FOR a long tedious year, Shereen Tay sold houses. Semi-Ds, terraces, condos, HDB flats, you name it. But there came a day last April when she decided that the sweet, doughy smell of a freshly made Belgian waffle was a lot more appealing than long hours spent on the road rushing from one potential property sale to another. Exactly a year later, she is the proud first franchisee of Sweet Stone Parad'Ice, a popular Belgian dessert stall in Golden Mile Food Centre.
Sweet Stone Parad'Ice first made an impact as the first European dessert cafe to open in an unlikely location - a nondescript hawker centre in Beach Road as opposed to a trendy downtown cafe. Given its plans to expand, Ms Tay's willingness to get her hands dirty and oversee operations herself, plus a strong friendship forged with Ms Tay from her regular patronage, it seemed only natural that Sweet Stone Parad'Ice would offer her its first franchise.
But why give up lucrative property commissions for the risky F&B business, especially with no prior experience?
'It's been a new experience holding down my very own business and having a set floor area to take charge of,' she said. 'I've always wanted to own my own business.'
After having her first go at the waffles, Ms Tay was so hooked that she had to have her waffle fix as often as three times a week.
For her, this business concept is a unique way to get into the F&B business. She is confident that Sweet Stone's product concept - serving Belgian dessert to the food centre crowd at cut-rate prices made possible by low rentals - is so unique that it cannot be copied. Old Airport Road was an ideal choice of location as it allowed the business to tap food lovers loyal to the existing food stalls there, she said.
Ms Tay hopes to spread culinary joy at affordable prices to hawker centre patrons, and in the process, changing the landscape and giving a wider variety of choice.
'Hopefully, this will result in quality food that more people can enjoy. Maybe in the process, I can carve out a niche while selling it on the cheap too.'
Ms Tay intends to wait and see how this business turns out before considering further expansion. She says that it's hard to tell how good business will be, but judging by the mealtime and weekend crowds at Old Airport Road, the growth potential is promising.
Ms Tay - who revealed her investment to be around $60,000 - doesn't have any immediate plans to go into the restaurant business or to expand the menu, if the franchise takes off. For now, it is all about exploring the market for cafe fare at hawker centre prices.
What kind of satisfaction does she get from running the business?
'Seeing the happy faces of people eating the product. It's also a source of great happiness to see repeat customers as well.'