From left: Mr Leon Sng, his daughter Sarah, and wife Eleanor
The Sngs’ kitchen at their flat in Pasir Ris looks fairly much like any other ordinary household kitchen, with some notable exceptions.
For instance, there are the rice-filled plastic bags on the shelf, with labels indicating the number of people they are catered for. And at the corner, there is a white commercial freezer, just beside a rice cooker the size of a large basin.
Welcome to Daddy’s Kitchen, a home-based small-scale food business that the family started in June 2017. It is helmed by Mr Leon Sng, along with wife Ms Eleanor Wee, and eldest daughter Ms Sarah Sng.
Mr Sng, a chef who has worked in kitchens at established hotels like the Westin and Shangri-La, whips up authentic Peranakan cuisine like nonya chap chye and chicken curry kapitan for deliveries and pick-ups. The Sngs also organise tok panjangs, where they open their doors to visitors who want to have a home-cooked meal in the comfort of a home.
“The idea of Daddy’s Kitchen is to create a concept that makes you feel like coming home to eat. You don’t have to think of what to eat, just come and I’ll cook for you,” said Mr Sng, who is also a freelance chef consultant with Shangri-La hotel and Chef Wan’s Kitchen at The Esplanade.
The original purpose behind Daddy’s Kitchen was to raise funds for their second daughter’s university fees. But after she secured a scholarship, the concept shifted to become a full-fledged family business, as it had always been the intention of Ms Sng to start a food business. The family felt that Daddy’s Kitchen could provide a good place to start.
The family was also heavily involved in work at their church, and they wanted a business that would give them both the financial freedom and time to do the work they felt was important.
“Helping people is a full-time job. You cannot help people part-time. If I was in a full-time job, I wouldn’t have the time to help people,” shared Mr Sng, 52.
Running a home-based food business is not new, but it has been re-invented by the gig economy which is supported by social media through a new wave of tech-savvy consumers and the rising importance of convenience.
Daddy’s Kitchen is recommended mostly through word of mouth, with most of their customers being of middle age. But being on social media platforms like Facebook has also boosted their presence in the food scene as well, with hope that their business can reach out to a younger market.
“With a more tech-savvy generation, it has become easier for us to reach out to a wider group of audience. We’re also better able to engage and communicate with them,” said Ms Sng, 22.
Mr Sng also regularly hosts guests at their home to eat a full meal, an experience also known as tok panjang (tok is table in Hokkien, and panjang is long in Malay).
A gig economy that enables
The gig economy, in fact, offers many opportunities for stay-at-home mums and retirees who are able to extend their careers, and indulge in their passion for cooking.
In a speech delivered during the Singapore Perspectives organised by the Institute of Policy Studies in January 2018, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean noted that while the gig economy was seen as one for younger millennials, it also held much potential for the ageing population.
“The gig economy is not only for millennials because if we redesign jobs with more flexibility, seniors can take part too,” he said.
Take Madam Agnes Wong, 73, as an example. She left her job at a bakery about 5 years ago but decided to continue to utilise her skills post-retirement.
Since 2015, she has been making baked goodies for festive occasions such as Christmas and Chinese New Year. This includes buttery bite-sized pineapple tarts, flavourful and moist sugee cakes and pandan gula melaka cakes that are bursting with coconutty goodness.
“I make them on demand. It gives me an extra income and something to do. It also means that I can reject orders if I feel tired or stressed,” said Madam Wong, who takes orders through email and text messages.
What about Facebook, we ask her.
“No time to log in. Also it’s hard to read on the phone la,” she says.
There are both benefits and drawbacks to operating a home-based business.
For one thing, working from home means that home cooks and bakers don’t have to deal with landlords and rising rentals. Renting a hawker stall can cost up to $3,000 a month.
“The good thing is that we’re home based, so we don’t pay rent. The electricity bills are covered at home, and we don’t have extra manpower,” shared Ms Sng.
However, there is also a flipside to limiting the business within the confines of home. Besides having a smaller kitchen, it can also get hectic at times.
“The downside is that there is only the three of us, so there’s a maximum number of orders that we can handle,” said Ms Sng.
Daddy’s Kitchen regularly gets orders, ranging from between 10 to 50 bento boxes. For now, the business is ‘doing okay’, according to Ms Wee.
“This small-scale business helps us pay the bills,” she said.
For Madam Wong, she does not know how long more she can continue.
“I enjoy baking but it is difficult. My backache is getting worse, so I don’t know if I want to do this till I’m 80. But if I can do it and people still enjoy my baking, why not?” said Madam Wong.