Hawker killer: Rent or ingredients???


What does it take to actually start a food business in a hawker centre?

Pretty much just cooking experience, a hawker stall, ingredients for the dishes, and the cooking utensils perhaps.

But getting the business to make money and earn profits is definitely not that simple right?

A certain Douglas Ong kicked up a fuss about NTUC Foodfare “forcing” him to charge $2.70 for a bowl of noodles.

In actual fact, NTUC Foodfare is only requesting that bidders of stalls located in Foodfare-run hawker centres price two items on their menu to be low so that ordinary Singaporean workers are able to afford them.


I had a chat with two hawker stalls located in a food centre around Toa Payoh and asked them for their opinions about having such a business model of sorts.

Mr Koh who runs a congee stall has been in the business for more than 3 years now. I found out that his stall was sublet to him by an old couple who previously were hawkers.

When I asked for the most expensive cost of running a hawker stall, he reveals to me the cost of hiring a helper. He used to have a helper who was a friend’s relative. But as business was not so brisk, he decided to just do away with a helper and work with his brother instead.

When it comes to rental, he finds that biding for stalls might not be quite a good idea. “I find it rather restrictive. Having to pay for washing services regardless of whether you have brisk business or not,” said Mr Koh.

“I rather do the washing of dishes on my own. That way I can control my own costs,” he added.

Mr Arul on the other hand runs a Indian Muslim stall which he has been owned for 3 years. But, for Mr Arul, raw ingredients is the most expensive cost of running a business. More than $4,000 is easily spent on raw ingredients every month for Mr Arul.

This is compared to the $1,300 monthly rent that he pays. While business is brisk, he says, the high raw ingredients cost prevents him from earning a higher profit. “If I charge more for my dishes, then people would not want to buy my food, and I will be out of business,” he says.

When I proposed the Foodfare model of pricing two items on the menu exceptionally lower, here’s what he says:

“Why cannot? I can charge my plate of Mee Goreng and something else for $2.80 and still be able make a living if I charge the other items as per normal.”


Foodfare, as a social enterprise, operates around the idea of helping the stall owners to keep costs minimal and at the same time providing lower-income individuals afford quality meals.

I’m sure this is done in a way that certainly allows stall owners make a decent living whilst keeping meals affordable.



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