A year of resiliency: Reflecting on 10 founders who thrived in a most unusual year

Growth against all odds.

For the first time ever this year, The Halal Eater has shone light on individuals who turned ideas into businesses and overcame tremendous hurdles to scale and grow. Needless to say, those hurdles were greater than ever in 2020.

While no two business journeys are alike, these founders do share a common characteristic: relentless resiliency.

So as a wrap up, we highlight ten conversations from 2020 that demonstrate that remarkable resilience and growth against the odds.

1. Coming clean when faith is tested

When the COVID-19 outbreak impacted nightlife businesses to close, Ishrat Deva decided to pave his own path by starting his own F&B business, Beefzana. As a Muslim revert and first-time business owner, Ishrat — or Roy as he is more commonly known as — quickly faced many challenges. But none is more taxing than false allegations about his faith, particularly in relation to whether he is a true Muslim as his Muslim-owned shop claimed him to be. Roy shared how he overcame the incident and what others should do when in doubt.

“Don’t know, ask.”

—Ishrat Deva (Roy), owner of Beefzana

2. Pivoting from pasar malam to physical stall

The pasar malam industry has been one of the most severely impacted by COVID-19. Despite the odds, second-gen owner Afiq Irwan brought his family’s ayam percik business to a whole new level. Before the pandemic hit, Afiq had planned to open a shop in 2021, but he had to accelerate that plan when events — a big moneymaker for businesses like his — were canceled. Hence, Afiq turned the learnings from a decade-long run in the pasar malam circuit into Perghchicks, a stall in a coffee shop that is more permanent than the nomadic pasar malam setup. Afiq shares how they quickly pivoted to move the business to a physical stall in hopes of keeping pasar malam food from becoming extinct.

“We should keep supporting businesses selling traditional food because sooner or later, these foods will become obsolete.”

—Afiq Irwan, owner of Perghchicks

3. Making a comeback against all odds

Fateha Abdullah with slices of her popular cakes

25-year old Fateha Abdullah shut down the bakery business she set up a few years ago when rental woes became too much to bear. After battling depression and a rocky marriage, Fateha decided 2020 was her year to make a comeback. But, just as she was getting back up on her feet, the government announced tighter circuit breaker measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Yet, all of that did not stop the young entrepreneur from sticking to her guns; Fateha successfully launched a central kitchen and baking studio where she fulfils orders as well as allows classes to be held for aspiring bakers.

“To be honest, I’m very happy when the women who have rented the space told me that my studio has helped them improve their income. Most of them are just starting out their home-based businesses, so this is a great opportunity for them to also earn income by teaching others.”

—Fateha Abdullah, owner of Measuringhappinesssg

4. Becoming newlyweds and new business owners during the pandemic

Sophie and Asriyan, owners of SambalxKimchi

Fusion kimbap home-based business SambalxKimchi would never come to be had it not been for the pandemic. Owners and newlyweds Yeonhwa Bang (Sophie) and Asriyan Amaran stumbled into the business almost by chance when they wanted to find a source of income after being laid off from their jobs. Soon, they turned their favourite foods from their respective cultures — his was sambal, hers was kimchi — into products raved by various media outlets and celebrities. The couple shares what it was like to build a business from scratch—all while being a newly married couple.

5. Launching a business when flights are grounded

Medina when she was still flying

When the pandemic put a stop to international travel, flight attendant Medina Wimonsirawut spent several months testing out recipes before launching Thait.sg, her home-based business that focuses on all things Thai tea. Her core products — Thai milk tea and Thai tea crepe cake — quickly gained a fanbase who snapped up everything within minutes each time Medina opens pre-orders. From being inspired by her family back in Thailand to sharing the kitchen space with her mother-in-law, Medina shares more about her wearisome but fulfilling business journey.  

“I have a lot of orders, but I can only do 5 to 6 cakes a day. On most days, I start work at 12pm and finish late at night.”

