise anyway. Whatever necessary to push this across the line.

03.05 – With everything else now hanging till I got my approval from the landlord (including certifying my website because they require a phone bill with my business premise address in it), I turned my attention to preparing my café collab proposal which would be due in two weeks’ time. As part of the proposal, I needed to come up a themed menu, possible merchandise or freebies, interior design/decoration for the campaign period, as well as an estimation of the revenue and costs. During my research, I discovered the power of Alibaba Global Trade platform and have since been sourcing for various types of items required for the business at wholesale prices.

04.05 – I showed the head chef the café today so that she can have a better idea of what kind of menu would be suitable, as well as the kitchen equipment required. We also interviewed the chef applicant again jointly. She told me that she wasn’t very confident in his ability to be independent, but given that I have not had any other applicants for my role, I have to take my bet that having one headcount is better than none at this stage, and she would be willing to train him. Nonetheless I should still be on the lookout for a second person. I also went through with her the contract for her services. She turned out to be more expensive than I expected but I eventually decided to look at this as part of my set up cost instead of a running one so it was a lot more palatable.

Later over lunch together, she shared with me that she knows the person who is setting up the sushi place. In fact the person had first approached her husband to join him in setting up the place, however he had rejected him. Turned out that I had approached her first… though I’m not sure if this sequence of events have any bearing on his final response. Still with all the dots joining together so nicely, I feel like I just needed to get this business up and going no matter what now.

So this has been my rather eventful month of setting up shop. In the end, I found out that I needn’t have been so worried about not getting ready by early May, because here I am now, relatively ready, but still no confirmation on the premise approval. My only hope now is that I don’t end up losing my two headcounts waiting for me to start operations because the landlord is taking forever to approve it.

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