How Two Sisters Became Souperstars

When your family has run a successful business for the past 15 years, there is great pressure for the next generation to carry on the legacy. This was what seemed to lie ahead for sisters Hong Wei Ling and Hong Wei Ting, heir apparents to Fortune Food, which originated as a small hawker stall in Geylang Bahru selling popiah.

While it would have been simpler for them to just continue what their parents started, they realised that sustaining a hawker brand for another 10 years would present a great challenge.

Revealing the significance of their family’s trade, 24-year-old Wei Ting explained: “It’s actually very meaningful. This small little roll, as you can see, it has a lot of ingredients. And the meaning of it is that people traditionally prepare it with different family members and everyone would come home together and roll it. Everyone plays a role… It’s a food that symbolises unity and togetherness. And it was only when I grew older that I realised popiah was a meaningful food.”

Two twenty-something year-olds looking to preserve Singapore’s food heritage while taking their family business to greater heights, the sisters went way outside the box and decided to give an old family formula a new twist. What if, they thought, they paired the freshly made popiah skins with cosmopolitan flavours in a new fusion of east-meets-west cuisine? Armed with their mother’s artisanal expertise in popiah-crafting (and her moral support), Wei Ling and Wei Ting decided to spearhead their own local food venture, and took on a whole new ballgame by situating themselves in a shopping mall landscape.

That was how Souperstar was born.

They realised of course that such edgy thinking came with its own set of risks - after all, their traditional popiah is a fan favourite and they didn’t really know if people would like it. Even so, they forged ahead with opening an outlet at Simei, and the warm reception received from the heartlanders filled them with confidence, which eventually led to them opening their flagship outlet at Tanjong Pagar Centre, Singapore’s newest tallest building.

It is perhaps apt that such thinking led them to opening up in Singapore’s latest landmark. It wasn’t just their innovation though, as the Hong sisters have been picking up the family business since they were in primary school, when their parents first launched the business.

The duo would spend their weekends and school holidays taking customer orders for their mother’s handmade popiah. The family worked long hours ensuring the perfection of their craft, and the sisters would sometimes fall asleep at the stall as their parents toiled through the night.

Younger sister Wei Ting recalled: “My mum did everything from scratch, like handmade popiah skin. She would beat the dough and make the skin. Starting from midnight - and my dad would help in the preparation - they would shred the turnip and all, to prepare for business the next morning.”

Prior to the popiah business, their mother had decades of experience working for her elder sister’s confectionery shop. The popiah artisan had been honing the craft since her teens.

Soon enough, what was once a solitary hawker stall selling primarily popiah flourished into the Fortune Food brand known today for its traditional handmade Singaporean delicacies, with central kitchens established and hawker outlets springing up islandwide over the last decade. Mrs Hong’s husband, who had a career in mechanical engineering, eventually came onboard the business full-time.

Indeed, it was a bold move for the sisters to get out of the comfort zone and set up shop within a shopping mall, but one that went hand in hand with Souperstar’s cosmopolitan take on comfort food. Diners have a choice of light bites or a heavier meal by mixing up portions and the food selection. With their uncle, who has had 40 years of experience in the kitchen, as the culinary advisor, they merged the best of food cultures including Singaporean cuisine.

Sharing that one can easily tell when popiah skin isn’t made fresh, the sisters pointed out their focus on freshness and quality as something that sets them apart from their competitors.

“From the popiah skin to the sweet sauce, to even the shredded cucumber and the turnip, it’s all made from scratch. You won’t be able to find the same one outside. We don’t keep overnight skin. Everything is made fresh daily. It’s also the tough part of the business,” said Wei Ting.

While the sisters were first trained to roll popiahs during their secondary school days, they now spend much of their time running and handling various aspects of the business; oftentimes, wearing many hats at once. Emphasising how resources are extremely limited in a family business, elder sister Wei Ling laughed: “When you see the shop, you’ll think it’s run by a team - it’s actually just a few people behind it.”

Equipped with a Masters in Architecture, the 27-year-old tackles all things design and aesthetics for Souperstar, while her younger but business savvy sister handles social media marketing, operations and finance.

Nonetheless, working hand in hand, they continually find ways to propel the family business, despite their traditional parents being averse to technology-related improvements.

Among things like setting up a Facebook page or a business website, which took some convincing, Wei Ting recalled the days before she implemented a computer generated accounting system for her mother. During the busy Chinese New Year period, her mother would insist on handwritten invoices. She said: “Our parents, they’re really quite traditional, like a typical Chinese family.”

Which really makes the Hong sisters’ success all the more remarkable. Besides keeping tradition through modernisation, they often juggle work responsibilities at the expense of their own personal time: “Being at our age, in our 20s... It’s a lot of prioritising what to sacrifice; my time with my friends, my time to go out and complete a project... Should I go for a movie or help my mum? It’s these sort of decisions. As a youngster you always want to be part of your social circle. But we realise that if we don’t make these decisions, about our sacrifices, we probably would not get to where we are today.”

 


 

Check out Souperstar at
Tanjong Pagar Centre, 7 Wallich Street, , #B2-31, Singapore 078884.

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