Ishrat Deva may not be new to Singapore’s F&B scene, but he definitely has his work cut out for him when he decided to venture out on his own.
The 38-year-old has spent the past 12 years cutting his teeth at nightlife entertainment institution Zouk, until as recently as June 2020.
The former restaurant staff tells us that like most businesses, Zouk has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
With clubbing off the cards for the foreseeable future, the nightclub had to pivot to other sources of revenue like spin classes and movie nights.
For Ishrat, or Roy as he is more commonly known as, the situation presented an opportunity to leave the nightlife scene for good, so he did.
Growing up pains
Having worked in the same company for over 10 years, Roy’s departure from Zouk was a significant milestone for him.
Growing up, he never thought he would amount to anything, much less starting his own business.
Roy, who was born Catholic, grew up with his younger brother in a rental flat from when he was 15.
He did numerous odd jobs such as cleaner, security, factory packer, production operator and as a cashier at a minimart.
Life was not pleasant then and Roy even found himself on the wrong side of the law at one point. But getting employed by Zouk was a turning point for him.
“I had no ambition, no direction, nothing,” he shares, “But when I joined Zouk, it was very different because there were a lot of opportunities for me to grow and the people were willing to teach me, trust me.”
But he almost never got a job in the first place.
“On the day of the interview, I woke up late,” he recalls, “When the hiring manager called and found out I had just woken up, she angrily told me not to come.”
To the manager’s surprise, Roy turned up for the interview anyway. That persistence seemed to pay off, as Roy was soon offered a part-time waiter job.
After a year, he converted to full-time staff and then worked his way up the ranks to become an assistant manager.
The story got even more interesting when Roy revealed that the hiring manager eventually became his wife.
Nothing worth doing comes easy
“I wanted to prove to myself that I’m not as bad as people think.”
During the hour long conversation that we had, Roy mentioned his desire to prove his worth several times.
That desire sparked the process that will lead to him to the manifestation of opening up Beefzana, a noodles stall that Roy named after his wife Suzana whom he married shortly after knowing each other.
The stall specialises in affordable noodle dishes like beef soup/pho (S$5.50), oxtail soup (S$7.50) and yong tau foo (S$3.90).
Whilst Roy remains immensely grateful to Zouk for giving him a sense of purpose all these years — and leaving Zouk is still bittersweet for him — striking out on his own is something that the new business owner wanted to do for the betterment of himself and his family.
The father of two admitted that he does not have much experience in the F&B business and that opening the stall was an eye opener for him on so many levels.
From finding a suitable location to buying his own equipment and utensils, Roy has been on a steep learning curve since the very beginning.
Yet, Roy somehow managed to get things up and running within two months. In Mid-September 2020, Beefzana started operations.
Things started off rocky, though. “On my first day, I was alone at the shop,” he recalls, “I took orders, I prepared the food, I did the cashiering, everything.”
On top of that, his noodle boiler station tripped and the fuse caught fire. “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” he laughs, “It was quite an eventful day!”
Feedback on his beef soup was also not always positive, either.
“Some say it is too bland, some say it’s the best soup they ever tasted. I make it a point to ask my customers for feedback and tweak my recipe accordingly,” Roy says.
Beefzana’s offerings might still be a work-in-progress, but Roy’s humility and customer-centric work ethic are certainly commendable.
For Roy, he welcomes constructive criticism on his food. In fact, he expects it from his customers so that he can improve on his cooking.
But what he did not expect at all was untrue allegations about his faith.
“Don’t look like Muslim”
Roy, whose real birth name is Arulmani S/O Devasayagam, converted to Islam in 2008 prior to marrying Suzana.
For the most part, Roy never felt the need to explain or prove to others that he was in fact, Muslim.
So when he heard allegations from others that he “don’t look like Muslim”, he was shocked.
Roy did not disclose who made those remarks, but to him, that matters less than asking questions when in doubt.
Roy takes such allegations very seriously as it can potentially damage his reputation, business and livelihood.
He decided to address the issue publicly and refuted the claims in a post on Beefzana’s Facebook page.
In the post, Roy shared a timeline of his job history as well as photos of his NRIC and conversion card issued by MUIS.
It is unfortunate that he had to resort to such measures to debunk something as personal as his religion.
When asked about the impetus behind such a move, Roy simply replied “I needed to correct what’s wrong.”
Yet, his story is sadly not isolated. We’ve all seen similar incidents in the past where businesses are threatened as a result of falsehoods.
For instance, this halal-certified yong tau foo stall was rocked by fakes news alleging it sold a pork dish. Even MUIS, the authority on halal matters in Singapore, is not spared from fake news, as this CNA report showed.
Don’t know, ask.
Despite all this, Roy remains cautiously optimistic about the challenge of building his own F&B brand, and enjoys his new working environment for the most part.
“The cleaning auntie goes around telling people to buy from my stall,” he laughs.
At the same time, Roy also acknowledges that as a society, we are not as inclusive as we think we are.
Till the day comes when being Muslim in Singapore is not immediately associated as being Malay, we still have to continuously check ourselves before making remarks we would regret later on.
Topics surrounding racism and sub-topics like ‘brownface’, ‘Chinese privilege’ and negative narratives and stereotypes of Malays continue to be reproduced to this day.
Yet, as Malay Muslims ourselves, we sometimes overlook our own ‘Malay privilege’ and pass biased judgment on other Muslims that do not look like us.
When asked if he has any message to people who doubt him or others like him, Roy only has this to say:
“Don’t know, ask.”
Indeed, when this author was curious as to why Roy, an Indian Muslim man, decided to sell Chinese-style dishes, we simply asked him.
To which Roy replies, “I want to be different.”
Yet at his very core, Roy is just like every one of us. Yes, we may all be different but we all want to be respected and valued as human beings, regardless of our race, language or religion.
Here’s where to find Beefzana: Blk 2 Yishun industrial St 1 #01-12, Singapore 768159
Halal status: Muslim-owned
Opening hours: Daily 8:00am – 9:00pm