The food and beverage business is no walk in the park as many business owners and chefs would readily attest. Many draw inspiration from a number of sources to prepare hearty meals in a foodie nation. For Mr Ng Nyin Leong, owner of Ta Lu Prawn Noodles, the encouragement and commitment to succeed comes from his love for his daughter.
We dropped by the eatery, situated along China Square Central in Cross Street, after the thronging lunch crowds dissipated and chatted with the sprightly man who has seen it all after 12 years in the business.
Q: Was the food business a passion from a young age?
I had no interest in studying when I was young, and this was evident in my school grades! Living in Tekong Island at that time, there were just so many activities for an active adolescent like myself, and I was really drawn to fishing.
After school, I felt that helping my father at a stall in the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre was one of the most viable options. However, I didn’t find that to my liking and left after a while.
Q: What led you to establish Ta Lu Prawn Noodles?
I knew that I enjoyed making food and had initially wanted to brew coffee for people. Eventually, this vision led me to my first foray in the business - I established a Teochew Porridge shop on Beng Wan Road which still in operation today.
After about 3 or 4 years, my neighbour living upstairs decided to retire and asked if I wanted to learn his prawn noodle recipe and take over his business. I’ve been juggling both businesses ever since!
Q: Why is the F&B business so challenging? How did you master your craft?
Learning the recipe was actually not very difficult but I was always told off in the beginning. On hindsight, my neighbour’s constant nagging was not out of anger, but to impart the necessary skills to make a good bowl of noodles. In order to make an excellent bowl of noodles, I had to be fully focused on the craft.
We have also found that the key to keeping our customers happy, is to maintain simplicity in our dishes. Because we cater to a very niche office crowd during lunchtime, the tried and tested recipes remain the most popular. The dishes are quick and simple to eat, so it benefits the busy office workers.
Q: What kind of sacrifices did you have to make?
The job is not a comfortable one and you must be prepared to sacrifice. Starting out, it was an extremely tough task, especially when I was still learning to juggle both businesses. I woke up at 4am every day and I couldn’t take holidays or days off on weekends. Currently, I supervise operations here during the lunch hour, from 12pm to 1.30pm, and spend the remaining time at the Teochew Porridge shop.
My wife and I have grown to accept that time spent with our family is a luxury. I work at night and my wife works during the day, so these conflicting schedules make family meals or everyday conversations difficult to come by.
Q: How has your work impacted your relationship with your children?
Despite the hectic work schedule at the eateries, I have still maintained a close relationship with my daughter and she used to come and help out during her school holidays.
One of the funniest things that I have found out about being a father is that we live in completely different generations and it is quite difficult to understand each other sometimes. Let me give you an example – I found myself with some spare time during one of the days recently, when my daughter got me a cup of coffee from Starbucks. As I had never drunk from Starbucks before, I was pleasantly surprised because it was quite aromatic. Subsequently, I asked the price of the coffee and shockingly, she said it cost 6 dollars. I told her that I’d much rather stick to my $1.20 cup of coffee!
Like many fathers in his generation, Mr Ng may not be one for words of affirmation, but it is truly evident that the love for his family will inspire him to continue with this thankless task.