Many businesses have had to adapt and make changes when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Singapore.
And for the formerly roving Perghchicks, a big change they have made is that they now have a permanent home since it first popped up in different locations around the island in 1999.
In August, the once unnamed ayam percik stall that used to move from pasar malam to pasar malam has set shop at Tang Tea House in Jurong West.
For owner Afiq Irwan, 26, he only intended to open a permanent shop in 2021.
But the onset of the pandemic had accelerated his plans.
Grew up in pasar malam
Afiq’s family, particularly himself and his younger brother, literally grew up in the pasar malam scene for over 10 years starting in 1999.
Back then, the stall belonged to his parents and they sold ayam percik — a Malay style roast chicken — as well as Ramly burgers.
Afiq’s earliest memory of helping out his parents at the stall was when he was in primary four.
At the age of 10, he was already tasked to flip burgers, earning himself S$50 from his mum.
“For a primary school kid, S$50 was a big deal,” he shares. “Some customers would come and specifically ask that I cook the burgers for them.”
Even at the stall, Afiq’s mum made sure he still attended to his studies; when he was taking his PSLE exams, she helped him with his revision while cooking and running her business.
In 2010, his mum decided to exit the pasar malam scene and focus on her children, especially Afiq who was taking his ‘O’-levels exams that year.
Ten years on, Afiq was itching to get back into the pasar malam business and urged his mum to start selling her ayam percik again.
She was hesitant at first, but finally relented after much persuasion from her son.
A rebranding and a comeback
In January this year, Afiq incorporated the business and revamped the branding, settling on the name Perghchicks.
In February, Perghchicks made its first comeback at a pop-up food event at Suntec Convention Hall, where they introduced a slew of old and new items including its beloved ayam percik.
Response at the event was good, further boosting their confidence that this was the right thing to do.
At this point, Afiq had a full time job in a software company and only helped out at the stall when time permitted.
Following the food event at Suntec, Perghchicks’ next appearance was a little closer to their roots: pasar malam.
In March, customers got to taste the brand’s grilled chicken at a pasar malam situated on the open field opposite Causeway Point.
Midway through the event, the pasar malam operator announced that they had to shut down the whole event early due to new tightening measures imposed by the authorities to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Perghchicks was also slated to participate in an upcoming Ramadan bazaar in April, but that too, was cancelled.
Turning risks into opportunity
The cancellation of events threw a wrench in his plans for Perghchicks.
According to Afiq, he planned for the business to continue with appearances at roving food events this year while he save up enough funds to open a permanent shop next year.
But when he realised this was not meant to be, he knew his plans had to change too.
Instead of feeling down on his luck, Afiq viewed it as an opportunity to focus on Perghchicks more seriously.
The second-generation business owner found a space in a coffeeshop at Tai Seng, and together with his family and childhood friend who joined as a business partner, they set up the stall with whatever resources they had.
As the stall was situated in an industrial area, walk-ins were very limited.
Hence, Afiq had to rely on online orders as well as delivery platforms such as Grabfood and FoodPanda.
Business was brisk during those early days at the stall, contributed largely in part by the surge in demand by customers craving for their food during Ramadan.
Orders were so overwhelming that on some days, Afiq missed some orders that come in via Whatsapp.
Yet, the affable business owner was not fazed by it all.
“The experience running the stall during Ramadan was valuable,” Afiq recalls. “Yes, we were very busy working from 7am to 7pm almost everyday, and made many mistakes. But at least now I know how to manage things better for next Ramadan.”
In August, Perghchicks moved to a space in Tang Tea House in Jurong West where they are currently operating from.
Keeping the tradition alive
Afiq acknowledged that pasar malam is a dying trade, but also opined that traditional food need not follow a similar fate.
“We should keep supporting businesses selling traditional food because sooner or later, these foods will become obsolete,” says Afiq.
“There are a lot of traditional food that are now hard to come by. So if you see someone selling traditional food, try to support them as much as you can.”Afiq Irwan, owner of Perghchicks
“If not us, then who?”
Today, his mum’s ayam percik is still a staple in the shop’s menu.
Whilst the recipe itself has not changed since 1999, Afiq has introduced several variants to the menu such as the Ayam Percik Wings Set ($8.50) which features the signature Percik Wings served with garden salad, potato wedges and butterfly pea garlic butter rice for a more wholesome meal.
When asked about his future plans for the business, Afiq said that he is actively looking for a space in the east to open a second stall as “most of my customers are from the east”.
Till that happens, you can either visit PerghChicks in Jurong West or order directly from them via the form on @perghchicks.
Here’s where to find Perghchicks:
Blk 414 Jurong West St 42, Tang Tea House, Singapore 640414
Halal status: Muslim-owned
Daily: 1pm – 10pm