Alden Boon

SGBrisketKitchen Founder Jayce Ho on the Joys and Pains of Smoking Meats and Entrepreneurship



Your food looks good, and you are in the business of making fond memories for others. What has been the ugly side of entrepreneurship?

I like to share my experiences and I’m always happy to help a fellow entrepreneur out with any questions. Just an appreciative ‘thank you’ is all I need. But there are people who will downright copy your every move, from packaging to the logo to the words you use. My friends were very upset on my behalf and kept reminding me that I don’t have to be kind to others when they are clearly taking advantage of me. That’s something I have to grapple with, what’s being nice or too kind. There’s a lot of thought that goes into everything I make — even a blogpost took me eight hours to write. It’s disheartening when these things happen, and it’s not a one-off thing.

And there were naysayers who would say, ‘It’s impossible.’ ‘It’d never work out.’ I’d just smile at them, but inside I’m all fired up and plotting my next step and strategy. I’ll prove it to them that it’s possible. But I also like to thank these people for pushing me. As a business owner, I also have to field questions about my suppliers, and the rundown of my business expenses. The thing is, you wouldn’t walk into a fast-food chain and ask the staff for the recipe of their fried chickens.

That’s brazen, considering you’re the one who did all the legwork and they just want a free ride. Are they customers or would-be competitors?

I have no idea. Some of them did later reveal their intentions to open a business selling smoked meats.

I guess imitation is flattery. You seemed to have caught lightning in a bottle with your business — my own home-based bakery, started last August, can’t seem to take off. What’s your secret recipe to success?

It was mostly through word-of-mouth marketing. And through my other account SGPolishChicken, some of my followers knew I was starting SGBrisketKitchen. I’m thankful that my customers were willing to give my meats a try even though I was not a trained chef. I didn’t expect my website to crash the first time I launched the online sale. Everything sold out within minutes.

And it continues to sell out every time you have a sale, so it’s not a fluke. What are your current plans now?

I’m always looking for something new to do and thinking of ways to improve my meats. What if I tried an alternative technique? These questions and experimentations keep me excited. I still want to improve on the flavours. I always have this mindset that no matter what I do I will never be the best. If you have this mindset, then you will never improve, you will never want to be better. And there will always be somebody else who is better than you, so it is important to be humble and to be able to take criticism. This is why I always ask for honest feedback, no matter how nerve-racking it can be to hear it. If not, there’s no way I can improve. I’m also interested in expanding the menu, perhaps bringing in a variety of desserts.

How has running SGBrisketKitchen changed you?

I’ve a lot of burn marks on my hand, which I don’t even know how I got them. But I think this is nothing compared with the challenges full-time chefs have to face. The long working hours they have to endure! I now see them in a different light. You know how stallholders can remember every customer’s orders? I really admire that. I am also more appreciative of my food. Even a simple plate of wanton noodles requires year of perfection, and I marvel at the amount of skill and effort put in just to produce one plate.

Being a female in a male-dominated field, have you had to deal with sexist comments?

Plenty of times. I’ve had people come up to me in person and tell me, ‘I’m born in the birth country of barbecue. What would you know about barbecuing meats?’ I always believe that there is something to learn from others. Don’t just cut them off immediately. This said person bragged about using liquid smoke to enhance the smokiness and make it more prominent. But it reinforced my belief to never use that. I wouldn’t want to feed my family anything that has unnatural chemicals in it. My niece is one of my regular taste testers, and I’d never want to feed her that.

What advice would you give to fellow entrepreneurs?

If you want to embark on something, just do it, but make sure you give it your best shot. Along the way, you will inevitably meet people who make nasty comments, and say you won’t be able to succeed. You just have to consider if their comments are constructive or no. If so, thank them and heed their advice. If the comments are not constructive, then convert that negativity into something positive to spur yourself on.

Not all comments are meant to bring you down. One of the questions my friends asked was how I would cope with the long hours — given that it takes up to twenty hours to smoke the meats, and then I’d have to pack them and whatnot. Not to mention I have my other commitments, from my full-time job and other business ventures. I’m thankful that my friends actually pointed this out to me, because sometimes when you’re so excited about something you don’t even think about the obvious things. But I think when you enjoy and believe in what you do, you will always be able to make things work.

All photos by Jayce Ho. Do not reproduce without permission. 

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.