Power 98FM Singapore Radio DJ DARREN WEE lives with his wife Chenise Koh, three-month-old daughter Leah Rose Wee and family dog Tessa. Over the past 11 years, Darren has launched various cafés, bars and restaurants. His latest F&B Singapore venture is Good Chai People – Singapore’s first specialty café for sticky chai!
Tell us a bit about your work at Good Chai People.
My work at Good Chai People revolves around every aspect of the F&B Singapore business. Over the years, I’ve made it a point to be as hands-on as possible so I’m aware of what’s happening and able to troubleshoot any issues that my team may face. My duties include choosing the location, coming up with the concept, deciding on the budget for capital expenditure, purchasing equipment and appliances, deciding on the café layout and design, arranging the equipment so it makes sense during operations, and doing R&D for whatever is served on the menu.
Once Good Chai People is ready to welcome customers, my work continues. This includes training my service/kitchen team to efficiently run the day-to-day operations, maintaining and improving service standards, getting to know repeat customers, gathering feedback about our food and drinks, PR and marketing to promote the business, designing posters and other collaterals, looking at the financials to cut down food costs and increase revenue and profits, and managing the social media pages.
For Power 98FM, the station where I work as a Singapore radio DJ, my main responsibility is to ensure good content for my show, Sunday Mornings with Darren Wee (6am to 9am!) and to make it as engaging for listeners as possible. As a radio DJ, I make sure to do my show prep by checking out new food establishments, finding out if there are any upcoming events that might be of interest to my listeners, and any newsworthy topics worth discussing.
How did your transition from Singapore radio DJ into F&B Singapore business go?
It was a very steep learning curve for me 11 years ago. Back in 2012, I was a full-time Singapore radio DJ with Power 98FM and had zero experience in starting and running a business, or any F&B Singapore business establishment for that matter. When I jumped into setting up a café, the gradient of the learning curve was almost a vertical climb – I had so many things to learn in such a short period of time.
In running a company, I had to familiarise myself with government regulations pertaining to employment, CPF matters, staff management, legal matters, accounting and finance, tenancy terms and conditions, and compliance matters with ACRA and IRAS.
On matters related to F&B Singapore business, I had to learn about spatial planning to maximise seating, the placement of equipment and appliances to facilitate smooth workflow, menu planning and creation, and knowing which suppliers and vendors to order stock from, as well as understanding various cooking techniques and methods to ensure the space and equipment complemented the dishes on the menu. I also went through a crash course on renovation works and interior design.
I call it a baptism of fire! Still, as I look back on the many things I’ve learnt and picked up during my entrepreneurial journey, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The skills and knowledge gained have helped me in so many other aspects of my life.
What’s your favourite part of your work? Least favourite?
My favourite part is meeting customers, and getting to know our regulars. My least favourite is definitely managing accounts.
Why did you choose a chai focus for your business?
I think Singapore has a lot of very good coffee places – some are owned by personal friends of mine and their standards are world-class. But I saw a lack in cafés focusing on chai, perhaps because of how tedious it is to make a really good cup of chai latte from scratch. Because of this arduous process, most F&B Singapore establishments prefer to use either powdered chai or chai syrup. So, I endeavoured to create Singapore’s first chai specialty café that puts a focus on handmade artisanal chai, allowing customers to dine in and enjoy the various iterations of chai. I’ve always been a fan of a good cup of chai latte because of how comforting it can make you feel after the first sip.
How long did it take for you to perfect your menu at Good Chai People?
I spent more than a year researching and learning about chai before embarking on this new project. I read extensively about the chai-making process and had at least 150 cups of chai from different cafés in five countries to understand its complexity and variations. Eventually, I settled on our current flavour profile because I feel that it best represents what a good cup of chai should taste like – something that warms your soul and delivers immediate comfort.
I won’t say the menu is perfect per se because every menu should be a work in progress with space for improvement. Our current menu includes hot favourites like “French Toast Loving”, “Prawn & Chorizo Aglio Olio”, “Mommy’s Spinach” and our “24-hr Braised Beef Brisket” that’s served on toasted sourdough and topped with poached eggs, hand-cut potato chips and gherkins.
We’re already working on new menu items, too. It’s important to constantly refresh the dishes so as to give variety to customers and give them a reason to visit again.
Where is your home in Singapore? Why did you choose to live there?
I reside in the Clarke Quay area together with my wife and daughter. We chose this place because it was in town, has lots of amenities nearby, is a short walk to MRT stations, and has a good mix of amazing food options. Whether I’m leaning towards an upscale restaurant or local fare at a hawker centre, my ’hood has something to cater for whatever I’m feeling at the moment.
What do you do in Singapore when you’re not working?
Strangely enough, café hopping! I guess what they say about entrepreneurship is true: you never really stop working.
What are you hoping for this year?
That Leah will grow up healthy and consistently sleeping through the night, so I don’t have to be manning the graveyard shift! And, of course, for Good Chai People to continue being well-received.
What would you miss most about Singapore if you had to move away?
The food, my friends and family, and the convenience of commuting from place to place. Our roads and public transport system here is pretty top-notch.
Quick questions about Singapore: what is your favourite …
• Casual Restaurant? The Masses
• Date-night restaurant? One-Ninety @ Four Seasons Hotel
• Local food? If I had to narrow it down, I’d say Tai Hwa Minced Pork Noodles and Song Fa Bak Kut Teh
• Nature space? Gardens By The Bay
• Things to do with visitors? Bring them to try my favourite hawker food stalls at either Tiong Bahru Market hawker centre, Old Airport Road Food Centre or Maxwell Food Centre.
• Nearby holiday destination? Japan! Seven hours can be considered “nearby”, right? In the past, I’d have said Bali but with an infant daughter in tow right now, it wouldn’t be the best choice. Perhaps Bintan; the Banyan Tree resort is awesome.
Follow Good Chai People on IG: @GoodChaiPeople
This article first appeared in the May 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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