Eldwin's journey to entrepreneurship was not a planned one. However, when he was offered a chance to take over a coffee shop stall at Defu Lane from his grandfather, the then 25 year old saw it as an opportunity to start up something for himself. This is when his entrepreneurial interest sparked and eventually leading him to create a successful food empire as of today.
Like most of the businesses, the early days were not an easy at all. Elwin shared about how he had to wake up in the wee hours of the morning, to ride to the wet market on his motorcycle to buy groceries and distribute flyers in the industrial areas on his rollerblades. Even though he had an assistant chef and a helper, Eldwin still had to cook, serve and wash up at the end of the day. Despite the hard work, Eldwin persevered as he saw potential in the business.
From the looks of his eyes, one can tell that Eldwin is very passionate about food and his business. The interview was held at a building holding significant history to him when he was developing himself and his business. Eldwin is none other than the founder of Paradise Group.
Paradise Group is one of the fastest growing restaurant group in Singapore, with restaurants sprouting all over Singapore and even reaching out to Asia. Last year, the company had a turnover of $50 million and staffing over 1000 employees. Eldwin himself received a prestigious award for his entrepreneurial spirit and the company bagged numerous awards from the industry and many raving reports from the media on their culinary concepts.
Apart from providing dining experiences through restaurants, Paradise Group has also penetrated into the catering business, providing customers a taste of Paradise signature dishes for their private parties and corporate events. As per their brand promise of Creating new dimensions of dining pleasure, Eldwin and his team are always and constantly researching and coming out with new concepts, focusing on expanding Paradise Group presence locally and worldwide.
Eldwin is an inspiration to many budding entrepreneurs out there as he started out from a humble family. It was never his goal to be an entrepreneur to begin with, but he developed the interest to do so midway. It is not very common for most, but he created a niche in the industry he is in, from what he has learnt. Also, the misconception of achieving success in a business at an older age is clearly not the case for Eldwin.
- What is the nature of your business?
Paradise Group is a food and beverage firm specializing in Chinese cuisine, which has grown exponentially for the past 4 years through our 8 restaurant concepts. The 8 concepts are Taste Paradise, Paradise Pavilion, Seafood Paradise, Paradise Dynasty, Paradise Inn, Canton Paradise, KungFu Paradise and One Paradise (catering). Currently, Paradise Group has more than 30 restaurants in Singapore alone and 10 overseas restaurants in Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Thailand.
- When and why did you decide to become an entrepreneur / take over your family business?
NOTE: If it is not a family business, ask:
Do your parents have their own businesses too? Have they inspired you in one way or another? (Select appropriate question according to the entrepreneur being interviewed.)
It was more a Cinderella story for me and when I started, I did not realize this is what I would be doing. I have always been independent, being the second of four children in my family and started working since 13 at a fast food restaurant. At 16, I was juggling three jobs a day, including a stint at a local seafood restaurant, to earn extra pocket money. With a business administration diploma, I was working in a clerical job and was a property agent, before I save enough to take over Seafood Paradise in Defu Lane.
During early 20s, my grandfather handed over the operations of his coffee shop to me. Due to the nature of the location at Defu Lane industrial area, I had to solve some issues pertaining to the coffee shop in terms of operations and later on took over the drinks stall. From there, I learnt to brew coffee and also managed the other stalls. When the zi char stall decided to give up their tenancy, I took over with a 3-men operation, catering to food priced reasonably at $3 to $4 for the local market. It was nothing fancy at the start, but I started a promotion of serving set meals such as ordering 10 dishes and being given free 1 dish. It was not easy and I usually sleep 4 to 5 hours a day.
Eventually, I converted the zi char stall into a restaurant, taking over the coffee shop by paying$10,000 from my own savings to my grandfather. I believed in serving food and services at restaurant standard at affordable prices. Some of the details I looked include the placement of tablecloths to spruce up the ambience. The reason for the conversion was to fully utilize the location as it had plenty of parking at night and weekends. It would be a waste not to seize the opportunity.
Some years back, during the hype of the crab fiesta, I did a self-experimentation to create a unique sauce and flavour. This was none other than the signature creamy butter white pepper sauce. In 2006, I was very blessed to be reviewed by the Straits Times. The review paved the way for the business with its raving review. After that, business flourished quickly and in 2007, I decided to open up my first high end boutique restaurant, Taste Paradise along Mosque Street after being challenged by a friend of mine. It was meant to provide a boutique dining experience and yet providing quality food of higher value at affordable prices.
Then in 2009, the business boomed and we opened the first Seafood Paradise restaurant at the iconic Singapore Flyer and my brother became the COO of the company. That was when I decided to expand the business, the Paradise brand and the core team building to what it is today.
- What are your reasons for choosing to do business in this particular industry?
