People usually think of Western cuisine like sirloin steaks, lamb ribs and salmon fillet as an expensive fare.
However, local players like Collin’s have completely changed the game to make Western food affordable.
Contrary to its success today, the restaurant chain had very humble beginnings and started off as a one-man Western hawker stall.
In an interview with Vulcan Post, founder Collin Ho said his first interaction in the kitchen was when he served as an army chef during National Service.
That two-year stint gradually honed his culinary skills and allowed him to discover a newfound passion for cooking.
He later went on to work as a chef in restaurants and five-star hotels for a good 20 years, before finally deciding to “take a leap of faith” to open his own stall in 2012.
Broke Even $70K Investment In Under A Year
Being a hawker was not easy and was “back-breaking work”, vouched the 43-year-old.
He worked gruelling long hours of over 12 hours a day and because he was “prudent” with the operational expenses, he chose to wash his own dishes instead of hiring another staff.
But what makes the hard work bearable is the fantastic customer response, which came as a surprise to many who thought that he was crazy to open a Western stall in Geylang.
“I invested $70K into the business, and it took me a little under a year to break even,” said Collin.
Despite the soaring popularity, Collin did not want to rest on his laurels and chose to expand rapidly to increase brand awareness.
“We wanted people to see our brand, we wanted to build up this brand. We also wanted customers to know our strengths so wecouldget them to keep comingback,” he said in a separate TNP interview.
Beyond Collin’s stalls, the brand has since broadened its business to include Collin’s restaurants and Common Grill.
“We started out as Western food stalls and had many requests for changing of sides, so we [came up with] the idea to [let] our customers choose what they wanted. This led to Common Grill, where customers could choose their sides with their main choice of meat. It really appealed to customers, so we quickly expanded on the idea.”
“Just over two years ago, we tinkered on the idea of offering a full-service restaurant with our extensive menu. Soon after, we embarked on our first restaurant and have been growing ever since,” said Collin.
Today, Collin’s has over 24 outlets islandwide, and has plans to open another three restaurants in Singapore later this year.
It has also recently tapped into the ‘halal’ market with the launch of its new brand Elfuego by Collin’s, which opened its first outlet at the iconic Jewel Changi Airport last month.
Spurred by its success here, Collin’s has recently expanded its footprint to launch in Jakarta and Cambodia.
It’s also noteworthy that the F&B brand raked in an annual revenue of $25 million within just five years.
“Earns Less” To Serve Affordable Food
Regardless of the different sub-brands, Collin’s prides on serving premium yet affordable Western cuisine for the masses.
However, staying true to its mantra to serve affordable food is not easy because it takes a toll on the business’ bottomline.
“We earn less,” he laughs.
“In truth, it is challenging to keep prices low as rising rental rates, as well as cost of goods and labour affect the entire industry. We just have to keep sourcing for affordable and sustainable sources [without] compromising on our quality and service.”
“Our restaurants are full-service so the food quality and service are key to retain customer loyalty. With our other brands, it becomes about the quality of the food and value we offer to customers that keep them coming back,” said Collin.
To him, customer loyalty is the key driving factor that has made his brand so successful.
“It is not going to be easy with new establishments opening or closing ever so quickly, so value your customers and they will in turn value your brand.”
“When you keep the promise (of delivering consistent quality), your customers will continue to support you. They become your (brand) ambassadors, which will bring you more customers.”
Featured Image Credit: Collin’s / Miss Tam Chiak