In Asian countries, the term ‘rice bowl’ is often used to insinuate an occupation that can offer you a salary just enough to buy yourself a meal. With the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have lost their ‘rice bowl’ and are forced to seek other solutions to survive.
But from the standpoint of these four friends, Rice Bowl here refers to the meal that satisfies your empty stomach and makes you healthy. The four friends who started the Rice Bowl business are young and vibrant entrepreneurs. They offer weight-loss-friendly yet delicious food to the neighbourhood at an affordable price.
In this success story series, we have Hansen from Rice Bowls Boys to share how he and his friends who are from completely different backgrounds start a small business, and in a very short time, Rice Bowls Boys has gone famous in Chinatown Complex Food Center.
Tell us more about your brand story.
Aside from the Chee brothers, Josiah and Jeremy, I grew up with Josiah since secondary school. Don, our visual mastermind is a friend that we’ve worked with over the years.
Josiah who has a background as a mixologist in the cocktail industry banded us for this project. We started out by selling bottled cocktails during the early stages of the Circuit Breaker around March 2020. Soon we were ready to create a few flavours and dish them out for delivery.
While that went rather well, it was apparent that it’s only gonna be a fad and would not have the longevity that we’d like.
A friend of ours recommended selling grain bowls or atas ‘cai fan’.
We hopped on to the idea and started out as a home-based business doing weekly deliveries through a pre-order system.
Eventually, over time we went on to do pop-ups and collaborations with several household F&B establishments like BunkerBunker, Freehouse and Moonstone.
Early December of 2020 was the opening of our first stall at Chinatown Food complex and we’ve been operating the business from there.
Moreover, we’ve recently launched a pop-up store with Bunker Bunker at Prinsep st, Found 8 co-working space selling sandwiches.
And there’s more. We had to cook 3 different dishes, each dish composing different components which require different techniques and preparations.
One of the key factors that helped us overcome this was communication.
Clear, direct instructions and delegations were the only solution that ensured smoothness during operations, and even then, you could have unforeseen circumstances popping up.
That developed a sense of quick thinking that no school or guide book could ever prepare you for.
How many founding members are there in your team?
Currently, we have four members:
Josiah Chee – Executive Chef
A veteran in the nightlife and cocktail industry, Josiah has been grinding out his time in well-established bars such as Employees Only, Jigger and Pony.
His ability to deconstruct taste profiles and flavors notes through the years crafting cocktails has created a foundation in differentiating our brand from the rest of the players in the industry.
Jeremy Chee – Operations Manager
An ex-financial consultant, the corporate world has left him with various skills in developing systems within the brand to create efficiency in our company.
His ability to charm and serve has brought forth a strong presence at the front to our customers regardless of their background; from corporate workers to fishmongers.
Donavan Choo – Graphics
Donavan (the founder of Wedesigncrap, a design agency that targets F&B) has been responsible for developing Rice Bowl Boys’ visual identity.
‘Raw, quirky, unapologetic’ is the formula that we’ve developed since the start of the brand.
Hansen Ventus – Marketing Communications
With a background in TV commercial production, Hansen is in charge of the marketing aspect of the brand, from communications to social media management.
Please share the most memorable challenge when you first started, and how did you overcome it?
Our first challenge was operating from a home kitchen.
A big hurdle that we had to overcome was cooking commercially within such a confined space and with restricted equipment.
Who is your primary audience, and how do you reach them?
Our primary audience was initially stay-home moms, as our food had all the right nutritional factors that kids and the entire family could benefit from.
As our brand developed and solidified, there was an increase in interest from the fitness industry that saw our food as a viable post-workout meal.
With the rising awareness of healthy eating in Singapore, more diverse crowds came in to give our food a taste and pair that up with our quirky visuals and tonality, even the younger kids joined in the fun.
What motivated you to create an Instagram page for your business?
As we operated a home-based business during the pandemic, going digital was the only option.
Instagram has always been our driving force for building awareness.
What has been the most exciting part of the journey after digitizing your business?
The most exciting part for us was sales conversion once we had the shop.
We still feel surprised when people come down to the shop and mention that they found us online and wanted to try our food.
Analyzing metrics and algorithms is fun and all that but nothing beats the feeling of real human interaction.
We’ve been social creatures and we always will be.
What does your typical workday look like? How do you keep yourself productive?
Our typical workday starts at around 10 am.
We prep our food and with each component requiring different cooking methods and techniques, that usually takes a while.
We open the store at 11 am and orders usually start piling during lunchtime.
At around 2 pm we take a break from the store as the food court simmers down, prepping for dinner service, depending on the day and the demand from lunch, which dictates the amount of prep that we’re required to churn.
Our dinner service resumes at 5 pm and lasts till around 9.30 pm when we start cleaning up the store.
A regular workday would end around 10.30-11.00 pm depending on the prep we’ll have to do for the next day.
Keeping oneself productive at the store isn’t that hard as there’s always something to do.
The real question is taking pockets of breaks for that burst of energy as well as knowing when we need to take off for innovation.
We know we’re a young company and a little fish in a big pond within the grain bowl industry, but being small and agile is a plus factor for us to innovate flavors and marketing strategy that the big boys don’t have.
What are the four things that you wish someone would have told you earlier when starting your business?
1. Pick the right team.
2. Embrace failures, they’re lessons.
3. Know your numbers, passion is nothing without the reality of money.
4. Be authentic.
Share Your Story with Exabytes
Thank you, Hansen, for your valuable input and participation in the Exabytes Success Story Campaign! If you, your friends and your family also have a project or a good startup story to share with the world, don’t wait, get in touch with us!