After spending over 10 years in Dubai working at major hotel chains, professional chef Ali Shiddique, 35, was back in Singapore waiting for his new work visa to Australia to be approved, when Covid-19 happened.
With travel restrictions in place and the tourism sector being hard hit, Ali was forced to rethink his plans to work down under. He cancelled his visa application.
Fortunately, his poly mate Muhammad Husni Johari, 36, had gotten in touch a few weeks before to propose collaborating on an F&B business while Ali was between jobs. Husni is working in the oil and gas industry, and had no prior F&B experience.
Husni approached Ali whom he regarded as a “wonderful chef”, noting that Ali was a runner-up finalist for Young Chef of the Year 2013 in Abu Dhabi. Together with a third partner, Zulfadli Abdul Wahab, 37, the trio launched Gluttire.sg.
To kick things off, the team knuckled down and conceptualised a smoky BBQ food booth idea for StereoFest, a music festival featuring acts from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore that was slated to happen in Sentosa in late February.
Two weeks before the actual day, the government moved Singapore’s DORSCON colour to orange. The event was cancelled.
Stuck with the ingredients that they had purchased, Ali and Husni had to quickly think of ways to recover their investment. They eventually landed on the idea to sell frozen, ready-to-eat lamb ribs online.
Filling a market gap with smoky lamb ribs, and more
Currently Gluttire.sg’s star product, their Smoky Lamb Ribs (S$39, 400gm) are pre-cooked by Ali for hours in his home kitchen and then frozen. Customers can store the lamb ribs in their freezers, and easily heat up the ribs in a microwave oven for 7-9 minutes before serving. The frozen lamb ribs are good for a recommended duration of up to one month.
The idea behind this was to let customers enjoy fine dining food in the comfort of their homes. “Most of our competitors sell lamb ribs fresh and ready to eat,” Ali explained. But once delivered to customers, the lamb ribs lose heat and become “just warm”. Gluttire.sg, however, wanted their lamb ribs to be enjoyed piping hot.
Gluttire.sg’s lamb ribs pack a generous portion of meat, marinated in a tangy BBQ sauce inspired by a similar recipe for burgers that Ali made back in his days of cooking for hotels such as Westin and St Regis.
The homemade sauce is a concoction of over 20 premium and halal ingredients that were painstakingly sourced so that their customers have access to 5-star hotel quality food.
For those who prefer an alternative to mutton, the duo’s menu also offers frozen Charred Half Chicken (S$20) which has ayam kampung pre-cooked in a homemade “spicy murgh makhani sauce”.
“It has a unique taste…” described Husni, “like tandoori but also different mixture and taste.” Murgh makhani is an Indian dish, better known as butter chicken.
Another offering by Gluttire.sg is their sweet mango and habanero Flaming Hot Sauce (S$19, 200ml), suitable for dipping finger foods and snacks.
The last item on their menu is Loose Ends Ribs (S$8 per 100gm), which are smaller pieces of mutton lightly marinated in their BBQ sauce and are sold by weight. Customers can serve these in their pastas, burgers, or whatever their tummies desire.
Adjusting to being home-based business owners
When Gluttire.sg first launched, they made limited quantities of their lamb ribs. Through social media marketing, glowing reviews by influencers and a plug on radio station 98.7FM, demand for their delicious ribs soon shot up. Husni, who handles the marketing and sales, found himself overwhelmed with DMs.
To minimise disappointment among their frenzied customers, they hustled and churned 100 packs a week, working day and night without rest. Slowly they learnt how to streamline their processes and better handle their customers’ orders.
Since then, they’ve reduced their production to a more sustainable level of about 40-50 packs a week.
The circuit breaker period from April to June was also a challenging time for them to secure their supplies and fulfill customers’ demand. Husni also had the blessing of welcoming his first child during Phase 1 and needed some time off to focus on new parenthood. Ali took over his duties in the meantime.
As someone accustomed to cooking in well-stocked and well-equipped professional kitchens, switching to cooking in his parents’ humble home kitchen has been quite an adjustment for Ali.
He compensates the lack of resources by being extremely organised: on weekends he checks his stocks and ingredients, and considers if he needs to order more. Mondays to Wednesdays are then spent cooking and packaging the different products. And throughout the week, deliveries to customers are done in the mornings.
Another issue Ali struggled with was the lack of storage space.
“A lot of people forget, including myself, is that there’s no space at home to keep your stocks.”
To cope, Ali has shifted furniture around to accommodate their extra fridge, extra freezer, containers, and pots and pans. Thankfully his parents are supportive and have been a “tremendous help” to him and his business. Like all parents, they want to see his business succeed.
What’s next for Gluttire.sg?
Ali and Husni are not short of ideas on business expansion, including looking for a bigger kitchen space. Their dream is to eventually stock their frozen products in supermarkets and cafes. In their pipeline are other products which are totally different from what they’re currently selling. And should food festivals return after the pandemic is over, they also have concepts that they want to test.
Having to pass up the opportunity to work in Australia was hard on Ali initially.
“I’d already planned where I wanted to go, and where I wanted to be in a few years’ time. Then Covid-19 unexpectedly hit and put my plans into disarray,” he revealed. “Fortunately Husni approached me at the right time.”
If travel restrictions are lifted, would Ali want to resume working as a chef?
“I will still concentrate on this company because we already put in so much effort into this. I don’t think it’s good to quit so early during the start up phase. I want to play this through, and see where it can take me.”
To follow them on their journey, check out @gluttire.sg. Message them to place your order.
Images by Gluttire.sg.
This article is brought to you in partnership with Gluttire.sg