NEWS / MEDIA
Entrepreneurship is not a walk in the park. But Miss Lisa Zou, the founder of Tong Chiang Holdings, has thrived in this competitive marathon with her strong vision and drive to succeed. And despite the fact that her profits has increased ten-fold since she started the business, the forward-thinker keeps going, with no signs of slowing down.
A native of China, who achieved Singapore citizenship in 2008, Lisa began her professional life as an accountant in Shanghai after graduation. She stayed in the role for over 10 years, during which she was posted to Singapore for about four years. Subsequently, she resigned from her job to start her own company in Singapore, dealing in the souvenir and corporate gifts industry.
But as competition grew in that particular industry, Lisa began to think that perhaps the nature of the business was not as viable. Thus, she turned her attention to the food industry, because she had experienced first-hand Singapore’s love affair with food.
Food is Good
Lisa then set her sights on a small family-owned business named Tong Chiang Kitchen that was set up in 1995. At that point, the “company” had less than 10 workers, and was delivering three meals in metal containers, known as tingkat, to 182 people. Six months later, under Lisa’s leadership, the number of people the kitchen was serving increased to over 500.
To cope with the increase in their customer base, and in hopes of expanding the business exponentially, Lisa began buying over other food catering businesses.
“By consolidating the client list of these small businesses and moving all the production under one roof, I was able to make our operations more cost-efficient, and increase not only the profit margin significantly, but more importantly, improve the quality of the food,” said the astute businesswoman.
The Eastern River
Despite her acquisition of other companies subsequently, it is the name of Tong Chiang Kitchen that Lisa liked the most. So about three years ago, she adopted the name to form a parent company, Tong Chiang Holdings, for these other food businesses she bought over.
Literally translated into “Eastern River”, Tong Chiang seems an apt name for the business, considering they cater Chinese-style dishes and that its tingkat origins were also rooted in immigrant Chinese culture.
“People have questioned my choice of the name, because of its ‘Chinese-ness’, but I figured that since Tong Chiang is already an established name and brand in the industry, there is no reason to fix what’s not broken,” explained Lisa.
Expansion and Evolution
From a tiny workforce consisting of less than 10 workers, Tong Chiang has expanded into a proficient food catering business which has about 13 subsidiaries and a revenue of about $11 million. Currently, Tong Chiang occupies eight units of factory space in the Kaki Bukit area, and employs about 170 people altogether.
Lisa cites the expertise of her workers as one of the main sources of her success. “We cannot stop people from resigning when the company switches to our management, but we always try our best to retain the workers if they have the expertise we require. Take for example, our oldest employee, Master Chef Chia. He is 76 years old and has been with Tong Chiang since before I bought over the kitchen. I told him that as long as he wants the job, he has it. He trains our other chefs, and his wealth of experience is crucial to improving the taste and quality of our food.”
Altogether, there are at least 20 other chefs working alongside Master Chef Chia, with an average of 20-plus years of experience each. Every day, they cook enough food to feed 8,000 people islandwide, of which half are family units.
The amount of food the kitchen processes may be large, but Tong Chiang does not sacrifice the all-important hygiene factor. With a motto that emphasises on hygiene and quality, Tong Chiang does not disappoint. They are a straight-A student when it comes to the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) Food Hygiene tests — something that is considered relatively hard to achieve, considering the scale of the operation.
Tong Chiang is not sitting on its throne of comfortable success, as Lisa reveals her future plans for the company. More expansion is definitely in the works as Tong Chiang poises to take over more food catering companies, in the hopes of bringing its revenue to $20 million.
At the same time, Lisa wants to bring her love for healthy food up a notch by introducing organic food into her catering business.
“To ensure the quality of the ingredients, I bought a plantation in Malaysia which was been certified organic, as no chemicals have touched that land in over 20 years. There, we will produce our own organic produce for use in our dishes in five years’ time,” said Lisa.
By growing their own produce, Tong Chiang is assured a stable supply of ingredients into their kitchen. Also, they won’t be subjected to fluctuations in prices that suppliers may impose, and will thus be able to pass on the savings to their customers.
“We are also doing our own research in hopes of producing disposable packaging that is environmentally friendly. This way, it eliminates the need to wash and sterilise tingkat, and improves the convenience of the whole process at the same time,” explained Lisa.
These may seem insurmountable mountains at this moment, but in the case of Lisa, who wakes up at 6am every weekend to climb Bukit Timah Hill with her friends, instead of sleeping in, we’d say scaling these peaks is definitely up her alley.
Herbal & Healthy
Tong Chiang Kitchen has pages of dishes for its customers, but we asked Lisa to pick her favourite dish and explain why she likes it so much.
“My favourite dish, without doubt, is Di Wang Ji, or ‘Emperor’s Chicken’. As the name suggests, the dish is served to emperors in ancient China. But because no one serves an ordinary chicken dish to the ruler of the dynasty, the preparation of Di Wang Ji is especially time-consuming and tricky.
When prepared right, the aroma and goodness of the herbs will infuse into the chicken, making it delectable. As the chicken is steamed with goji berries, and herbs like dang sheng and ginseng, it’s as healthy a dish as you can get!”