When Covid-19 struck last year, Melvin Chew took it upon himself to help his beleaguered fellow hawkers overcome the crisis by setting up Hawkers United – Dabao 2020, a Facebook platform that allows hawkers to promote themselves, as well as Delivery United, which connects hawkers with food delivery drivers.
Today, even though the pandemic in the nation has come under control, the boss man of Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap is still very much involved in helping his fellow peers and preserving Singapore’s hawker culture.
We speak with him to find out more about his life as a hawker and what else he has up his sleeves.
How did you get into the hawker trade?
Before I became a hawker, I worked in a company handling claims for car accidents. After my father passed away in 2014, my mother wanted to close the stall, and this was when I stepped in to say that I would take over the business. My mother was initially against the idea. People of their generation usually don’t want their children to become hawkers because it’s a tough profession.
But I couldn’t bear to just let the stall go. This hawker business was how my parents fed me and my two siblings. Also, before his death, my father had big plans for the stall, like expanding it and improving its branding. I felt like it was only right to take over and help him fulfil those wishes.
What is a typical day like for you?
I wake up around 4am and get to the stall by 6am to begin prepping the food. The stall opens at 10am and closes at 6pm, following which I clean the premises and head home at about 8 or 9 pm. During the non-peak hours when I get a breather, I try to work on our marketing efforts on social media.
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What changes did you make after you took over the stall?
When I took over, our stall wasn’t as well-known as it is today. Back then, our regular customers were old uncles and aunties. As such, I wanted to attract the younger crowds. I knew that Japanese food was popular, so I decided to add a Japanese spin to things, like serving kway chap in the form of a bento set. I also thought that if chicken rice could be served as a ball (like in Malacca), why not the yam rice that we serve with our braised duck? We were very lucky that these new offerings went viral later.