The food and beverage line has always been my interest and I would say that I have a good taste bud for food. Coupled with the opportunity given by my grandfather to run the coffee shop in Defu Lane, I decided to pursue the food and beverage industry.
- How did you put together all the resources needed to start your business? For example: getting the start-up capital, hiring staff, doing sales and marketing, advertising, etc.
The start-up capital was all from my savings that I earned over the years since I started working at the age of 13. It was because I am very certain the business will work out, so I went ahead and decided to invest my savings to grow the restaurant business further.
- What is your company vision and mission?
To be an international diners paradise for Oriental cuisine where gourmet menus meet with exceptional value, and tradition meets with innovation.
Always improving, advancing and creating to provide exceptional value in every category of our restaurants for the experiential enjoyment.
I always believe in value adding to our customers. It is important to create a high quality standard for the food we serve, yet charge at an affordable rate. Moreover, the ambience is of critical importance, including the service level of the staff. We put in a lot of effort to ensure that every restaurant they go to is a unique dining experience. Our staffs are always happy and have a high service level, due to the fact that I always placed a lot of emphasis into treating my team members well and training them to improve on their skill sets.
- What are some of the challenges you faced when you first went into business?
As discussed, the early days were tough as hours are long and I only get 4 to 5 hours of sleep a day. Moreover, because of the fact that I needed to carry out most of the operations by myself, I had to learn new skills through trial and exploration.
- How did you overcome these challenges? Please share some specific examples of the action you took to overcome the challenges.
Perseverance is very important. It is this attitude of never giving up that has brought me this far. I will always think of new ideas to solve any problem and think of new recipe to attract customers on board.
- Can you remember your worst day in business or a time when you felt like giving up? What happened that made you feel that way and how did you triumph over it?
I would say the toughest time was when I started the first Taste Paradise along Mosque Street, as it was the first time Paradise Group was competing with higher end market such as Crystal Jade and Tunglok group. It was not easy at first as Taste Paradise was a new entrant to the upper market and we had to convince customers that we were providing value equal or better than our competitors.
Thus, we had to look from their point of view and provide them with reasons to dine at our restaurants through better dining experiences. The competition was very stiff and it was not easy. However, Taste Paradise managed to woo our clients and continued to flourish.
- Can you share some of the lessons you learnt from overcoming your own business challenges that you think will help other businesses?
As long as calculated risk is taken, believe in yourself and take the stride forward to grow your business and overcome challenges. It is important not to keep rushing and forget about the risk involved when making every decision.
- How did your close friends and family react when you informed them of your decision to grow your business bigger?
My parents always advised me to be careful as being an entrepreneur always exposed me to risk. They were more conservative, but still supported my decision by advising me to look into the bigger picture and to only take calculated risk.
My friends were also very supportive and loved to give me challenges hoping I would increase the business by quantum leaps. However, every time when I overcome such challenges, they would always be amazed and would be very supportive no matter the situation.
Overall, they were one of the factor that helped me excel and propel me into this area and shaping me to be who I am today
- How did you feel and manage the society's pressure in chase of paper qualifications?
To me, no matter the situation, especially in the context of Singapore, holding a paper qualification is essential and is highly valued. Starting up is not easy and the opportunities to do so are even lesser. Therefore, having a qualification is like your safety net, but do not treat it as one. Instead, leverage on it!
- What were some of the help or mentorship, which you obtained to help you start up?
I was very fortunate to have obtained advices from some of the veterans in the business world as well as some entrepreneurs in the same industry.
Some of these people are Charles, the founder of Charles & Keith and Ivan, the founder of Thai Express. They gave me lots of advice and eventually became my good friends. One of the biggest advices they have given me was that whenever a problem arises, never fear, as all problems can be solved. Treat every challenge or obstacle as a learning point and challenge it.
They told me to always look on the brighter side in life and there are countless ways to solve problems and I should never be disheartened.
- If there were one word that defines you, what would that word be?
Sincerity. It is the basis of appreciation and it can be applied to everyone. Without sincerity, it is very tough to establish an understanding and link between all parties including customers and employees.
- What give Paradise Group the edge in the highly competitive industry, making it stands out from the rest?
We bring about a happy environment and food cooked with happiness to our customers and we feel it is vital in doing so. However, everything starts in the kitchen and the employees. We maintain our standard by emphasizing creating happy food though cooking with your heart.
In doing so, customers are happy. However, the welfare of our employees is not neglected. Your employees are your assets and at Paradise Group, we look into the issues of our employees seriously.
I also personally go down to the kitchen to ensure that the food served are of the best quality our kitchen can produce and I taste given my gift of having a good taste palette.
- What advice would you give young people who want to start their own business?
It is important to always stay motivated and have the never-say-die attitude, because every challenge can be solved, it is just the method you apply to solve it. In addition, entrepreneurs should not act rashly. They must be sensible about their actions and take calculated risks and work at a pace that one can cope with.