—Medina Wimonsirawut, owner of Thait.sg

6. Turning friendship into a business partnership

Friends turned biz partners

Founders can attest to the fact that running a business is a constant, ever-evolving commitment. For the owners of Overrice, they had barely moved into a physical stall in a food court when it had to shut down. Ex-colleagues turned friends and now business partners, the four gentlemen behind the rice bowls inspired by the famous The Halal Guys in NYC went on a hiatus for almost three months to search for a new shop. Hakim Abdullah, one of the co-owners, mentioned that finding the best venue was crucial to brand-building. Whilst Overrice has its origins as a home-based business, turning it into a serious brand has been on top of the founders’ minds since day one. Today, Overrice sits in the hip Arab St enclave, dishing out bowls after bowls of their hearty meat over rice. Despite the recent successes, Hakim sees more opportunities for improvements and continually seeks feedback from customers. 

“It’s fun working with friends. We already have a mutual understanding with each other, but through Overrice, we have learnt to appreciate the different sides of each other more. I would say we have gotten even closer in the last few months.”

—Hakim Abdullah, co-owner of Overrice

7. Learning and re-learning in day-to-day operations

Mus and Calvin

Mustaffa Kamal and Calvin Seah love to create new businesses and experiment with ideas. The serial restaurateurs are behind The Black Hole Group, a collective lifestyle brand of several halal F&B concepts in Singapore. The Group had been operating for almost a decade before the pandemic hit, and with it comes a lot of lessons disguised as challenges. Looking back at the first half of this year, Mus and Calvin share how they challenge themselves to keep their staff employed, launch a new delivery service and also evaluate ideas to determine which ones are worth pursuing. 

“For me and Calvin, we are used to hustling and working with limited resources. But in the past couple of years, we realised that if we want to go fast, we go alone. But if we want to go far, we go together.”

—Mustaffa Kamal, co-founder of The Black Hole Group

8. Achieving financial freedom in the new norm

Chef Ali

Professional chef Ali Shiddique had to leave behind the kitchens of 5-star hotels to launch his own home-based business, Gluttire, when COVID-19 impacted the tourism industry. Along with two other partners, the trio strikes a balance between 5-star hotel quality food and commercial success. Gluttire’s star product, the smoky lamb ribs, was developed by Chef Ali himself using his vast experience working in some of the best hotels in the world. Quality is of the utmost importance to the award-winning Chef; over 20 premium ingredients go into the lamb ribs to create a fine dining experience for customers to enjoy in the comfort of their own homes.

9. Juggling school, internship and a business

During Circuit Breaker, final year poly student Syarah Faiqah was searching for halal nama chocolate online to curb her cravings but she could not find any. There was Royce, obviously, but she could not verify if their chocolates were safe for halal consumption. Determined to get her cravings satisfied, Syarah developed her own nama chocolate from scratch and shared it with her friends and family. It was also during this time that her father stopped working as a taxi driver, drastically affecting the family’s source of income. The enterprising teenager quickly turned her newfound skills into a business selling her own brand of nama chocolate called Nama Truffle—all while being a student and an intern.

10. Leaving established restaurants to start one on their own

People behind the cafe

For most people, staying in their current jobs during the COVID-19 outbreak was possibly the safest thing to do. But for the young owners of new cafe Comme Me Das, they knew it was the right time for them to spread their wings and leave the nest. That nest just happened to be The Black Hole Group, the mothership of established cafes such as Working Title, Afterwit, and Tipo. Combining their experiences running various aspects of a cafe from the kitchen to front-of-house, the twenty-somethings behind Comme Me Das struck out on their own to launch a cafe in the unlikeliest of locations.

Did we miss out a story this year?

It’s truly inspiring to hear from business owners this year as they are working through new challenges. Our series of human stories are our way to offer a sense of community and companionship by highlighting founders and their lessons learned along the way. 

As we look forward to a new beginning, we would love to hear from you. Who would you like to hear from? Are you a business owner with a compelling story to share? What are the topics you want to dive into? Let us know your thoughts in this short two minute survey:

Thank you so much for reading and we look forward to sharing more stories with you in 2021. 

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